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Children Need Carbohydrates

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN, Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RD, Grace Derocha, MBA, RD, CDCES, Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD and Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE

Published: March 24, 2021

Reviewed: June 25, 2021

Children Need Carbohydrates
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In recent years, several fad diets have recommended the reduction, or even elimination, of carbohydrates from our daily eating routine. But are these "low carb" diets good for kids? While reducing certain types of carbohydrates, such as those with added sugars, is beneficial, removing all carbohydrates is not.

Best Carbohydrate Choices

The preferred fuel for active brains and growing muscles, carbohydrates are found in a variety of foods. Milk and yogurt, pears and berries, potatoes and beans, rice and cereal — all contain carbohydrates. As do sweetened beverages like soda, cakes, cookies and candy.

The best carbohydrate choices provide a variety of nutrients to help fuel growing bodies and promote good health: vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Examples of nutrient-rich carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lentils, peas and beans.

Low-fat and fat-free milk and yogurt is another nutrient-rich carbohydrate that provides calcium, potassium and is fortified with vitamin D.

Foods and drinks with added sugars are better saved as an occasional treat, since they don't offer nutrition beyond a quick energy source. These "occasional treats" include sodas and other sweetened drinks, candy, cakes and cookies.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of total calories per day starting at age 2. Sources of added sugars should be avoided for children under the age of 2. Check the Nutrition Facts Label for the amount of added sugars per serving.

Reaching Daily Dietary Fiber Needs

White bread, pasta and white rice are all sources of carbohydrates. However, they are refined and low in dietary fiber. Making half of your grains whole grains is a healthier lifestyle choice for you and your family. There are many delicious whole-grain options including crackers, bread, pasta, cereals, freekeh, bulgur, brown rice and whole-grain corn tortillas. Other examples include whole wheat roti, chapati, buckwheat, millet and barley.

Other ways to include more dietary fiber in your child's day include choosing whole fruits instead of 100% fruit juice and including vegetables.

Children have different dietary fiber needs depending on their age:

  • Children 1 to 3 years: 19 grams fiber per day
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 25 grams fiber per day
  • Females 9 to 18 years: 26 grams fiber per day
  • Males 9 to 13 years: 31 grams fiber per day
  • Males 14 to 18 years: 38 grams fiber per day

Check the Nutrition Facts Label for the amount of dietary fiber per serving. A good source of dietary fiber has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving; an excellent source of dietary fiber has at least 6 grams per serving.

Going Gluten Free?

Gluten-free eating is not the goal for everyone, but for kids with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, all sources of gluten must be avoided. Gluten is a protein, but it's found in certain grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats that are not processed in a gluten-free facility. Gluten-free products are available in many grocery stores and restaurants, making it easier for individuals who must comply with gluten-free eating.

Some people cut out gluten for the same reason they cut out carbohydrates, but unless your child has been diagnosed with a condition like celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it isn't necessary.

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