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Carbohydrates: Are they really essential to your child’s health?

Children need "good" carbohydrates to keep alert during the day and to keep their brains in good working order.

In the last few decades, carbohydrates have earned a bad rap for contributing to childhood weight gain, increasing the risk of childhood diabetes, raising the chance of heart disease, and contributing to high cholesterol.

Parents are divided as to whether to encourage – or discourage – their children to eat carbs. We chat with Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, on whether carbohydrates deserve a seat at the table when it comes to a healthy diet.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient found in certain foods that provide the body with a much-needed energy boost. Just like fuel gives your car the juice it needs to make it run smoothly, carbs give your body the kick start it needs to stay energised.

Generally speaking, there are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and dietary fibre. The human body needs all three types to function well because they all get used by our bodies differently. Sugars and starches get broken down for energy usage and storage in our cells, tissues, and organs, while fibre helps regulate things like digestion, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

How much dietary fibre do kids need?

Children have different dietary fibre needs depending on their age:

  • Children 1 to 3 years: 19 grams fiber per day
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 25 grams fiber per day
  • Girls 9 to 18 years: 26 grams fiber per day
  • Boys 9 to 13 years: 31 grams fiber per day
  • Boys 14 to 18 years: 38 grams fiber per day

Good carbs versus bad carbs

While there are no “bad” foods, certain foods aren’t nutritious for your child’s body. Carbs occur naturally in various healthy foods, including peas and beans, nuts and seeds, grains, dairy and dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.

However, carbs also occur in unhealthy foods that many children enjoy eating, such as white bread, cookies and pastries, sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas and juices, and other highly processed foods. For this reason, carbs are not “created equal,” and yes, some carbs are better than others are for your child’s health and wellbeing.

Deciding which carbs are the healthiest

It’s essential for children to eat the right kinds of carbohydrates for their health. The glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) are two measures that are used to establish the quality of carbohydrate foods and categorise them as “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

The (GI) is a way that carbohydrates in foods and drinks are “ranked” according to how quickly they raise the glucose level of the blood. Simply put, low GI foods, which primarily consist of complex carbs, have minimal effects on blood sugar levels, while high GI foods can cause blood sugar levels to spike, triggering chronic health diseases later on in life, such as type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, to name just a few.

The rise of carb-free diets

While carbohydrates are not bad when parents manage the amount and types their children consume and tailor these to their specific needs; some prefer making the switch to a moderately low-carb lifestyle. However, before making any changes to your child’s diet, it’s important to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian to determine your child’s specific carbohydrate needs.  

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