Dr Peter Brukner OAM

3 mins read

It might seem like an impossible task to get kids to eat their vegetables. Still, with the number of cases of type 2 diabetes on the rise in young people (and one in four Aussie kids overweight or obese), we have to ask if we can do better for our youth.

While evidence has shown carbohydrate restriction (low carb) to be particularly helpful for adults living with obesity and type 2 diabetes, many ask if it’s healthy or safe for kids to follow this way of eating.

Is there a different approach to nutrition that can set our youngest generation up for a healthier future?

Low carb kids

We want to preface by saying that ‘low carb’ is not the same as ‘no carb’, and we believe there are many children who will benefit from reducing their carbohydrate and sugar intake, particularly from ultra-processed foods.

Take a look at these alarming stats:

  • 1 in 4 Australian children aged 5–14 are overweight or obese
  • The number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is on the rise
  • Complications worsen as those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their youth enter adulthood.

The data suggests that preventing early-onset type 2 diabetes should be a priority for health departments globally, but it’s falling on deaf ears.

A brief history of low carb and kids

A low carb ketogenic diet has been used with good effect since 1921 to manage children with drug-resistant childhood epilepsy.

Until recently, though, evidence for using a low carb eating approach in children has been slim, and concerns have been raised about whether the low carb approach can meet children’s daily nutritional and energy requirements.

It’s vital that any diet delivers sufficient micronutrients and energy to ensure health, wellbeing, and growth, so we’re happy to learn that a recent study has demonstrated positive outcomes for the use of low carb healthy fat eating for kids. Let’s take a deeper look.

What does the latest research show?

In a recently published paper, New Zealand dietitian Caryn Zinn et al. examined the nutrient and energy content of children’s low carb diets.

The study involved children aged 11 and 16 who followed one of four ow carb high fat (LCHF) meal plans, focusing on reducing the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods (the overall diet consisted of 70-80g of carbohydrates a day).

To find out how the plans compared nutritionally, they compared the low carb meal plans with other meal plans that were based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG).

The Australian Dietary Guidelines meal plans met most of the micronutrient requirements (except selenium and vitamin C); however, they fell short on essential fatty acids and energy.

Importantly, the Australian Dietary Guidelines meal plans consisted of 180g of carbohydrates, with sugars forming almost half of the carbohydrate intake (remember, the low carb meal plans contained just 80g of carbohydrates).

Including 180g of carbs is problematic as sugars and starch are both carbohydrates that are metabolised in the body to form glucose, fructose, or galactose. Therefore, eating a diet with 180g of carbohydrates) may have serious metabolic impacts.

In addition, the quality of the carbohydrates eaten may negatively impact health in some populations, depending on the degree of insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, or other genetic predisposition.

So, is low carb safe for kids?

The researchers concluded that their low carb high fat (LCHF) meal plans demonstrated that a well-planned LCHF dietary approach can provide adequate energy, protein, and micronutrients for children and adolescents; suit children’s food preferences; and be convenient and budget friendly for families.

By following a program like Defeat Diabetes, children will get more nutrients and energy, and reduce their overall sugar intake, than they would following a plan for children endorsed by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Defeat Diabetes is focused on a “real food” philosophy. We believe in sustainable lifestyle changes over crash diets, and we certainly don’t believe in placing kids on restrictive diets unless there’s a good medical reason.

There’s no reason why your kids can’t enjoy what you’re eating on the Defeat Diabetes Program. At the very least they’ll most likely benefit from reducing processed and high carb foods. You may even save yourself some time by avoiding the need to make multiple dinners for fussy eaters.

The bottom line

This research should reassure those of you who are following a low carb approach that it’s safe for the whole family to eat together and have similar meals. Our protein and micronutrient content should ensure adequate growth while minimising the risk of childhood obesity and the development of chronic diseases.

Without intervention, we might be setting the next generation up for a lifetime of medication and pain.

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