Is a Low-Carb Diet Safe for Kids?By Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD PrintEmail Low-carbohydrate eating plans continue to be popular. And while there
Low-carbohydrate eating plans continue to be popular. And while there is no official definition of a low-carb diet, most advise curbing or eliminating some or all grains, fruits, legumes and vegetables. Preteens and adolescents may be particularly interested in trying carbohydrate-restricting diets due to the promised weight loss. Or, maybe an older relative is following a new diet and you’re wondering if it’s healthy for kids to do the same. Get the lowdown on low-carb eating for kids.
Kids Need Carbohydrates
Experts recommend about half of the calories children and adults consume come from carbohydrates. Many nutritious foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and yogurt contain carbohydrates, which are the body’s preferred energy source.
Low-Carb Eating for Kids: The Upside
Carbohydrates also are found in foods such as sugary beverages, candy and baked goods. According to Marina Chaparro, MPH, RDN, LD, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, limiting these kinds of carbohydrate-containing foods is fine. “Children don’t need carbohydrates from cakes, cookies, sodas or candy,” says Chaparro. “But children do need carbohydrates from whole grains, fresh fruits and dairy. In fact, their intake of these food groups is vital to their growth and development.”
What’s Bad about Low-Carb Diets for Kids?
While preteens or high schoolers may look like an adults, their needs for certain nutrients are higher than yours, and drastically decreasing carbs may be asking for trouble. “Limiting carbohydrates can put your kid at risk for developing deficiencies later in life,” says Chaparro. In addition, when you decrease nutritious high-carb foods in your eating plan, there’s not much left to eat. Chaparro says restricting carbs also can make your child feel sluggish or cranky at school.
High-Quality Carbohydrate Foods May Foster Weight Control
Eating fewer carbohydrates may produce weight loss, but including certain carbohydrate-containing foods actually helps promote a healthy weight. For instance, whole grains, such as brown rice, are digested more slowly than refined grains such as white rice, possibly preventing hunger.
“Fiber, calcium and vitamin D are three important nutrients many children and teens lack,” says Chaparro. “Carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, fruit and milk are key sources of these nutrients.” Instead of avoiding all carb-containing foods, it’s better for kids and adults to get into the habit of eating healthier choices.