Carbs and Fats
Vandana Chawla is a nutrition educator and consultant with over 20 years of work experience in the field of nutrition. She is a certified LEAN coach (USA) & registered nutrionist (UK).
This post is also available in: Arabic
Carbs and Fats
Carbs and fats are the major source of energy for the body. However, there is a trend to cut down on carbs and fats in our diet and, as parents, you probably wonder if you should limit these nutrients in your child’s diet.
The answer to this is very simple: give your child the right carbs and right fats instead of removing them from the diet entirely or restricting them. If carbs and fats are not given in adequate amounts (depending on the child’s body requirements), the body will utilize proteins to supply energy, thus wasting the proteins and preventing them from carrying out essential tasks such as body building, tissue maintenance, and developing the immune system. In short, limiting carbs or fats may result in poor growth, weakness, and getting sick more often. Eventually, other nutritional deficiencies will also result. So, both carbs and fats are important in a child’s diet and will not cause harm as long as they are given in the right form and right quantity.
Healthy carbs are found in food in the form of fiber (complex carbohydrates). Most of the foods that are good sources of healthy carbs also contain other nutrients such as protein and fat and this slows down the digestion of these foods and the absorption of carbohydrates in the blood stream, bringing a slow and steady rise in the blood sugar level. As a result, there is a steady and continuous supply of sugar/energy to the body. Healthy carbs are found in fruits, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), whole grains (whole wheat flour, oat, rye, etc.), soy based foods, sweet potatoes, raw vegetables, and brown rice. When these foods are included in a child’s meal, this will provide him with a good supply of energy for a longer period of time, as well as providing him with vital nutrients that are also present in these foods. For this reason these foods are often referred as “wonder foods.
Carbs found in white sugar, white flour, and white rice don’t have the extra ingredients such as protein and fat. They are also carbs in the simplest form – that is they are digested and absorbed very quickly. As a result, the child’s blood sugar rises rapidly only to be followed by an equally rapid fall. When blood sugar levels hit a low, the child usually gets irritated, cranky, shows erratic behavior, and may crave more food, particularly sweet food. Since these carbsare found in large amounts in carbonated beverages, sugar-rich desserts (cakes, pastries, cookies), and juices/nectars that are loaded with sugar, they are referred to as unhealthy/junk carbs. These foods are not only loaded with unhealthy/junk carbs, but also lack some vital nutrients. Excessive consumption of these carbs can result in obesity and dental caries and may put your child at risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Fats also come in both an unhealthy and a healthy form. Fats not only provide energy, but are also necessary for building smarter brains. The healthy fats that help in brain growth and development are omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These fats regulate circulation in the central nervous system, and positively affect both memory and mood. Omega-3 fats are found in cold water fish (such as salmon and fresh water trout), egg yolk, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Omega-6 fats are found in seeds (such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds), nuts (such as walnuts and hazelnuts), and vegetable oils.
Unhealthy fats clog the arteries and are the major cause of heart disease. These fats include trans fats (which appear as hydrogenated fats on packaged food) and saturated fats. Trans fats are found in cakes, cookies, crackers, fries, and shortening (margarine), while saturated fats are found in animal-based products such as ghee, full cream milk, butter, meat, and poultry. Excessive consumption of unhealthy fats at a very early age can sow the seeds for adult diseases. Therefore, limit these fats in your child’s diet.
Make wonder foods the major source of carbs in your child’s diet. Also, include healthy fats in the correct amounts for a healthy body and smart brain. You probably cannot entirely ban junk food, but remember the principle of moderation – an occasional indulgence in these foods will not cause any harm. Finally, do not label any food as “bad.” Let your child understand that different foods can be included in a healthy diet as long as he knows how much of a particular food he is allowed to eat. The more your child understands about food, the more it will help him develop healthy eating habits.