There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to carbohydrates. There are a thousand “low-carb” diets out there. But, not only are carbs needed, about 50% of your child’s daily calories should come from carbs.
If you have a little athlete on your hands or just a very active child, they need even more carbohydrates. The Key is eating the right types carbs.
Carbs include sugars, starches, and fiber.
What Do Carbs Do For Us?
Except for fiber, our bodies convert carbs into energy. Now it may not sound too enticing to provide your little one with more energy, but their bodies and brains need carbs.
They just don’t provide your kids with the type of energy that drives you crazy, but the energy they need to learn and exercise.
Complex v. Simple Carbs
Usually, you think of simple as easy, and complex as, well complex. But in the carb world, complex is a good thing, and simple is not so good.
Complex carbs are what you want your kids to mostly eat. Because they are digested slowly and provide steady energy, they help kids maintain a better mood and ability to concentrate.
Complex Carbs Facts:
• Starches are complex carbs.
• They are found in green and yellow light foods like veggies and whole grains.
• Not processed or minimally processed
• They are accompanied by fiber and protein.
I love the way renowned pediatrician Dr. Sears breaks down explaining carbs. I highly suggest his book The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. It is filled with good information and explained in a way that is easy to understand.
For example, this is how he suggests explaining complex and simple carbs to kids: A good-for-you carb (complex carb) hangs out with two friends, Mr. Protein and Ms. Fiber. A good-for-you carb always plays with these two friends; it never plays alone. However, a junky carb (simple carb) does not have any friends. It plays alone.
Simple Carbs don’t provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. They provide empty calories.
Simple Carbs Facts:
• Sugar is a simple carb.
• Absorbed by the body very quickly, because they do not have protein and fiber to slow them down.
• They leave you not feeling satisfied, and lead to over-eating.
• They are processed foods and drinks.
I don’t want to bore you with too much science stuff here, but it’s important to understand how simple carbs behave in the body and affect kids.
First, you need to understand how the body processes carbs. The digestive system breaks down carbs into sugar glucose, and this, in turn, provides cells with energy. As you know, simple carbs hit the bloodstream very quickly, and the body does not have time to react appropriately.
Glucose needs the assistance of insulin to get inside of cells. Insulin is produced by the pancreas. Every cell has receptors that are there to help usher insulin into the cell. Once the insulin hits the cell receptors, the cell is supposed to open and let the insulin in.
Since the simple carb sugar hits the system very quickly, the pancreas produces more insulin than the body can handle. Cells cannot take in all that insulin. As Dr. Sears explains, the cells cry “overload” and the insulin is no longer able to get into the cells. Over time Type 2 diabetes can develop.
Carbs and the Brain
The brain uses about 50 percent of the carbs a child consumes. The brain and body work best when there is the steady flow of energy that you get from complex carbs.
A high level of sugar in the body stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin sedates the brain. I wrote a post on feeding your kids, what Dr. Sears refers to as, a Brainy Breakfast. This is one reason you want to avoid giving your kids simple carbs for breakfast. Obviously, a sedated brain is not ideal for learning and concentration.
There is a lot of information out there on carbs, but again I suggest Dr. Sears book The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood on which this post was based. Load up on those good (complex) carbs!