If you have kids, you might be wondering if a low-carb diet is safe and healthy for them.
A low-carb diet for kids goes against conventional wisdom. Children need lots of carbs to thrive, right?
The makers of sugary cereals would have you think so. But the truth is, kids (just like adults) thrive on whole food, nutrient-rich diets. Carbs can be part of that, but they’re certainly not necessary.
And when it comes to childhood obesity, all those carbs from grains and sugar aren’t helping. They’re hurting.
In this article, you’ll learn all about low-carb for kids: safety, benefits, low-carb lunch ideas for school, and much more.
What’s a Low-Carb Diet?
A low-carb diet, according to the StatPearls medical reference database, involves eating less than 26 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. A high-carb diet, on the other hand, means eating over 45 percent of calories from carbs. (For reference, most Americans eat 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbs).
The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is a form of low-carb diet called a very low-carb diet. On keto, you consume less than 10% of your calories from carbs, or about 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
Low-carb diets have been used for weight loss since 1860. More recently, Atkins, Paleo, Keto, and The South Beach diet have caught on—mostly as weight loss diets.
Why Low-Carb for Kids?
Most kids in America aren’t eating nutritious diets. Their diets are full of refined sugar (hard to avoid in the supermarket), and this leads to weight gain, energy spikes and dips from rising and falling blood sugar, and an appetite that never gets satisfied.
The gummy snacks, fruit juices, and sugary cereals often labeled “kids foods” are especially bad in this regard. They’re basically sugar bombs.
Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! Well rabbit, you take the Trix instead. All that sugar isn’t helping our kids grow up to be the healthy adults they deserve to be.
Diets high in refined sugar are linked to:
- Higher rates of cavities in children
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Gut issues
- And much more
Another consequence of all that sugar? An epidemic of childhood obesity in America. Sadly, overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood, increasing their risk for chronic conditions later in life.
Raising healthy kids (low-carb kids or otherwise) means limiting sugar and replacing it with nutrient-dense foods, which we’ll cover later. Simply put, a well-formulated low-carb diet can help children maintain a healthy weight, have more stable energy, and feel better as they grow, learn, and play their way through adolescence.
Is a Low Carb Diet Safe For Kids?
Low-carb diets have a long history of safety in both children and adults. In fact, our ancestors likely ate low-carb most of the year. Fruit wasn’t always in season back then!
There’s clinical data as well. In one 2003 study, adolescents lost more weight low carb dieting than low fat dieting over twelve weeks, with no adverse effects.
5 Low-Carb Myths … Busted!
Many parents worry that low-carb diets will deprive their kids of good health. Let’s debunk some of the most common low-carb myths, shall we?
Kids need carbs for energy
Yes, carbohydrates provide readily-available energy. High-carb diets, however, put your kids on the blood sugar rollercoaster. The highs are high, but the lows are low. A higher fat diet helps prevent these swings.
Dietary fat makes kids fat
Won’t eating fat make you fat? Sure, if you eat excessive amounts beyond the dictates of hunger. But in reality, eating fat helps fill you up and regulate your appetite better than refined carbs. That’s why low-carb diets work for weight loss.
Kids need different food than adults
It’s a common myth that kids have different nutritional requirements than adults. Not true. They need the same basic nutrients, and the best place to get them is from whole foods—not the cereal aisle.
Low-carb diets cause nutrient deficiencies
If you cut out fruits and grains, won’t your child be short on vitamins and minerals? Not likely. Vegetables, nuts, meat, and fish are better sources anyway.
It’s hard to pack a low-carb lunch
Actually, it’s easy. You won’t find a Lunchables that fits the bill, but it’s easy to throw together some leftovers, a salad, some hard boiled eggs, a bag of almonds, a square of dark chocolate...you get the idea.
What Kids Need Nutritionally
Children need the same basic nutrients as adults. Since kids are growing, however, it’s arguably more important that they get enough nutrients to support that growth.
Healthy fats like olive oil, butter, animal fat, and coconut oil help your child absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, & K), build cell membranes, and experience stable energy. Also, the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA (found in fatty fish like salmon) are crucial for brain development.
To grow up strong, kids need plenty of protein. It supports muscle growth, tissue repair, and a whole bunch of hormones and enzymes.
Vitamins and minerals
Finally, here are a few of the most important micronutrients children need:
- Choline. For liver health, found in egg yolks.
- Zinc. For hormones and immunity, found in meat.
- Iron. For blood health, found in meat.
- Copper. For immunity, found in shellfish and liver.
- Iodine. For thyroid health and immunity, found in seafood.
- Calcium. For developing bones, found in dairy.
Low-Carb Foods for Kids
Here’s a quick list of approved low-carb foods to stock in your pantry or fridge:
- Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and butter
- Meat and fish like beef, chicken, and salmon
- Nuts like almonds, macadamias, and pistachios
- Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots (any veggies will do!)
- Lower-carb fruits like berries and tomatoes (though the occasional apple is fine!)
- Dairy like butter, yogurt, and whole-fat milk (if tolerated)
Our Top 3 Kid-Friendly Favorites
Low-carb doesn’t mean your taste buds can’t have fun. Your kids are going to love these low-carb recipes from the Carb Manager kitchen.
Low-carb Kid-friendly Rice and Cheese Patties Made with broccoli and with 13 grams protein per serving, these patties will keep your kid full of energy and other important nutrients. Yum!
Low-carb Kid-friendly Chicken Bacon Bites You can’t go wrong with chicken wrapped in bacon. Your kids will love these quick and easy keto snacks.
Low-carb Chocolate Frosty Needing a low-carb dessert for the kids? Don’t expect leftovers when you serve these decadent treats.
Low-Carb Lunch Box Ideas
Packing low-carb meals for kids isn’t so complicated. When in doubt, use leftovers!
Here are some specific low-carb lunch ideas for kids:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Ham and cheese roll ups
- Spinach or kale salad with chicken and olive oil
- Low-carb turkey chili
- Berries and cream
- Pigs in a blanket
- Festive keto pizza
- Bunless hamburgers (lettuce wraps, anyone?)
- Chicken legs
- Beef stew
- Low-carb trail mix with nuts, seeds and berries
- Dark chocolate
Need more ideas for low-carb lunches or low-carb breakfast for kids? Check out these quick-and-easy keto recipes from Carb Manager’s extensive database.
Can a low-carb diet be a healthy diet for kids? Definitely.
Kids don’t need mountains of carbs to fuel their day. In fact, too much sugar causes cavities, energy swings, and obesity.
Just like limiting carbs can help parents stay healthy, low-carb diets can help kids stay healthy too. Refer back to this article as often as you like for tips and guidance.