You've probably seen ads for low-carb foods and diets, but kids and adults need carbohydrates (say: kar-bo-HI-draytz). Most foods contain carbohydrates, which the body breaks down into simple sugars — the major source of energy for the body.
There are two major types of carbohydrates (or carbs) in foods: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates: These are also called simple sugars. Simple sugars are found in refined sugars, like the white sugar you'd find in a sugar bowl. If you have a lollipop, you're eating simple carbs. But you'll also find simple sugars in more nutritious foods, such as fruit and milk. It's better to get your simple sugars from food like fruit and milk. Why? Because sugar isn't added to these foods and they also contain vitamins, fiber, and important nutrients like calcium. A lollipop has lots of added sugar and doesn't contain important nutrients.
Complex carbohydrates: These are also called starches. Starches include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta, and rice. As with simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others. Refined (say: ree-FIND) grains, such as white flour and white rice, have been processed, which removes nutrients and fiber. But unrefined grains still contain these vitamins and minerals. Unrefined grains also are rich in fiber, which helps your digestive system work well. Fiber helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat these foods. That explains why a bowl of oatmeal fills you up better than sugary candy with the same amount of calories as the oatmeal.
So which type of carbs should you eat? Both can be part of a healthy diet.
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. As the sugar level rises in your body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where the sugar can be used as a source of energy.
When this process goes fast — as with simple sugars — you're more likely to feel hungry again soon. When it occurs more slowly, as with a whole-grain food, you'll be satisfied longer. These types of complex carbohydrates give you energy over a longer period of time.
The carbs in some foods (mostly those that contain a lot of simple sugars) cause the blood sugar level to rise more quickly than others. Scientists have been studying whether eating foods that cause big jumps in blood sugar may be related to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
You're probably already on the right track if you are limiting simple sugars (such as candy) and eating more complex carbohydrates (like vegetables, oatmeal, and whole-grain wheat bread).
Reviewed by: Carla White Holder, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014
|MyPlate Kids' Page This portion of the ChooseMyPlate.gov site offers a Blast Off game for kids, coloring pages, and posters.|
|BAM! Body and Mind This CDC website is designed for 9- to 13-year-olds and addresses health, nutrition, fitness, and stress. It also offers games for kids.|
|Plastic Fork Diaries Plastic Fork Diaries is a site especially for kids that has stories about school, nutrition, and other kids.|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Kid's Guide to Eating Right Want to eat healthier? It's easy when you learn the difference between Go, Slow, and Whoa foods!|
|Carbohydrates and Diabetes If you have diabetes, you might think you shouldn't eat carbohydrates (carbs) at all. But all kids, including kids with diabetes, can and should eat carbs as part of a healthy diet.|
|Learning About Calories You've probably heard about calories. Are they good or bad for you? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Learning About Proteins You probably know you need to eat protein, but what is it? Many foods contain protein, which kids need to grow properly and stay healthy.|
|Is Dieting OK for Kids? What is dieting and should kids do it, too? Find out in this article for kids.|
|What Being Overweight Means Being overweight has become a serious problem for many kids and adults. Find out what it means to be overweight in this article just for kids.|
|Figuring Out Food Labels The food label on a food package is a lot like the table of contents in a book - it tells you exactly what the food contains. Read our article for kids for more about food labels.|
|Learning About Fats How much fat should be in your daily diet? Find out in this article for kids.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.