Kids Need Carbs & Balanced Eating

Updated: Jan 14


Did you know that for kids ages 2- 18 years of age, 45-65% percent of their dietary intake should be from carbohydrates? Children NEED carbohydrates for energy and so does their brain! Your brain runs on a specific type of carbohydrate called glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that is required for normal function of your brain. In fact, glucose is the main source of energy for all cells in your body.

Carbohydrates are very important for normal growth and development. Of course, the type of carbohydrates your child eats is important. Kids in the United States typically eat too many refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, white rice, desserts) and not enough whole grains & fiber.

Whole grain products are a great source of fiber, iron, selenium, magnesium, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3), all of which are needed for your child to grow and develop properly. Here’s a quick summary on what these nutrients do in your body.

Iron is needed for: · Normal growth & development · Making hemoglobin (a protein that is part of red blood cells) to deliver oxygen to your body. · Making hormones · Preventing a certain type of anemia Magnesium is needed for: · Making bone, protein, and DNA · Muscle & nerve function · Regulating blood pressure & blood sugar levels Selenium is needed for: · Reproduction · Thyroid gland function · DNA production · Protecting your body from infection and damage caused by free radicals Folate is needed for: · Making DNA and genetic material · Cell division and preventing a certain type of anemia · Preventing certain birth defects Thiamin (vitamin B1), Riboflavin (B2), and Niacin (B3) are needed for: · Growth & development · Normal cell function · Turning food you eat into energy Fiber is needed for: · Making stools softer, increasing the bulk of your stool making it easier to pass · Preventing constipation · Helping to reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease · Helping to control blood sugar levels and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes · Helping you feel full which may help with weight management. Now that we know how much carbohydrate your child should consume each day, what about protein and fat?

As far as protein goes, kids in developed countries like the United States typically get plenty of protein. Most kids only need 10-30% of the dietary intake from protein. It is extremely rare for a child in the United States to be deficient in protein. Actually, a child need more fat per day than they do protein! Kids should have 25-35% of their dietary intake from fat. Here’s why it is important for kids to get enough fat:

· Fat is needed for proper brain and nervous system development, especially for the younger kiddos. · Fat is needed to help absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Those 4 vitamins are fat-soluble vitamins and can only be absorbed into the body by dietary fat. · Fat is needed to make hormones in your child’s body. Similarly to carbohydrates, there are different types of fat, and some are better for your body than others. Balance and variety are key. HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD Okay so now you know how much carbohydrate, protein, and fat your child should consume every day, let's talk about teaching our children how to have a healthy relationship with food. I whole-heartedly believe that we should not teach our children that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods because everything is okay in moderation. The key is to teach your child about balance and moderation. If you can teach your child this concept, you will set your child up to lead a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.

When we forbid or severely restrict a child from eating a food, such as sugar for example, it teaches them that sugar is bad. Kids will naturally become more drawn to sugar and potentially will develop an unhealthy obsession with it. All foods are okay in moderation (even sugar!!!) and we should teach our children how to incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle.

Sticking with the sugar example, the problem is not sugar itself, but rather a behavior problem. The behavior of over-indulging and eating sugar in an excessive amount every day is UNBALANCED. Unbalanced eating will lead to a lot of negative health effects. The sugar is not the problem. The behavior of eating too much is the problem that will lead you down an unhealthy path if not corrected.

Let’s take responsibility for our behaviors and not place blame on a certain food (or food group). Eat balanced meals. Eat smaller portions. Get up an exercise! Be a role model for your child! FAD DIETS AND UNBALANCED EATING Historically, Americans are attracted to fad diets that promise quick results or other health promises. We, as Americans, are always looking for an easy and fast way to lose weight instead of doing what is needed to be healthy and maintain a healthy weight (which is balance, moderation, and exercise). However, I understand why. It’s tough to make healthy decisions in our current environment. We are surrounded by fast food, junk food, and sweets that are available at our fingertips. Then there is king-size, super-size, or extra-large everything, which is the opposite of moderation. Our jobs are demanding and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to prepare healthy meals. In some ways, the cards are stacked against us! However, our children are watching what we eat and unfortunately, a lot of what they see is unbalanced eating. From low fat diets to high fat/low carbohydrate diets to high protein diets to raw food diets to gluten-free/dairy-free diets to intermittent fasting and so on. Many of the fad diets have been found to be ineffective, unhealthy, and sometimes dangerous.

A common theme with fad diets is that each diet severely restricts or cuts out a certain type of food or food group. Health claims are usually made with these diets, which do not always hold true over time. And what happens when you go off the diet? You fall back into your previous eating habits, which probably isn’t balanced since you started a diet to begin with. These trendy diets will continue to come and go but balanced eating and portion control will always be the foundation for good health and nutrition. Just remember, your children are watching what and how you eat and will likely follow in your footsteps. In case you need a refresher on some of these fad diets over the years, here is a list of a few:

· Low fat diet · Ornish diet (low fat, high fiber) · Blood type diet · Atkins diet (high fat, low carbohydrates) · South beach diet (high protein, low carbohydrate diet) · Master Cleanse diet · Raw food diet · Fertility diet (eat soy, avoid fat) · Apple Cider Vinegar diet (seriously?) · Baby food diet · Juicing diet · Paleo diet · Whole30 · Keto diet (high fat, low carbohydrate) · Intermittent fasting · Anti-inflammatory diet · Gluten-free, dairy-free diet · And many more!!

Kids don’t need fad diets. They need food from ALL food groups, unless it is recommended by their medical provider for management of a chronic disease or allergy. They need structured meals and snacks so they can learn their hunger and satiety cues (which means don’t let them snack all day). They need to learn portion control. And they need exercise or active play!

Let’s re-train our brains and teach children to choose foods that are nutrient-dense instead of avoiding “bad” food (like sugar or gluten or whichever food you feel is bad).

Fiber Kids bars and muffins is a great start to choosing more nutrient-dense foods and balanced eating. Easy to grab snacks that are loaded with nutrition and shipped right to your door. Kids just happen to love them.

Written by Adrienne Flood, APRN, MSN, CPNP-AC, RDN, LD