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Carbohydrates in the Diet



  • Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are a source of energy for the body.
  • Carbohydrates should provide 45 to 60% of your child’s total daily calories.
  • Look for less processed, whole-grain, and “no sugar added" carb choices. Foods high in sugars, syrups, or fat add a lot of calories and can lead to weight gain and other health problems.


What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are a source of energy for the body. There are three basic types of carbs: sugars, starches, and dietary fiber.

  • Sugar is found in foods such as fruit, milk, soft drinks, baked goods, and candy. Sugars such as glucose and fructose raise blood glucose very quickly.
  • Starch is found in plant-based foods such as pasta, bread, cereals, rice, potatoes, beans, and corn. Starches take longer to digest and turn into energy than sugars.
  • Fiber is found in whole-grain bread and pasta, beans, seeds, peas, vegetables, and fresh and dried fruits. Dietary fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested.

You can tell how much carbohydrate is in a food by reading the nutrition facts label.

How much carbohydrate does my child need?

Carbohydrates should provide 45 to 60% of total daily calories. Grains like wheat and rice are high in carbohydrate and part of a healthy, well balanced diet. Try to serve more whole-grain products and fewer processed grains. Help your child to avoid eating a lot of food with added sugar, or drinking sodas or fruit juices that are high in sugar.

How do carbohydrates fit into a weight-loss program?

Eating a very low-carb, high-protein diet may lead to faster weight loss than a balanced diet that includes a variety of carbs. However, very low carb diets often lack important nutrients and fiber, and they can be high in unhealthy fats. These diets can also be hard to follow for a long time.

The healthiest weight loss diets include a variety of foods with a focus on low-calorie, less processed, high-fiber foods with low amounts of saturated fat.

How can my child eat the right carbohydrates?

The body turns carbs into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is carried in the blood to all the cells in your child’s body and gives your child energy. The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures the effect of foods your child eats on the level of sugar in your child’s blood. Foods that have a high GI cause the blood glucose level to go up quickly. High GI carb foods include white-bread products, white rice, noodles made with refined flour, French fries, soft drinks, and sugar. Low GI carb foods raise blood glucose more slowly. Examples of low GI carb foods are most beans, whole fruits, whole wheat, oats, bran, brown rice, barley, and whole-grain, low-sugar breakfast cereals.

Many low GI carb foods are also high in fiber. High-fiber carbs are much more filling and a switch to this type of carb may help your child eat smaller portions of food, lose weight, and better control blood glucose.

It is important to choose carefully which carbs your child eats. Many processed foods are high in sugars, syrups, or fat, which add a lot of calories and can lead to weight gain and other health problems. Look for less processed, whole-grain, and “no sugar added" carb choices.

The American Heart Association advises that children and teens should limit added sugars to less than 100 calories (less than 25 grams) and also limit drinks sweetened with sugar to 8 ounces or less per week. Children under the age of 2 should not have added sugars in their diet.

Follow these tips to choose healthy carbs and get 20 to 35 grams of fiber in your child’s daily diet:

  • At least one half of the grains your family eats should come from whole-grain products.
  • Most of your child’s fruit servings should come from whole fruit, instead of canned fruit or juice.
  • Include a wide variety of vegetables in your child’s diet.
  • Include beans and peas several times a week.
  • Choose light yogurts with less added sugar.
  • Help your child cut down on foods with added sugar and saturated fats.

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Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2018.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-01-09
Last reviewed: 2017-01-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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