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Understanding their food – where do carbohydrates and sugars fit?

Your toddler’s diet contains 3 main food components or macronutrients: Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates.

Protein, which is found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs and legumes – provides amino acids to build muscles, skin, and hair, as well as help little bodies repair themselves.

Fats, found in oil, butter, nuts, avocado, dairy, meat, fish and poultry, provide the essential fatty acids a healthy growing toddler needs – including omega 3 fats for eye development and cognitive function. Fats also transport essential micronutrients such as fat soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E and K which are essential for many metabolic processes) around the body.

Carbohydrates are found in breads, cereal, fruits, some vegetables, rice and pasta. These provide fuel to run active young bodies and brains – similar to petrol used by a car!

Carbohydrates can be split into 2 groups: ‘simple’- the common ones being sucrose, fructose and lactose, and ‘complex’- such as starches and fibre. The main difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is how quickly they are digested and absorbed. Carbohydrates are digested in the body to produce glucose, which is used to fuel the body and the brain. Simple carbohydrates are generally digested and absorbed faster than the complex carbohydrates that take longer to break down.

What should your toddler be eating?

50-60% of a toddler’s energy should come from carbohydrates. The majority of this energy should come from healthy carbohydrate foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain foods. However, we often fall into the trap of eating too many highly processed carbohydrate foods with ‘added sugars’. Common foods to limit intake of include sweetened breakfast cereals, soft drinks, cordial, cakes, biscuits, confectionery, and ice-cream, which can provide unnecessary added sugar to your toddler’s diet.

For clever ways to include more healthy foods in your toddlers diet, click here.

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