Carbohydrates or carbs, are made up of fibre, starch, and sugars and act like a fuel that makes the body work and have energy.
As they are sugars they give us energy, to work our heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and muscles. They are particularly important to fuel the brain, helping children to think clearly and to balance their mood, as well as to power their muscles during exercise.
You may have heard that eating complex carbs is better than simple carbs. The problem is that nutrition labels don’t tell you if the carbohydrate content is simple or complex. Either way, understanding how these foods are classified and how they work in your body can help ensure you choose the right carbs. Fibre and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb.
Simple carbs, also called simple sugars, rapidly break down into glucose and raise blood sugar levels quickly. This gives your child quick energy but after a short time they will feel hungry again. These bad carbohydrates are found in many processed foods and are associated with obesity, as the rest of this sugar gets converted to fat and gets stored in fat cells.
While some of these occur naturally in milk, most of the simple carbs in your child’s diet are added to foods. Common simple carbs added to foods include:
- sugar incl. raw and brown
- glucose, fructose, and sucrose
- fruit juice concentrate
- fruit drinks and soft drinks
- maple and corn syrup
- jams, jellies
Complex carbohydrates, also known as fibre and starch, are broken down in the body slower than simple carbohydrates. They are found in vegetables, bread, rice, oatmeal, whole-grains and peas.
Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in beneficial vitamins and minerals.
These whole plant foods below are great sources of complex carbohydrates:
- green vegetables
- whole grains and foods made from them, such as oatmeal, pasta, and whole-grain breads
- starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and pumpkin
- beans, lentils, and peas
It’s important to remember that carbohydrates aren’t inherently bad – your body needs the glucose for fuel – but it’s important to pick nutrient-rich food sources and pay attention to portion sizes.
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