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The Cardiologist's Wife - Healthy Diet for School Aged Children
Aug 08, 2018

Tax free weekend has come and gone, schools are hosting open houses and teachers are prepping their rooms and curriculum. As a parent of a school aged child, there is plenty you can do to prepare your child for a good school year besides buying new clothes and notebooks. The most important thing you can do is to start planning how to feed your child so that their brains are ready to learn. If you’ve ever needed a reason to make sure your family eats a health diet, here it is: the foods you eat have a huge impact on your ability to think and your mood or behavior. This week our focus is on carbs.

For awhile, carbs in general got a bad reputation. But it is important to understand the difference in “bad carbs” and “good carbs” because the brain depends upon carbs for energy to function properly. Good carbs come from fruits and vegetables and are partnered with protein and fiber. They need little processing before we buy them at the store. Some good carbs to feed your children are fresh fruits, 100% whole wheat bread, nut butters, whole oatmeal - not instant, beans and fresh vegetables.

When you eat carbs, your body converts them into glucose which is a form of sugar that the body then uses as the primary source of energy for every cell in the body. Good carbs that have protein and fiber keep us full longer because they take longer to digest and are absorbed into the blood stream more slowly, providing a steady stream of energy. Your brain is the most energy demanding organ, using up to one half of all the glucose in the body. If there isn’t enough glucose for the brain to use, brain function suffers and you might find it difficult to pay attention or learn.

Bad carbs come from highly processed foods and usually contain added sugar but little or no fiber or protein. They are quickly digested and therefore quickly flood the body with too much glucose in the blood. Too much glucose is a bad thing. A big, sugary breakfast such as Pop-Tarts or donuts causes the pancreas to release extra insulin to quickly store the excess glucose that isn’t needed for right away for energy in the liver for later use. This causes blood sugar levels to plummet. When blood sugar levels plummet and the brain starts feeling deprived of an energy source, the body releases stress hormones like cortisol which tell the liver to release stored sugar. When blood sugar is constantly going up and down as in this scenario, children feel hungry, irritable, jittery and have a hard time focusing on school work. Avoid feeding your children foods like pastries and desserts, sweetened beverages, especially those with high fructose corn syrup, white bread and crackers, chips and cereals with less than 3 grams of fiber and protein.

If your family isn’t used to eating plenty of good carbs, take heart. You can learn to eat and like health foods but it will take some time. Make changes and introduce new foods slowly. Explain to your children that you want them to grow up healthy and strong and that you’ve learned something new. Certain foods make you smarter, stronger and help you to live longer, better lives.

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