The low-carb lifestyle has been hailed as the solution for diabetes, obesity and a slew of other metabolic-related disorders. While the jury is still out on the science behind the keto lifestyle, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that lowering your cab intake will help you lose weight and give you more energy.
But is this lifestyle safe for kids? The answer isn’t so black and white.
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet consists primarily of fat – about 90% of calories from fat – and an adequate amount of protein. Carbohydrates are significantly restricted.
By severely limiting carbs and increasing fat intake, the body starts producing ketones. Ketones are made from protein, and become the body’s fuel source when carbohydrates are not available.
When carb intake is too high, the body won’t produce ketones. It’s important for the body to enter a state of ketosis for the diet to be effective.
Using the Keto Diet to Treat Health Conditions
The ketogenic diet may be used to treat certain health conditions in kids, including seizures. In fact, research shows that about 50% of children with seizures have better results with the ketogenic diet than anti-seizure drugs.
The ketogenic diet can also be used to treat:
- Dravet syndrome
- Lennox Gastaut syndrome
- Glucose transporter type-1 deficiency
- Pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency
In the UK, the ketogenic diet may be recommended for children with type 2 diabetes, as the diet helps normalize blood sugar levels.
In one study, teens who followed the keto diet lost a significant amount of weight and their blood glucose levels returned to a healthy level.
Is it Safe for Healthy Kids to Follow the Keto Lifestyle?
If your child doesn’t have one of the above-listed medical conditions, you may be wondering whether it’s safe for her to follow the keto lifestyle.
The answer is: it depends who you’re asking.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics urges caution when considering a low-carb lifestyle for kids. Experts typically recommend that children and adults eat half of their calories in carbohydrates. Many nutritious foods are rich in carbohydrates, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, yogurt and milk.
Some foods that are high in carbohydrates also promote a healthy weight. Whole grains, like brown rice, take longer for the body to digest than refined grains like white rice.
Carbohydrate-rich foods, like fruit, milk and whole grains, also contain three essential nutrients that many kids are lacking: vitamin D, fiber and calcium.
Sugar is the Real Enemy
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also recognizes the potential benefits of lowering carbohydrate intake in children. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and it’s in just about everything we eat – especially processed foods.
Experts say kids don’t need carbohydrates from cookies, cake, candy and soda, but they can benefit from the carbohydrates in whole grains, dairy and fresh fruits.
It’s important to remember that kids have higher nutritional needs than adults. They’re still growing and developing. The ketogenic lifestyle may be a good fit for your child, but you should talk to your doctor and/or a nutritionist before making such a drastic change to your child’s diet.