The Real Reason Children Need Carbohydrates

Low-carbohydrate diets are more popular than ever. Carbs have developed quite a reputation over the years, but experts say that they are a necessary part of a well-balanced diet.

Children in particular, need carbohydrates, as they are what fuel their growing muscles and brain. In fact, 50 to 60 percent of calories that kids over the age of 2 consume should come from carbohydrates (via Rady Children's Hospital San Diego).

Let's break down the two forms of carbohydrates — simple carbs, or sugar, and complex carbs, or starches. Complex carbohydrates are nutrient-rich, whole grain options that are high in fiber, are digested slower, and provide vitamins and minerals. These are commonly considered "good" carbohydrates, while simple carbohydrates have been labeled "bad carbs."

While removing some types of carbohydrates from a child's diet can be positive, removing all carbs should be a no-go (via the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). Experts note that not all carbs are bad, including the simple carbohydrates — fructose, glucose, and lactose that are found in fruits. The key is limiting the simple carb choices with loads of added sugars — like in juices, baked snacks and treats, or sodas. Added sugars should be no more than 10 percent of a child's total calories per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

How to add healthy carbs to your child's diet

The tricky part of simple carbohydrates is that they are not as filling as complex carbs, meaning you may eat more of them than needed, according to Rady Children's Hospital San Diego. Simple carbohydrate snacks tend to come in larger portion sizes and contain less nutrients. But fruits specifically contain other vitamins and fiber that are imperative for a child's diet. 

All in all, carbs are a necessary part of your child's diet and can provide numerous dietary benefits — if you limit the sugars and ensure your child is consuming enough fiber and vitamins. Some nutritious carbohydrate choices include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lentils, peas, beans, and low-fat or fat-free milk, according to Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If selecting juice, try to find 100 percent juice options with lower sugar — or opting for fresh, whole fruits instead of juice.

If you have questions about carbohydrates and your child's diet, it is best to consult with your pediatrician for a personalized nutrition plan.