Nutrition: A balanced approach to carbs or sugars

It’s that time of year again when,
like many parents, you’re likely
wondering about strategies to
confiscate your kids’ Halloween loot
and curb their intake of sugar-laden
treats. But while you’re contemplating
sugar, it might be a good time to look
at carbohydrates in general.

Scientific research shows that
smart carbs offer a host of health
perks, especially for children. But
sorting through the facts about these
foods is not an easy task.

First, it’s important to know that
all carbohydrate-rich foods are not
created equal. Some carbs, such as
candy, are just sugar without any
redeeming nutritional value; others,
such as whole grains, come with good
stuff like fibre, vitamins, minerals and
an assortment of antioxidants.

Another way to look at carbs that
is becoming more and more part of
the mainstream is the Glycemic Index
(GI). It’s a measure that ranks a food
on how quickly the body absorbs it
into the bloodstream, compared to a
rapidly absorbed carb – either sugar
or white bread, which has a score of
100. Evidence is accumulating that a diet high in fast carbs (or a high GI
diet) is linked to health problems
including obesity, diabetes and later
in life, coronary heart disease, certain
cancers and even eye diseases.

At a recent international consensus
conference called Glycemic Index,
Glycemic Load and Glycemic
Response, the latest carb research
showed that even for kids, choosing
smart, or low, GI carbs offers health

  • They make you feel fuller, both at
    meals and then afterwards through
    the day, defending against obesity.
  • They may promote healthier blood
    pressure readings.
  • They can also help fend off type
    2 (adult onset) diabetes, which is
    beginning to show up in teens and
    tweens, too.

Scientists do not promote
banishing quickly digested or high
GI carbs altogether. It’s all about
balancing low GI foods with high GI

At meals with high GI selections,
keep portions in check and add some
low GI foods. For example, if you’re
serving mashed potatoes at dinner
(a high GI food), dish up a smaller
scoop and add some chick peas (low
GI) to a salad. This is called lessening
the glycemic load, a measure which
takes into account both a food’s GI, as
well as the portion size.

Here are some tips for choosing smart carbs:

Cook your pasta properly. It’s an example of
the wisdom of the ages: the
traditional way of cooking
pasta, al dente – meaning to
the tooth – yields a low GI.
Overcooked pasta, though, is a
high GI food.

Go for intact or longer cooking grains insted of instant or short-cooking ones. For
example, large fl ake or rolled
oats have a low GI of around
50, while instant oats have a
value of 83. To save time when
preparing longer cooking
grains, make extra and then
freeze portions in labelled

Look for coarse, grainy breads rather than light fluffy varieties. They tend
to have higher GIs, even if
whole grain. While your kids
may turn their noses up at these
breads, rotate them with their
favourites and over time, they
may actually prefer them.

Serve pulses – dried peas and beans which are low GI and fibre-rich. Include
lentils or beans in soups,
salads, stews and chili, or whip
up some bean dip such as

Go for balanced meals. Incorporate small portions of
lean protein and healthy fats
with smart carbs to lower the
glycemic load of the meal.

Low GI score (up to 55) Medium GI score (55 to 69) High GI score (70 or more)

Craving bread?

  • 100% stone ground whole wheat
  • Heavy mixed grain
  • Pumpernickel
  • Cracked wheat bread
  • Corn tortilla
  • White bread
  • Bagel

Good morning!

  • All Bran
  • Bran Buds with Psyllium
  • Large flake oats
  • Cream of Wheat
  • Grapenuts
  • Quick cooking oats
  • Puffed wheat
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Puffed rice cereal

On the dinner plate

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Pasta/noodles
  • Parboiled or converted rice
  • Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas etc.
  • Couscous
  • Quick-cooking white rice
  • Basmati rice
  • Rice noodles
  • Instant rice

Veg out

  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Sweet corn
  • Raw apricot
  • Cherries
  • Pineapple
  • Potatoes (mashed, baked and boiled
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon

 Snack time

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Hummus
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Rice cakes
  • Soda crackers

Rosie Schwartz is a Torontobased
consulting dietitian in
private practice and is author of
The Enlightened Eater’s Whole
Foods Guide (Viking Canada).
Visit for
more on healthy eating.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

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