The Role of Carbohydrates in Child Development

Carbohydrates are macronutrients (sugars, starches, and fibers) that are common in vegetables, fruits, grains, and milk products. They are one of the three main ways the body gets energy and are needed for cognitive well-being and physical growth.

Recently, carbohydrates have received a bad press and have been heavily maligned – particularly in the world of dieting and health. However, the truth is they are an essential food group and should be considered an integral part of a healthy diet. Indeed, the human body is incapable of manufacturing macronutrients on its own – they can only be obtained through the things we eat. Your child’s growth and development are dependent, in large part,ona sufficient intake of carbohydrates.

Child Development

The benefits carbohydrates bring

Carbohydrates are fuel – fuel that primarily powers the nervous and muscular systems.In the same way, a car needs fuel to run, so too our bodies need fuel to function. The clue is in the name. Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – each of which is an excellent source of energy.

However, carbohydrates don’t just power physical functions. They are also essential for maintaining mood, memory, and basic cognitive and behavioral functions. Carbs are an essential building block of life and are necessary for growth and development.

Indeed, research indicates a reliance on carbs for energy is common across all species, not just humans. There are carbohydrate supplements for plants, carbohydrates for dogs – even gerbils need carbohydrates.

Are all carbohydrates good?

Carbohydrates come in good and bad form. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to differentiate between the two. As a general rule, good carbs can be found in natural sources that have low levels of refined sugar and are low in calories. Natural products like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans have a plentiful supply of good carbs. Unfortunately, these all happen to be exactly the kind of things kids tend to shy away from eating.

By contrast, bad carbs are high in calories and refined sugars. They’re found in foodstuffs like pastries, soda drinks and processed foods – i.e. exactly the kind of snacks children love in abundance. Bad carbs are broken down by the body far quicker than good carbs, leading to a sudden rush of energy and, often, weight gain.

Do carbohydrates make you fat?

There is no absolute answer to the relationship between carbs and putting on weight. Questions of diet are rarely black and white; however, one thing is very clear – if you eat enough of any food, you’ll likely put on weight regardless of whether that’s through fat or carbohydrates.

As one might expect, weight gain usually results from consuming more energy (food), than your body uses (through exercise). Keeping a good balance between the two is the key to maintaining ideal body weight. As a rule, carbs contain fewer calories than fat(gram for gram) but that doesn’t eliminate the need for exercise.

Problems associated with carbohydrate deficiency

Not eating enough carbohydrates is the equivalent of starving the body of fuel. A deficiency in carbohydrates results in a lack of energy and can manifest itself in many ways – the most common symptoms being dizziness and mental/physical weakness. If the body is sufficiently starved of the glucose it would normally produce from carbohydrates, it will try to find fuel from other sources – normally from proteins. This can be particularly detrimental for children aged 6-16, pregnant women and athletes in training.

Carbohydrates play an essential role in your child’s healthy growth and development. While there’s no denying there are good and bad aspects to carbs, they are still critical to body functions. As with many things in life, moderation is the key.