Are carbs healthy? Carbohydrates are not just one food but a nutrient in many. Best carbs for kids and why we love them.
As adults, we’ve all heard the controversy around carbs. Just as “eat less fat” and “eat more protein” have had their days in the spotlight (and sometimes still do), “don’t eat carbs” has been a topic of conversation for a while.
Unfortunately, nutrition misconceptions like these can trickle down from adults to kids and have negative impacts.
And the truth is that carbs are not the enemy. In fact, carbs are a super important part of our diet and you can find them in many different types of foods.
It’s just that the least healthy ones tend to get the most attention and ruin things for the whole category.
Here’s why we hate the argument about “good” and “bad” carbs and why we encourage carbohydrate consumption among kids (and adults).
What are Carbohydrates?
Your body prefers carbohydrates as its main source of energy. Alongside protein and fat, carbs are the third major macronutrient in the diet.
The three main categories of carbs include sugar, starches, and fiber.
Most sugar and starches are broken down into glucose molecules for immediate fuel, and some can be stored as fat for later use.
Fiber is different in that we don’t digest it. Instead, fiber passes through our digestive system, cleaning it and feeding friendly bacteria on its way.
Find carbs in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Types of Carbs
Are carbs healthy? Yes! In fact, we and our kids need them. But not all carbs are the same.
Depending on the types of foods they’re predominantly found in, you might call carbs whole vs. refined, or complex vs. simple. This essentially describes how they behave in the body when consumed.
For instance, let’s look at white bread and whole wheat bread.
White bread is considered a simple carbohydrate because it’s made using primarily refined grains that have had most of their fiber removed in processing.
On the other hand, whole wheat bread is made with grains that have been processed to a lesser extent, retaining fiber and other nutrients.
As a result, when you eat white bread it is digested quickly, has a more immediate and dramatic effect on blood sugar, and often leaves you hungry for something else not long afterward.
Whole wheat bread is digested more slowly, providing a more steady stream of energy without the quick spike and fall in blood sugar.
Make the same comparison for things like white rice versus brown rice or apple juice versus a whole apple.
Are Carbs Healthy?
All of this is not to say that refined carbs are “bad”. It just means that they tend to provide energy without as much nutritional benefit.
We’re all for enjoying some simpler carbs for the purpose of joy if your family like them, and prioritizing other foods for nutrition.
It’s important to note that research shows high-fiber carbohydrate sources are associated with a lower risk for numerous chronic diseases.
Plus, the sooner we can introduce healthier sources of carbs to our kids, the more likely they are to develop a liking for them.
However, we want to acknowledge that sometimes kids can be sensitive to too much fiber – which may show up as diarrhea or constipation. This is why hydration with high-fiber diets is so important. If your child has symptoms of too much fiber intake, you may need to offer more low-fiber foods.
Best Carbs for Kids
A predominantly plant-based diet will be naturally high in carbohydrates. Use our PB3 Plate as an example. We recommend that a child’s plate is made up of 1/3 legumes, nuts, and seeds, 1/3 fruits and veggies, and 1/3 grains and starches.
As much as you can, we recommend splitting plates into thirds rather than dedicating half of the plate to fruits and veggies as other models do. This is because fruits and veggies are rich in nutrients but lower in calories than the other types of carbs.
We don’t want them to fill up on fruits and veggies before they get to other nutrient-rich foods that are also higher in calories.
With that in mind, here are some of the healthiest sources of carbohydrates for kids:
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, berries, tomatoes, avocado
- Veggies: leafy greens, potatoes, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
- Grains: oats, quinoa, rice, barley, amaranth, whole grain bread/crackers
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios
- Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, soy, legume-based pasta, peanut butter
If your child doesn’t love all of these foods, it’s okay! We’re very familiar with these stages of selective eating and how long it can take for kids to warm up to trying new foods. Do your best to offer a variety of healthy sources of carbohydrates at meals and snacks.
Are carbs healthy? Yes! But not all carbs are created equally. Try to prioritize healthier sources of carbs that are also packaged in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Expose your child to a variety of carb-rich foods and discover what they love!
Chime In: What carbohydrate-rich foods do your kids like the most? What are some new foods you can offer?
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