The vast majority of your diet except meat will be heavy in carbohydrates. This includes sugar, bread, pasta, cereals, fruit and vegetables. As a general term in modern day language the term 'carbohydrate' is used for foods rich in either complex carbohydrates (e.g. starch) or simple carbohydrates (e.g. sugar).
Carbohydrates (commonly known as carbs) provide the energy for your children's activities. A lack of carbs will undoubtedly lead to a child being tired, inactive and probably therefore overweight. Carbs therefore play a vital role for your child to stay lean. But is important to give your child the correct types of carbs, see the information below on Glycemic Index.
Going back a few years, low carb diets were very much in-vogue. Eat lots of meat and fat but cut back severely on carbs. Admittedly these diets were not targeted at children but it sowed the seed into an unknowing population that carbs were somehow bad. Yet all serious athletes eat lots of carbs and athletes are renowned for being lean. Something somewhere was wrong.
As well as the documented side effects of low carb diets (which we won't dwell on) adults following these diets initially lost weight but, as so often is the case, put even more later when normal eating patterns were inevitably restarted. Low carb diets are known to make you fat over the medium to long term since your body cannibalises its own muscle (as well as some fat admittedly) instead of the missing carbs. But good bodies need lean muscle to keep up metabolic rates and allowing it to be burnt up is a downward spiral. When muscle is lost, metabolic rate slows down which contributes to you getting fat. Finally, cutting out a complete food group (or severely minimising it) goes against all of the rules of a balanced diet.
A great source of good carbs is fruit and vegetables and they have the added benefit of being rich in vitamins and minerals (great for growth) and fiber (great for digestion). For children, it is recommended that they eat a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Admittedly, the amount of carbs in fruit and vegetables won't be enough for your child so this will need to be supplemented with foods that have more carbohydrate content such as pasta.
Good Carbs, Bad Carbs
The best carbohydrates for your child to eat are ones with a low Glycemic Index (G.I). This index is a number from 0-100 that represents how quickly carbs are released into your child's bloodstream. Slower release carb foods are far healthier than carbs that rapidly enter the bloodstream because they can provide more constant, longer lasting energy that the body can cope with.
Glucose is the reference 'bad carb' and therefore this has a GI of 100. This is really bad because sugar quickly hitting the bloodstream means there is far more chance of the sugar turning to fat. It also causes huge spikes in your body's insulin levels too which causes unnecessary swings in energy as well as risking the development of type II diabetes. Lower GI foods such as pasta or porridge are better than white bread or the majority of sugar laden breakfast cereals.
Eating slower release, low G.I. carbs means your child won't get as hungry too. Too much candy or sugary foods and drink will tend to fuel hunger feelings and make further unnecessary cravings for another sugar 'hit'.
Children who eat good carbs as part of a balanced diet will be healthier than those that don't. Good carbs are low GI carbs. It is worth studying which foods and drinks are recommended by checking out some of our links below. Obviously, life is a balance and we're not saying your child should never eat candy! But what we are saying is don't make it a daily treat and try to serve wholesome low GI foods for the majority of meals and encourage your child to choose these options at school.
Let's be clear, eating too much sugary, high GI foods or drinks is really bad for children's health. It makes them lethargic and typically overweight. Minimise it for your child's long-term health.
This resource lists 100 carbohydrate GI values. Glucose has a GI of 100 and affects blood sugar and insulin levels in the body in a big way. It is worth spending some time to have a look at this list - there are some surprising entries and it is not always entirely predicatable.
The University of Sydney has a comprehensive site all about Glycemic Index and the international GI database. You can find the GI of any food and find out further background info (e.g. GI recipes and meal plans, the GI newsletter plus more). The data is taken by making anlayses after a controlled group have eaten a specific quantity of food.