A Beginner’s Guide to Carbohydrates and Glycaemic Index
In today’s world when obesity is on the rise and processed foods are the norm, it has become important for parents to instill healthy food habits in their children. Here is a useful guide to the right kind of carbohydrates and their glycaemic index to help you make an informed choice for your baby.
Carbohydrates are a group of nutrients that comprise of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. They are our main source of energy and in a way, our body’s ‘fuel’, an vital ingredient for survival. Carbs are found in mainly two kinds of foods – starches (grains and cereals, starchy vegetables like potato) and sugars (sugar as well as sugary snacks and dishes). However, not all these are the same, and carbohydrates from different sources behave differently based on their Glycaemic Index.
Relationship between Carbohydrates and Glycaemic Index
The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which acts as fuel for cells to produce energy. But different kinds of carbohydrates get broken at different speeds; some foods break down faster than others. This effect of certain foods on a person’s blood glucose is called Glycaemic Index, and it ranges from 0-100 depending upon how fast the carbohydrates break down. High GI foods break down quickly, causing a quick rise and equally quick fall in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods break down slowly, keeping blood sugar at a more or less steady level throughout.
How Does Glycaemic Index affect our Health?
When carbohydrates in a food item break down faster, it means that they get converted to energy quickly, leaving you feeling hungry and tired. But when they take more time to break down, energy is released slowly, and you don’t feel hungry for longer durations. This prevents you from over eating and bingeing.
For babies, eating low Glycaemic index foods helps them keep their energy levels steady, and helps to prevent them from getting cranky due to extreme hunger, or become hyperactive due to a spike in their blood sugar levels. But for a wholesome diet, it is recommended to have a good mix of both.
Carbohydrate Requirements for Babies Under 1 Year
Till six months of age, babies get all their nutrients from their mother’s milk. But once they graduate to solids, it is time to monitor their diet. For infants, it is recommended to have 40% of a day’s calorie-intake to be from carbohydrates. A word of caution: too much carbohydrate-rich food can lead to dental caries.
Another point to consider is gluten intolerance in your child. Certain carbohydrate-rich foods like wheat, barley and rye contain a combination of proteins, called gluten. Some babies cannot digest gluten properly, leading to symptoms like stomach pain, rashes, gas, diarrhea etc. Due to this, it is recommended to start feeding carbohydrates gradually, checking to see if they are able to digest properly.
How can I Ensure Right Kinds of Carbohydrates in my Baby’s Diet?
Imbibing healthy eating habits in your baby will see them through their teen years, and into adulthood, so be careful! Here are a few tips to ensure that your baby gets the best of nutrition:
- Replace simple or refined carbohydrates with complex varieties – whole wheat flour, brown rice, brown pasta, and oats.
- Ensure adequate fluid consumption along with complex carbohydrates so that the excess fiber doesn’t constipate your baby.
- Carbohydrates from sugars are the most common cause of caries, so minimize sweets and treats in young children.
- Babies are born with a natural preference for sweetness, so you can try adding a small amount of sugar at first, and gradually reducing the quantity till your child gets used to sugar-free food.
- Ensure a mix of different types of carbohydrates so that your child gets used to the different tastes, and gains nutritional benefits from all of them.
Lastly, do not forget to add a good amount of fat and protein, along with the right carbohydrates to your baby’s diet. Babies under one year of age are growing rapidly; you can add fats in his/her foods, while saving the low-fat versions for yourself!