Carbohydrates - Micronutrients and your children

Carbohydrates play an important and essential role in providing the primary energy source to our cells especially those in the brain. Found in most foods, the body breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars called glucose, to create energy.

There are two major types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Understanding the difference is critical in making healthy choices.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, also called starches, are commonly found in starchy vegetables as well as whole grain foods such as brown rice, buckwheat, oats and spelt and are highly nutritious. Because they take our bodies longer to digest, complex carbohydrates provide a better source of energy than simple carbohydrates. However, when considering overall nutrition, there are pros and cons to both types of carbohydrates.

Other benefits to including complex carbohydrates in your diet include:

  • high amounts of vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium
  •  fibre which helps maintain satiety and a healthy digestive system.

Simple Carbohydrates

In contrast, consuming simple carbohydrates can result in dramatic peaks in blood sugar levels.  Any sugars that aren’t used immediately by the body for energy are stored as fat. This is how sugar consumption can contribute to weight gain.

Often referred to as ‘bad’ carbohydrates, some foods such as dairy products and fruits are an exception. While containing simple carbohydrates, they also include fats and fibre that help slow the breakdown of sugar and are important sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – critical for growing children. Foods rich in simple carbohydrates to avoid in large amounts are soft drinks, lollies, fruit juice concentrates and baked goods such as cakes and cookies.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that parents aim for their child’s total carbohydrate intake to be around 45-65% of their daily calorie intake.  If you’re looking to meet your children’s carbohydrate needs, wholesome complex carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, brown rice and wholemeal bread would be a healthy choice.

Healthy carbohydrates sources for children

It is important that children (and adults) include carbohydrates every day. While refined sugar provides instant energy, it fades just as quick. To help children stay alert and active throughout the day, choose wholesome complex carbohydrates.


Fueling healthy bodies

Our All Systems Go module explores the human body helping children to understand healthy fuel and why food and nutrition is so important in our lives.

All Systems Go Book Life Education