Q. I hear so much about cutting back on carbs and fats. Should I limit them all in my children’s diet?
A. Think about feeding them the “right” fats and carbs rather than limiting them.
Kids need carbohydrates — lots of them. They give them the energy to be active physically and mentally. The best are combo carbs: They’re accompanied by fiber, protein, and fat, making them slower to digest (which, in turn, slows the absorption of a carbohydrate’s sugar into the bloodstream and keeps the blood-sugar levels steady). Carbs without these extra ingredients (I call them “junk” carbs) consist mainly of sugar, which the body digests rapidly, causing your child’s blood-sugar levels to peak and then quickly plummet. During the low, her behavior may deteriorate, her energy may dwindle, and she’ll crave more foods — particularly sweet ones. Smart combo carbs include fruits, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), soy-based foods, sweet potatoes, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, oatmeal, and brown or wild rice.
Fats, too, come in good and bad forms. Most active kids need around 30 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats. Besides providing energy for growth, they build smarter brains (fats form the structural components of the brain and nervous system). The ideal ones for mental development are omega-3 fats found in cold-water fish, especially salmon, sea bass, and freshwater trout. But avoid feeding your child too much fish that’s high in mercury — particularly swordfish, tuna (choose canned light tuna over albacore, but limit it to three ounces a week), shark, tilefish, and king mackerel. Other good sources of omega-3 fats are avocados, egg yolk, nut butters (not before age 1), and vegetable oils. Bad fats — the artery-clogging kinds — are easily recognized by the word “hydrogenated” on packaged foods (a.k.a. trans fats). Poultry skin and excess fat on meats fall into this unhealthy category too. Steer your child away from these kinds of fats and you may help to reduce his risk of heart disease later in life.