Doctor’s Tip: Are plant-based diets healthy for kids? Part 1, carbohydrates

Reshma Shah, MD, MPH, is a practicing pediatrician affiliated with Stanford University School of Medicine who gave an excellent presentation at the annual International Plant-Based Nutrition Conference in September. This is the first in a series of articles based on her book “Nourish, The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families”, co-authored by renowned dietitian Brenda Davis.

“Nourish” cites the recognitions of many national and international health organizations that plant-based whole food nutrition is suitable for people of all ages. Here is an example: “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics believes that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including vegans, are healthy, nutritionally adequate and may offer health benefits in the prevention and the treatment of certain diseases. These diets are suitable for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and athletes.

Today’s article will discuss carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients, the other two being protein and fat. Macro means big, so macronutrients are nutrients we need a lot of, and they’re also big enough for us to see.



While fats and proteins are found in all animal and plant foods, carbohydrates are mainly found in plants (dairy products contain carbohydrates). Carbohydrates range from simple sugars to starches to the complex molecules that make up fiber. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. Fats and proteins can serve as sources of energy in certain situations, but are “emergency fuels”. In particular, carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the brain, red blood cells and the nervous system.

Shah and Davis note that carbohydrate-rich whole foods help control blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Fiber and resistant starch (starch that resists digestion) feed the trillions of bacteria in our gut microbiome. A large meta-analysis in 2018 showed that people who ate the least carbs experienced a 32% increase in all-cause mortality.



In Western societies like ours, most children (and adults) eat too many processed carbohydrates and not enough whole carbohydrates (i.e. complex or unrefined). “Nourish” explains that “refined carbohydrates are carbohydrate-rich foods that have been stripped of most of their beneficial components by food processing techniques before eating them.” They promote obesity, raise triglycerides, increase blood pressure, lead to prediabetes and diabetes, increase the risk of certain cancers, contribute to gastrointestinal disorders, and cause inflammation and oxidative stress, fatty liver disease and cavities. .

Additionally, food companies add sugar, salt, and fat (in the form of oil) to processed foods. Examples of these problematic foods are cookies; cake; a soda; fruit juice (essentially flavored sugar water); White rice; white pasta; white bread and bagels; donuts; pastries; most crackers (including those marketed for toddlers); and almost all cereals that come in a box, especially those marketed for children (you want to offer your child a dessert for breakfast?). Before buying carbohydrate-based foods for your family, check the food label for serving sizes. sodium per serving (safe amount for adults

“Nourish” notes that it is important to eat a variety of whole grains, but recommends the following grains in particular: 1) colored and starchy grains such as black barley, quinoa or red or black rice, orange sweet potatoes or violets and winter squash; 2) nutrient-dense whole grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, teff, and wheat; and 3) peas and corn.

Whole grains can be eaten for breakfast in the form of rolled oats for example (steel cut or groats are the least processed), added to soups and salads, added to stir fries, or eaten in dinner, such as sweet potatoes and squash.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with a special interest in the prevention and reversal of disease through nutrition. Free services offered by the Center for Prevention and the People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shopping with a doctor at the Carbondale City Market, and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment or email [email protected].

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