The ketogenic diet is trending, big time. This diet requires a super-high intake of fat and extremely low intake of carbs. It promises fast weight loss, which may make sense for adults who are well beyond puberty.
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But what about growing kids and teens? With childhood obesity at an all-time high, some parents may be asking themselves if keto is the answer to help their kids.
But is keto safe for kids? In a nutshell, no, says registered pediatric dietitian Kaitlyn Nowacki, MS, RD, LD.
The keto diet removes three of the five food groups that have essential vitamins and minerals kids need for growth. If kids cut out carbs, they could eat butter, bacon and eggs to their hearts’ (dis)content, but they’d be missing out on:
“I wouldn’t recommend keto for weight loss in pediatric patients,” Nowacki says. “A weight management program like keto requires vigilant monitoring by a healthcare professional. Plus, growing kids aren’t the same as adults.”
“Quick-fix weight-loss schemes aren’t sustainable in children. It’s important to teach them healthy lifestyle choices and techniques (versus ‘diets’) to set them up for more success as adults.”
And, she warns that kids probably wouldn’t feel great after starting keto. They might experience:
There’s one scenario in which keto might be appropriate: Studies have shown that it can help control seizures in some children with epilepsy. But this should be prescribed and carefully monitored by a healthcare professional.
“There is absolutely an obesity epidemic among children. I see at least 30 kids per week who need nutritional counseling and have high BMIs,” Nowacki notes.
While BMI improvement is important for kids who have overweight or obesity, they may not need calorie-limiting diets to get there. Why? Because kids rapidly burn energy and can reach a better BMI by merely growing up. If the only thing they do is decrease excess calories (we’re looking at you, French fries and soda), that might be enough.
If a child or teen does need to restrict their food intake, a dietitian or healthcare provider should oversee and manage that process to keep the child safe. A weight loss plan for children must be tailored to a child’s specific needs.
Nowacki suggests cutting out the bad habits that lead to weight gain by doing the following:
She suggests some simple switches:
While these tips are helpful guides, concerned parents should request support from a registered dietitian or pediatrician. “There are too many unsubstantiated facts and less-than-credible viewpoints online,” says Nowacki. “Don’t jeopardize your child’s long-term health by relying on a web search.”