Although carbohydrates have been getting some bad press lately, they are the main source of energy for the human body and anyone with a weaning baby knows how much energy babies need to keep them going all day, especially as they start to crawl and take their first steps!
We often get asked what type of carbohydrates are best for babies so we thought a post on the best carbs to wean your baby on would be helpful.
Types of carbohydrates
Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of carbohydrates refined and complex. Refined are those that have been processed to remove the fibre and that’s why they are lighter in colour than their wholegrain relatives. But that’s not all, refined carbs have also lost many of their natural nutrients including minerals like magnesium that boosts calcium absorption and vitamins, like B5 that plays an important role in fat metabolism.
Wholegrains are complex carbohydrates and are therefore high in fibre which helps prevent constipation even in young babies. Wholesome complex carbs also provide a host of nutrients including iron to support growth and development, potassium for healthy muscle function and selenium which is needed for your baby to develop a healthy immune system. Vitamins in wholegrains include vitamin B6 that is needed for collagen production and therefore needed for all tissue and skin growth.
Wholegrains include wholemeal and granary breads, pita, wraps, bagels and crackers, porridge, corn, barley, spelt and brown rice. Potatoes and other starchy veg like sweet potatoes are also a good source of complex carbohydrates and fibre and provide your baby with a host of nutrients including beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that the body transforms into vitamin A to support eyes. Quinoa, beans and pulses and nuts and seeds are also good sources of fibre and nutrients including iron in beans and good fats in nuts and seeds.
Refined carbs include white bread, bagels, crackers, biscuits, pita and white rice and any processed potato products like instant mash. Refined carbs are absorbed quickly and provide energy that is released and runs out pretty fast too, especially for little ones as their tummies are tiny and their energy requirements quite high in comparison. Wholegrains are absorbed more slowly and can have a more gentle effect on children’s energy levels.
And what about fibre?
A couple of things to remember about fibre. The first one is that fibre requires liquids to absorb in the large intestine and if there aren’t enough fluids available, stools may harden leading to constipation so another reason to ensure your baby (and you!) drinks plenty of fluids. The second one is that fibre-rich foods make us feel fuller faster than refined foods which is great for grown-ups watching their weight but can be an issue with babies, especially those with small appetites. So ensure each meal is balanced and not just based on carbohydrates, even if they are the healthiest possible type.
So what is the right fibre balance for weaning babies?
That’s a difficult question to answer because it depends on each baby’s appetite, size, age and metabolism. My advice to weaning parents, however, is to add wholegrains to their babies’ diets on a daily basis but to avoid meals that contain more than 50% carbohydrates even if they are the healthy type. I also encourage parents to avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible because they contain no nutrients.
It is very important that babies have nutrient-dense and balanced meals so always add good proteins, fats and fruit or vegetables (which also contain good levels of fibre) to any dish containing wholegrains.
Ideas of balanced wholegrain meals:
Make porridge with full-fat milk and/or a little coconut oil, add some mashed banana and even some well ground seeds to add protein and good fats.
If you are making a brown rice risotto, super-power your veggie base with carrots, onions, garlic, leek and celery and go 50:50 veggies: rice, adding good quality olive oil and a little Parmesan at the end for good fats and calcium.
If pasta is on the menu for dinner, then add ground chicken or a little flaked fish for protein, some peas or tomato sauce for vitamins and, of course, some extra virgin olive oil for good fats!
Finger sandwiches are a great snack on the go but ensure the filling is high in protein and good fats: avocado and hummus, peanut butter and banana or cream cheese and cucumber are all good ideas.
Polenta topped with beef ragú and tomato sauce is a delicious winter meal
Wholegrain pizza (gluten free or not) topped with tomato puree, organic mozzarella and some pepper rings is not just delicious but a very balanced supper for baby!
Pancakes made with plenty of eggs, coconut oil and wholemeal buckwheat flour are an amazing breakfast, especially when topped with live yogurt and berries.
And don’t forget that fruit and veggies are also a good source of fibre and that beans and pulses contain good amounts of vegetarian protein. Also, nuts and seeds are a fabulous source of healthy fats.
Written by Purple Carrot Nutrition: https://purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk/