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Carbohydrates in the Diet

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KEY POINTS

  • Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are a source of energy and help the body heal and grow.
  • Carbohydrates should provide some of your child’s total daily calories based your child’s gender, age, size, health, and activity levels.
  • Look for less processed, whole-grain, and “no sugar added" carb choices. Foods high in sugars, syrups, or fat add a lot of calories and can lead to weight gain and other health problems.

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What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are a source of energy and help the body heal and grow. There are 3 basic types of carbs: sugars, starches, and dietary fiber.

  • Sugar is found naturally in foods such as fruits and milk. Sugar is added to processed food such as soft drinks, baked goods, and candy. Sugars such as glucose and fructose raise blood glucose very quickly.
  • Starch is found in plant-based foods such as pasta, bread, cereals, rice, potatoes, beans, and corn. Starches take longer than sugars to digest and turn into energy.
  • Fiber is found in whole-grain bread and pasta, beans, seeds, peas, vegetables, and fresh and dried fruits. Dietary fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested.

You can tell how much carbohydrate is in a food by reading the nutrition facts label.

How much carbohydrate does my child need?

Carbohydrates should provide some of your child’s total daily calories based your child’s gender, age, size, health, and activity levels. Grains such as wheat and rice are high in carbohydrate and part of a healthy, well balanced diet. Try to serve more whole-grain products and fewer processed grains. Help your child to avoid eating a lot of food with added sugar, or drinking soft drinks or fruit juices that are high in sugar.

How do carbohydrates fit into a healthy eating plan?

Healthy food choices for your child to grow and maintain a healthy weight for age include a balanced diet with high-fiber foods, less processed foods, and low amounts of saturated fat. Very low carb diets often lack important nutrition and fiber, and they can be high in unhealthy fats.

How can my child eat the right carbohydrates?

The body turns carbs into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is carried in the blood to all the cells in your child’s body and gives your child energy. The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures the effect of foods your child eats on the level of glucose in your child’s blood. Foods that have a high GI cause the blood glucose level to go up quickly. High GI carb foods include white-bread products, white rice, noodles made with refined flour, French fries, soft drinks, and sugar. Low GI carb foods raise blood glucose more slowly. Examples of low GI carb foods are most beans, whole fruits, whole wheat, oats, bran, brown rice, barley, and whole-grain, low-sugar breakfast cereals.

Many low GI carb foods are also high in fiber. High-fiber carbs are much more filling and a switch to this type of carb may help your child eat smaller portions of food, lose weight, and better control blood glucose.

It is important to choose carefully which carbs your child eats. Many processed foods are high in sugars, syrups, or fat, which add a lot of calories and can lead to weight gain and other health problems. Look for less processed, whole-grain, and “no sugar added" carb choices.

The American Heart Association advises that children and teens should limit added sugars to less than 100 calories (less than 25 grams) and limit drinks sweetened with sugar to 8 ounces or less per week. Children under the age of 2 should not have added sugars in their diet.

Follow these tips to choose healthy carbs and get 19 to 38 grams of fiber in your child’s daily diet based your child’s gender, age, size, health, and activity levels:

  • Choose at least one half of the grains your family eats from whole-grain products.
  • Choose your child’s fruit servings from whole fruit, instead of canned fruit or juice.
  • Include a wide variety of vegetables in your child’s diet.
  • Include beans and peas several times a week.
  • Choose light or plain yogurts with less added sugar.
  • Help your child cut down on foods with added sugar and saturated fats.

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Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2018-06-19
Last reviewed: 2018-06-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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