Carbohydrates are the body's most important and readily available
source of energy. Even though they've gotten a bad rap lately and are
sometimes blamed for the obesity epidemic in America, carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet for both kids and adults.
The two major forms of carbs are:
- simple sugars (simple carbohydrates), such as fructose, glucose, and lactose, which also are found in nutritious whole fruits
- starches (complex carbohydrates), found in foods such as starchy vegetables, grains, rice, and breads and cereals
So how, exactly, does the body process carbs and sugar? All
carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, which are absorbed
into the bloodstream. As the sugar level rises, the pancreas releases
the hormone insulin, which is needed to move sugar from the blood into
the cells, where the sugar can be used as energy.
The carbs in some foods (mostly those that contain simple sugars and
highly refined grains, such as white flour and white rice) are easily
broken down and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.
Complex carbs (found in whole grains), on the other hand, are broken
down more slowly, allowing blood sugar to rise more gradually. Eating a
diet that's high in foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar may
increase a person's risk of developing health problems like diabetes and
heart disease, although these studies have been done mostly in adults.
Despite the recent craze to cut carbs, the bottom line is that not
all foods containing carbohydrates are bad for kids, whether they're
complex (as in whole grains) or simple (such as those found in fruits).
If carbs were such a no-no, we'd have a huge problem since most foods
Still, some carbohydrate-dense foods are healthier than others. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include:
- whole-grain cereals
- brown rice
- whole-grain breads
- low-fat dairy
For kids over 2 years old, a healthy balanced diet should include 50%
to 60% of calories consumed coming from carbohydrates. The key is to
make sure that the majority of these carbs come from good sources and
that added sugar in their diet is limited.