Is a keto diet safe for kids or not? This diet is so popular today but what are the effects on a child’s growth and health and what are the healthy weight options for kids instead of a keto diet?
These days it seems like you can’t peruse the avocado bin without running into someone on the keto diet. And the popularity of the high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet has led some parents to wonder whether following a keto eating plan could be a healthy option for their children, particularly if they’re overweight.
The main idea behind the diet is that you aim to get more of your calories from proteins and good fats than carbohydrates so that you can reach a state of ketosis easier, which means your body is using fat for fuel instead of carbs.
For a ton of celebrities following a keto diet has resulted in major weight-loss transformations.
But for growing kids, is it ever safe to limit carbohydrate intake?
Experts say no. “Children need carbohydrates to help with proper development,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, RD, of Scarsdale Medical Group in Scarsdale, New York.
But it’s worth understanding why the resounding warning about keto for kids is to avoid putting youth on the diet, so read on for all of the must-know facts.
How many carbs per day does a child need?
To start, kids need carbs for energy and fuel. That doesn’t mean they have to get them from pastries and sugary cereal, but to cut kids down to getting only 5 to 10 percent of their calories from carbs is not healthy for children.
According to the current dietary guidelines, it’s recommended that carbs account for 45 to 65 percent of children’s total caloric intake, says Kristi King, a senior pediatric dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“The calculations vary depending on the age of the child,” she says. And gender typically plays a role in the numbers too, with girls being on the lower end of the range than boys.
Her calculations, based on daily recommended intake values for a healthy child, are:
- 1-3 years of age – 110-159 grams/day
- 4-8 years of age – 130-220 grams/day
- 9-14 years of age – 170-280 grams/day
- 14-18 years of age – 220-300 grams/day
While it’s clear that kids need carbs, it’s perfectly fine to focus on giving your kids the healthy kind.
“Carbohydrates are in more places than just bread and pastries. You can find carbs in dairy, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.,”
King notes. So 130 grams of carbohydrates a day could look like three cups of milk, two pieces of wheat bread, a banana, an apple, and approximately two cups of veggies.
Are cutting carbs ever okay for overweight kids?
Even if your doctor has recommended that your child lose weight, restricting carbs in any way (even if you’re not following a strict keto diet) is not the best method.
Restrictive eating is not recommended for kids or teens, no matter their weight or activity level, says Jeremy Akers, Ph.D., director of the graduate dietetics program at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“There aren’t much reliable data on low-carbohydrate diet practices in children or adolescents.”
Some medical centers will prescribe a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for overweight adolescents who have gone through puberty, he says, but this is usually in extreme circumstances where the child has tried various types of behavioral weight loss techniques.
“This is all done under a medical care team, as in, a physician, dietitian, psychologist, etc.,” he says.
So, not something you should try at home.
One way to get a handle on your kid’s carb load is by, again, focusing on healthy carbs that are fibrous and nutrient-dense and eliminating sugary, low-nutrient carbs.
DeRobertis recommends “reducing foods such as cookies, chips, white bread, rice and pasta, and replacing them with more nutrient-dense snacks, such as 100 calorie bags of nuts, 100 calorie cups of hummus and veggies, 100 calorie cups of guacamole and veggies, Greek yogurt cups, one piece of fruit, or string cheese.”
Promoting healthy eating patterns and increased physical activity is the best thing for families with overweight kids to do, says Lindsey Manz, RD at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona.
She also recommends setting up an appointment with a registered dietitian to help guide the whole family on smart, healthy food choices.
Keto diet for kids: Is it safe?
The keto diet is not recommended for weight loss in children because it seriously limits carbohydrates, and children need carbs to be mentally and physically active.
Children on a healthy, well-balanced diet should typically eat about 130 grams of carbohydrates a day (approximately 45-65% of their calories), whereas the keto diet limits carbohydrates to approximately 20-30 grams a day.
Foods high in a carbohydrate called fiber help promote feeling full and aid in weight control or weight loss.
The fiber found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains help maintain steady blood sugars and prevent constipation as well.
“Carbohydrates provide us with energy and important nutrients,” explains Fossier a registered dietitian at Children’s Health℠.
“Children need carbohydrates for growth and development, to do homework, to read books and to go outside and play.”
Side effects of a keto diet for children
When the body goes through ketosis, children (and adults) might feel some initial side effects, including:
“The side effects happen because the body thinks it’s starving,” explains Fossier.
Additionally, the keto diet may affect focus and concentration, cause nutritional deficiencies, and can lead to high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, weak bones and kidney stones.
Keto diet and epilepsy
The keto diet was first developed in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy.
Today, in certain cases, doctors might recommend the ketogenic diet to help control seizures in children with epilepsy, spasms and other types of disorders.
There is ongoing research on the diet’s impact on other diseases, most often in adults, such as ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Before starting the diet, the doctor looks at the patient’s blood work and considers other factors.
The types and amounts of foods are carefully chosen and monitored. Patients work closely with a dietitian. Not all patients with seizure disorders are good candidates for the ketogenic diet. Always check with your doctor first.
Healthy weight loss options instead of keto for kids
For children and teens who need to achieve a healthy weight, dietitians with Children’s Health recommend establishing healthy habits over specific fad diets.
Fossier recommends seven tips:
1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
To provide children with a wide variety of nutritious foods, refer to MyPlate guidelines.
“If you make a plate-like that at every meal, you’re doing a great job,” says Fossier. “Whether a child’s weight is high or low, at least you know you’re providing all the nutrients your child needs to grow and thrive.”
2. Limit processed foods and foods with added sugar
These foods include soda, sweetened drinks, cookies, candy, chips, desserts, and baked goods
3. Choose nutritious snacks
Make sure kids are snacking only when truly hungry, and choose healthy options.
Encourage small portions that incorporate one or two food groups.
For example, try half a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread, sliced veggies with hummus or bean dip, or unsweetened yogurt with fruit.
4. Stay positive and give your child the facts
Explain to your child that it’s most important to eat the right foods to support healthy growth and maintain energy throughout the day.
For example, tell them, “You want to eat fruits and vegetables because they help you concentrate at school, give you the energy to play and make you feel better overall.”
5. Don’t focus on the number on the scale
“Children come in all shapes and sizes. What’s important is how our body functions, how we feel and how healthy a child is,” says Fossier.
6. Offer new foods repeatedly
Even if a child didn’t like certain nutritious foods a year ago, offer them again. Children’s tastes change as they grow.
7. Encourage children and teens to pick an activity they love
Walk, run, ride a bike. If your child likes video games, download a game that requires them to be active. Find a favorite sport.
Turn on music and dance. If they enjoy the movement, go for it.
Conclusion: According to all from the above keto diet is not so good for kids.
The best way to deal with overweight children is to teach them to eat healthy food with lots of fruit and vegetables.
Being physically active and spent more time outside than in front of the tv or laptop.