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Macronutrients are the components of food that give us calories. They are all important to the mental and physical health of our children, but knowing how to balance them has become a lost art.
Because the point of this series is to give you information that will set your child up for success in school, with a hearty breakfast, I want to focus my nutritional topics to just this. If you would like more information on general child nutrition, please take a look at my Lunchbox Series.
What are Macronutrients
The Macronutrients are the ones we hear talked about the most...Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. These are often diverse and complicated. To simplify, we have lumped them all into 3 different categories. There are good and bad options in each, and there is a vast variety of types with different purposes in the body.
In general, macronutrients are the energy source for the cells. Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats are burned as fuel by the cells to create energy (like little engines). The type of fuel, and the quantity of each will determine how your child's engine runs.
Let's start here! Of the 3 Macronutrients, Fats and Carbohydrates are often the most debated. Carbohydrates are the new bad guy on the streets, with a huge rise in low/no carb diets. For those of you who don't know me, I believe all foods have their place in the diet. I believe extreme diets cause nutritional deficiencies. The problem is that we have forgotten fundamental dietary and cooking rules that have maximized nutrition, and are now fueling ourselves with synthetic foods. (okay, mini rant over, lets begin)
Carbohydrates and basically sugars. Now, not all sugar is bad (although as a society we eat WAY TOO MUCH, and most of it refined...whole other topic). Our body, especially children's bodies, need sugars to grow and function.
All carbohydrates are broken down into the simples sugars through the digestive processes. These simple sugars are Glucose, Fructose and Galactose (from dairy). Glucose is the foundation sugar, and the building block of all other sugars. Fructose is even converted to Glucose in the Liver. Glucose is the sugar that raises blood sugar, and it is the sugar form that is used in the cells for energy conversion.
Glucose isn't all bad, in fact our brains (children more so) need glucose to function. In fact the brain uses HALF of the glucose demands in the body. Brain functions, such as attentiveness and learning, are linked with glucose levels.
Not Enough Glucose
This seems like it could be a rare problem in today's society of over consumption of sugar. Hypoglycemia, so not having enough sugar in the blood stream, does happen. Especially in ACTIVE children. Without adequate Glucose, the neurotransmitters of the brain cannot be produced. This leads to sluggishness, poor cognitive function, and poor attention.
Too Much Glucose
This seems to be the bigger issue when feeding children, but honestly both are just as prevalent. Now you may think that because Glucose is fuel for the brain, and too little will cause sluggishness, poor cognitive function and poor attention, and more would be better. Nope!
Too much glucose at one time can cause a cascade of health issues. Too much sugar was shown in studies to cause brain damage, like drugs, and decrease cognitive ability. It also induced uncontrollable energy levels, with an inability to sit still, concentrate or be attentive. In addition, too much sugar is also stored in the body as fat, causing other health problems.
Complex Carbohydrates VS Simple Carbohydrates
When we hear the work Carbohydrate, many of us just think straight sugar. But there are Complex and Simple Carbohydrates, and they are a bit different.
Simple Carbohydrates are the individual sugars. Digestively, these sugars do not need to be broken down and are absorbed instantly. Metabolically, they provide an instant energy source, that is often described as a sprinter...super fast, super intense, and a quick drop and fatigue.
Complex Carbohydrates are, in scientific terms, polysaccharides. Meaning they are several different sugars bound together (typically 3 or more). Digestively, these carbohydrates take longer to breakdown. Metabolically, they provide a more steady stream of glucose energy because the bound sugars take time to breakdown...generally.
There are some "complex carbohydrates" that work more like simple carbohydrates because the protein, fiber, fats, and other components have been stripped from the food and the starch can be instantly broken down, and they are often pairs with more simple carbohydrates: White Bread, Cakes, Pastries, etc...
Glucose Middle Ground
So, as you can see, finding the middle ground is important. There are always exceptions to the rules. Naturally occurring sugars, both simple and complex, have their place.
Choosing quality over quantity and making sure that you are pairing your carbohydrates correctly with other macronutrients is important (more later).
Simple carbohydrates, like those found in fruits and raw, unfiltered, honey, are paired, naturally, with other compounds that slow the metabolism of these sugars. They are also found, in generally, smaller and more controllable quantities. These are the types of sugars our body needs. Refined sugar, has been stripped of the compounds that would naturally be found with them, such as fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. Anytime you isolate a compound, it has the potential for excess, because there is no balance.
Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains, and starchy vegetables, can also be either good or bad, based on the quality. Choose whole grains, and whole vegetables, and avoid processed complex carbohydrates like cereal and white flour, that has been stripped of important components.
Breakfast of Champions: