When it comes to keto for kids, you’ll often find plenty of information telling you that the keto diet is harmful because kids need carbohydrates for energy. Relying on this information alone can present challenges in achieving optimal health, especially with the rise in childhood obesity and type 1 and type 2 diabetes among kids and adolescents.[*][*][*]
Focusing on a wide variety of whole foods and getting kids to be physically active are undoubtedly important, but what about avoiding excessive carbs?
To find out whether kids benefit from following a keto diet, let’s look at the science. This article discusses what the keto diet is, how to implement it for kids if you’re interested, and everything else you need to know.
What Is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic or keto diet is a very low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, and high-fat eating plan. Carbs are limited to 50 grams per day and should come from whole foods, such as salad greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts), low-sugar fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Healthy sources of protein and fat include meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, cheese, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and animal fats (butter, lard, tallow).
The keto diet is designed to put your body in ketosis, a natural metabolic state where you burn stored fat for your energy needs instead of glucose from carbohydrates. Ketosis is the reason why our human ancestors survived when food used to be scarce since their bodies could simply tap into their fat stores.[*]
It’s important to note that our bodies continually produce ketones in small amounts and they’re only increased when carbs are low. Moreover, ketosis isn’t a requirement — however, it can be beneficial for young people with medical conditions like epilepsy and diabetes.[*][*]
Additionally, kids who are generally healthy can do a keto diet (without necessarily going into ketosis) by simply focusing on foods that are lower in carbs and avoiding hidden sugars.
That said, parents who want to implement keto for their kids don’t have to stress about entering and maintaining ketosis, unless prescribed by their doctor due to a medical condition.
We’ll discuss more about the diet’s therapeutic uses and other benefits below.
The Uses and Benefits of Keto for Kids
Lowering a child’s overall carb intake while getting nutrients mostly from fat and protein sources may help with:
You may have heard of the keto diet for child epilepsy. Multiple studies have shown that keto can be used as a dietary intervention for those who do not respond well to seizure medication. Compared to their usual care, kids who receive a classical keto diet treatment are more likely to experience a reduction or freedom from seizures.[*] Of course, this should be done under the supervision of a medical team.
2. Type 1 Diabetes
Although research is limited, the keto diet improves blood glucose control and may reduce the need for insulin for children with type 1 diabetes. Results from a case report on a 14-year old patient with type 1 diabetes showed improvements in her blood glucose and A1C readings (the average blood glucose over the past 3 months). The patient also reported feeling more in control and having less brain fog.[*]
3. Type 2 Diabetes
One of the ways to avoid type 2 diabetes, which is lifestyle-related, is to reduce carb intake. Managing overall carbs reduces the likelihood of blood sugar spikes and increases in insulin levels, helping kids avoid the condition.
If your child is habitually eating too many carbs, especially from white bread, white rice, pastries, processed cereals, and candies — you might want to start replacing these with low-carb choices like avocados, cheese, and nuts.
Childhood obesity is caused by a diet that’s rich in sugars and lacking in essential nutrients. Unfortunately, sugar is found in nearly all processed, high-carb foods like conventional breakfast cereals, fruit juices, candies, peanut butter, and desserts. These foods are addictive and carbs can add up quickly.
There’s still limited evidence on keto for kids with ADHD. However, since the keto diet avoids high glycemic foods and advocates for whole foods, kids can benefit from reduced ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, in particular) by avoiding excess sugar and additives.
Diet Doctor published a guide showing stories of families that experienced improvements in ADHD symptoms by eating low-carb and high-fat.
How to Do the Keto Diet for Kids
Parents may be concerned that limiting carbs might affect their kids’ vitamin and mineral intake, which is needed for proper growth and function. Keep in mind that keto doesn’t cause micronutrient deficiencies if you’re planning your meals with nutrient density in mind.
When eliminating grains and other carb-rich foods, be sure to explore a variety of keto-friendly meals and snacks. Vitamins and minerals are abundant in animal foods and non-starchy fruits and veggies.
When it comes to snacking, offer sugar-free, savory snacks. Nuts, beef jerky, and pork rinds are some of the best low-carb snacks for kids. Kids also love cheese — an excellent staple on keto. If you’re looking for a healthy and convenient cheese snack, try our Käze medleys that combine crunchy cheddar cheese bites and almond nuts!
Are There Downsides of Keto for Kids?
Children who enter ketosis may experience initial side effects, collectively called the “keto flu.” This is common among those coming from a diet that’s high in carbs. Keto flu symptoms include fatigue, digestive issues (constipation or diarrhea), headache, and irritability.
As mentioned earlier in this article, ketosis may be used for therapeutic purposes with the close supervision of an experienced health professional.
Moreover, kids who are generally healthy will benefit from reduced carbs in their diet without going into ketosis. This helps promote healthy blood sugar levels and lower their chances of developing metabolic syndrome — in addition to other lifestyle practices like exercise and quality sleep.
Keto is a dietary regimen that improves blood sugar control and helps with weight management. Children, not just adults, can benefit from keto to avoid health conditions caused by excessive carbs, especially simple carbs.
With so many heavily processed foods rich in carbs and sugar available today, parents play a vital role in improving their kids’ nutrition. You can get started today by making simple low-carb swaps and replacing sugar snacks with savory options that don’t compromise micronutrient density.