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Carbohydrates for your kids

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Carbohydrates are one of the most important energy
sources for physical activities and are a necessary part
of a healthy diet for both children and adults.

They are classified into two types: simple and complex.  Molecular structure determines the difference between
simple and complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates cannot metabolize energy as
quickly as simple carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates elevate blood glucose levels slowly and provide a longer lasting form of energy.  Good examples of complex carbohydrates are pasta, rice, beans, carrots, cereal, potatoes, bread, corn, and broccoli.

Simple carbohydrates convert to energy rapidly.  They
provide quick but short lasting bursts of energy.  Simple carbohydrates include sugars, ripe fruits, and lactose
and sucrose.  Because of the sweet tooth that many
children have, it is very important to have the right balance between simple and complex carbohydrates in children’s diets.

Recommendations for Keeping your Child's Sugar Consumption
in Check According to the Nemours Foundation

Foods that are high in added sugar (pastries, cookies, cake, candy, frozen desserts, and some fruit juices) tend to also be high in calories and low in other valuable nutrients.  As a result, a high-sugar diet is often linked to obesity. Eating too many sugary foods can also lead to tooth decay.
But, of course, every child has sugar now and then.  And added sugar can enhance the taste of some foods - whole-grain cereal, for example - that some kids may resist. The key to keeping your child's sugar consumption in check is moderation.
A little sugar, particularly if it is in a food that provides other important nutrients, is not going to tip the scale or send your child to the dentist. But consider the fact that the average teen consumes about twice as much sugar as recommended and does not get the recommended amounts of fruit and low-fat milk.
Instead of giving your child foods that are low in nutrients and high in added sugar, offer healthier choices, such as fruit - a naturally sweet carbohydrate-containing snack that also contains the fiber and the vitamins that your child needs.
One way to cut down on added sugar in your child's diet is to eliminate soda.  Not only can drinking sweetened sodas lead to the erosion of the enamel of the teeth from the acidity and dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content, but also, consider these statistics:

  • Each 12-ounce (355-milliliter) serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons (49 milliliters) of sugar and 150 calories. Sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets of U.S. children.
  • Consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%.

Instead of soda or juice drinks (which often contain as much added sugar as soft drinks), offer your child low-fat milk, water, or 100% fruit juice.  Although there is no added sugar in 100% fruit juice, the calories from the natural sugars found in fruit juice can add up.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice intake to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) for children under 7 years old, and no more than 8 to 12 ounces (237 to 355 milliliters) of juice for older children and teens.

Figuring Out Carbs and Sugar

It is not always easy to tell which foods are the best choices and which are not, just by looking at the labels.  To figure out carbohydrates, look under Nutrition Facts on food labels, where you will find three numbers for total carbohydrate: the total number of carbohydrates, the amount of dietary fiber, and sugars.

  • Total Carbohydrate: This number, listed in grams, combines several types of carbohydrates: dietary fibers, sugars, and other carbohydrates.
  • Dietary Fiber: Listed under total carbohydrate, dietary fiber itself has no calories and is a necessary part of a healthy diet.  A high-fiber diet promotes bowel regularity, may help reduce the risk of colon cancer, and can help reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Sugars: Also listed under total carbohydrate on food labels, sugars are found in most foods.  However, the Nutrition Facts label does not make the distinction between natural sugars and added sugars.  Natural sugars are found in many foods, including fruit and dairy products.  Snack foods, candy, and soda often have large amounts of added sugars.  To find out if a food has added sugar, you need to look at the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup or sweetener, dextrose, fructose, honey, or molasses, to name just a few.  Avoid products that have sugar or other sweeteners high on the ingredient list.

Although carbohydrates have just 4 calories per gram, the high sugar content in snack foods means the calories can add up quickly, and these "empty calories" usually contain few other nutrients.

Making Carbohydrates Part of a Healthy Diet

Ensuring that your child is getting a balanced, nutritious diet is not as hard as it may seem.  Simply make good carbohydrate choices (whole grains, fruits, veggies, and low-fat milk and dairy products); stock your home with healthy choices; limit foods containing added sugar (especially those with little or no nutritional value); and encourage your child to be active every day.  Above all, be a good role model. Your child will see your wholesome habits and learn to apply them to leading a healthy lifestyle throughout childhood and into adulthood.

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