What is a Carbohydrate?
At the molecular level, carbohydrates are long chains of sugar molecules that are naturally found in grains, breads, fruit, vegetables and milk. They are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose at its simplest form. Our bodies need carbohydrates to have energy for basic cellular and organ function to occur.
Simple vs. Complex
There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs are shorter chains of sugar molecules and broken up quicker by our body. This can cause a fast spike (and crash) in our blood sugar. Often, simple carbs are refined, processed foods or sweets.
Complex carbs contain longer chains of sugar than the simple carbs, thus taking more time for our body to break down the carb and utilize its energy. This helps to slow the rate of glucose that is released into the blood stream, it helps to keep us fuller for longer, and allows the energy to last longer. Complex carbs usually contain more fiber, and more of certain vitamins and minerals than simple carbs.
Both are needed and have purpose in our diets. Simple doesn’t always mean the food is “bad” or not helpful. We need a variety of both in our diets. It is good idea to be aware of the types of carbohydrates that your child is eating and try to include complex carbohydrates where possible.
Why Kids May Need More Complex Carbs
Most kids and toddlers do not eat a lot of vegetables or fiber rich foods. (Click here for top fiber rich foods to give kiddos) Because of this, littles can benefit from including complex carbs into their diet because complex carbohydrates consist of more vitamins, minerals and fiber than their simple carb counterparts. For example, here is a nutrition label of whole wheat bread compared to white bread:
100% Whole Wheat Bread Classic White Bread
It’s a small difference, but if complex carbs replaced just a few simple carb staples, the increase in fiber and vitamins could be beneficial for little bodies.
Complex Carb Foods
Here are some great complex carbohydrate foods to try or include throughout your day:
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Quinoa (check out our Zucchini Quinoa Bites recipe)
- Brown rice
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potatoes
- Lentils (We love this spaghetti recipe with lentils. You could use whole wheat spaghetti and get another complex carb in there as well!)
Do your kids prefer simple or complex carbs? We’d love to hear from you below!