Children's Health

5 tips for starting a low carb diet & the controversy over whether it’s safe for children

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low carb diets for kids

Low carbohydrate diets are becoming extremely popular. They use high fat, high protein foods while getting rid of the legumes, grains and excessive fruits and juice that add to the carbohydrate count in more conventional approaches.

Many are wondering whether this approach is safe for the whole family. The views on whether a low carbohydrate diet is safe for kids are mixed.

Some people believe that children benefit from low carbohydrate diets because they lower their wheat and sugar intake.

They believe parents don’t need to be as strict about having a child in the healthy weight range because their insulin sensitivity is less dysregulated than it is in adults (and therefore, children can handle carbohydrates more efficiently). 

How to start a low carb diet

Embarking on a lower carbohydrate diet is not very difficult. The following five tips are suggested when starting on a low carb diet, for children in particular:

1.     Ramp up the vegetables in your diet

A good low carbohydrate diet should still contain plenty of carb-rich vegetables. The same is true for healthy fats. Remove and avoid anything made with sugar and flour, as they have no nutritional benefit.

2.     Use sliced meat as a wrap

Wrap a slice of roast beef or ham and put some vegetables or cheese inside. Roll them up as you would a wrap, and you have healthy low carbohydrate meal. Alternately one could use large lettuce leaves, chard or lightly steamed kale or collard greens.

3.     Start slowly

If your child is a picky eater, he or she may resist going ‘low carb’ right away. Change just one thing at a time, such as removing the bread first but keeping everything else the same.

4.     Upgrade your lunch box

Get a lunch box with small compartments in them. Instead of a lunch box, use a tackle box that has small compartments to put their low carb foods in them.

5.     Don’t forget that finger foods can be fun!

Think about what you would generally put into a sandwich and give your child that without the bread. Kids will enjoy picking through the sandwich fillers and grazing on low carbohydrate foods.

The view that low carb diets are safe

Those that believe high carbohydrate or Standard Western Diets are detrimental for children say that the wheat in carbohydrate-containing foods causes poor absorption of vitamins and leaky gut syndrome. Wheat contains gluten and amylopectin, which can cause allergies in kids. Bread and similar products, like wraps, are highly processed and provide little nutrition. Wheat has a high glycemic index that leads to a rapid influx of sugar into the child’s bloodstream.

For those who feel that children are both nourished and safe on a ‘regular’ or standard North American diet need to think about which foods are beneficial for children, not simply in the home, but in their lunch boxes, school snacks and sport nutrition too.

Generally, a regular carbohydrate diet may include putting two slices of bread, some peanut butter, or salami together and that this is sufficient for a child’s lunch. The wheat in the sandwich is 80 percent carbohydrates, which means they will soon be hungry again.

People who choose to nourish their children with lower carbohydrate options remove the bread in their child’s meal but keep the parts that are nutritious, such as the salad, mayonnaise, cheese and meat. They feel that the child will not be deficient in nutrients by giving up the carbohydrates (and grains specifically). For them, bread is a filler and not necessary in their child’s diet. They believe that eating a low carbohydrate diet high in good fats, proteins, and vegetables will more than compensate for the vitamins and fiber found in grains (many of which are enriched and fortified to contain these nutrients).

While conventional wisdom encourages eating whole grains, the scientific evidence indicates that when whole grains are processed into flour, even flour containing some of the grain in it, much of the fiber and nutrients and minerals are removed leaving starch and anti-nutrients. By eating more vegetables in a low carbohydrate/high fat diet, it is believed the child will get the benefit from the naturally occurring fiber along with the influx of all the nutrients that plant matter has to offer.

The view that low carb diets are bad

Those that support higher carbohydrate foods in a child’s diet believe that children need carbohydrates. Experts feel that about half of all the calories children eat should come from carbohydrates. According to these beliefs, the body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrates in the form of yogurt, milk, vegetables, fruits and grains.

This opinion does still NOT support the premise that one should feed children the types of overly refined and processed carbohydrates found in baked goods, candy and sugary beverages. Instead, they should eat healthy carbs, such as those found in fruits and vegetables. There is no requirement for refined and sugary carbohydrates to ensure adequate growth and development and health maintenance.

Those who believe that low carbohydrate plans are bad for you think that drastically lowering the carbohydrate content in your child’s diet may have long term side effects. Cutting too far back on carbohydrates can lead to several types of nutrient deficiencies, and is low in vitamin B and fiber.

Additionally, when you lower the high carbohydrate foods in your child’s diet, there is the idea that there is little left for them to eat. Children will load up on fat and protein to make up for the lack of carbohydrates. Low carbohydrate diets, it is believed, can lower a child’s energy level, which can be problematic for those who are athletes.

Whatever option you choose, or where you might sit on the carbohydrate spectrum when it comes to nourishing your child, the emphasis should always be on whole, fresh, nutrient dense foods. This will provide the correct balance of nutrients and energy that growing bodies and minds require.

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