We all know that kids are eating too much sugar. As parents, we do our best to keep our kids’ sugar intake reasonable. But what if we severely restricted their sugar/carb intake as in the case of a ketogenic diet, would that be okay? Is it really safe to do keto for kids?
In this post, I am going to discuss doing keto for kids along with a couple examples of families who have found success with this approach.
After reading this, I welcome you to draw your own conclusion on the benefit and safety of keto for kids.
Keto For Kids: A Case Study
Maria Emmerich is an international bestselling author, world renowned speaker, and nutritionists specializing in the ketogenic lifestyle. Most importantly, Maria is a mom, and she is raising a keto family. According to her expert opinion, keto is perfectly safe for kids when it’s done right (more on this later).
Maria and her husband Craig adopted 2 little boys almost 10 years ago. When these kids first entered their care, the boys were malnourished and severely underweight. The boys followed their new parent’s keto diet from day 1. Today, they are growing, thriving, and on the 90th percentile in terms of weight.
From this example, it appears that keto for kids is indeed perfectly safe, but let’s dive a little deeper.
Keto For Kids: We Are Born Keto
Babies who are breastfed are naturally in ketosis. The bulk of Mom’s milk is composed of fat, and it’s designed specifically to meet the needs of a rapidly growing baby. If we are born keto and breastmilk is designed to provide us with lots of fat, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that keto for kids must also be perfectly safe?
Keto For Kids: Stable Blood Sugar
The ride that all parents should keep their kids from riding is the blood sugar roller coaster. The continual rise and fall of blood sugar may possibly be the single greatest cause of behavior and attention problems for our kids. Don’t believe me, ask a teacher.
Teachers know first hand how hard it is to control the class that comes in after lunch. Blood sugar is sky high from eating lots of sugar and carbs. This makes the class more hyperactive, and they have trouble focusing and following directions because of the surplus of energy running through their veins.
After a couple hours, the class is calmer and easier to control. However, they can be grumpy, and they still can’t focus because now, they don’t have enough energy circulating in their bloodstream.
Riding The Roller Coaster For Too Long
As kids grow into adults, the continual spikes in blood sugar can lead to a condition called insulin resistance. This is when our cells stop responding to insulin’s call to store sugar. If someone develops insulin resistance, there is a good chance they will also develop diabetes. This can also increase your risk of fatty liver, heart disease, and other much more serious conditions.
A ketogenic diet is low in carbs/sugars which prevents this roller coaster ride by providing stable energy from fats and protein.
Keto For Kids: Where Do Carbs Come In?
If you look at the body, it’s hard to figure out why the experts tell us to eat so many carbs. (200-300/day) If you take away water, then we are mostly made of fat, protein, and minerals.
Our brains are mostly fat, our cells are protected by a bi-layer of fat, and we need fat and cholesterol for hormonal and nerve health. Protein and minerals provide the structural building materials for growth.
We often hear kids need carbs to grow, but only 1% of the human body is carbohydrates. So, why are carbs/sugar supposed to make up 45-65% of the diet ? It doesn’t seem very logical. Does it?
What About Fruits and Vegetables?
The best argument against a ketogenic diet for kids relates to feeding our children fruits and vegetables. There is an increasing opinion that fruits should be limited because they are quite high in sugar. One piece of fruit can have more sugar than candy.
Vegetables on the other hand are still very healthy. If there’s one thing that everyone across all diets (except maybe keto) agree on, it’s that we should be eating lots and lots of vegetables. However, did you know that animal meats actually contain equal or higher amounts of the same valuable micronutrients?
In the keto world, animal meats are considered a superfood. Of course, some of that comes in the form of organ meats such as chicken livers or beef hearts. Limiting carbs to 20-30grams means cutting out a lot of vegetables. However, if you want to follow the low carb, keto lifestyle, you can rely on organ meats and other animal proteins to provide a lot of the same nutrients.
My Kids Won’t Eat That
I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way my kids will eat organ meats. But, ask yourself this, how many vegetables are they really eating. Aside from the starchy ones like potatoes, corn, or carrots, most kids get very little vegetables. Parents often struggle to get our picky kids to eat them, but I bet it would be easier just to hide some beef heart in the ground beef hamburger or chicken liver in chili.
Honestly, this part has me on the fence too. After looking at various nutrition tables comparing the two, I do see the value in adding organ meats instead of vegetables. However, I just feel like there may be something else to eating vegetables in addition.
Maybe it’s the chlorophyll from the leafy greens or some other unknown, undiscovered plant compound, but I think the benefits of certain vegetables warrants a place on the table. Low starch vegetables will still have a place in my family’s diet. It will likely be reduced to keep their carbs low, but we will definitely still be eating and offering our kids vegetables.
Keto For Kids: How To Do It Right
As mentioned at the beginning, when done properly, keto should be quite safe for kids. In an interview for my podcast , Craig Emmerich and I discussed the right and wrong way to do keto for kids. Listen to that episode below or on your favorite podcast player.
Craig pointed out that studies that deem keto to be dangerous featured poorly designed diets that were too high in fat (90% of calories) and too low in protein (40g/day).
I did find one 6 month study on the safety of keto for kids. The researchers noticed sustained growth rates, and even saw improved liver function after this 6 month period. Of course, the study had the same limitations as the one’s Craig talked about in our interview.
Too much fat, too little protein, and the participants were only children that had epilepsy. It’s hard to extrapolate these results and apply them to healthy kids who do not have other medical conditions.
Kids Need Protein To Grow
A well formulated ketogenic diet for kids should provide enough protein to sustain 2-3 times the child’s lean mass. When following keto for kids, a 50 pound child should get between 100-150g of protein, and healthy fats are not really limited. Protein is quite filling, so it’s hard to overeat when following these simple keto guidelines.
Why Not Just Eat Paleo?
Personally, I think everyone should at least follow a gluten free diet, and our family has been paleo for years now. However, the purpose of this post is not necessarily to find the best diet for kids. The purpose is to provide information on the safety of keto for kids, and I think the data shows that keto is indeed safe.
After reading, talking with the experts, and learning more about keto, I will be adjusting my family’s paleo diet to be more in line with ketogenic principles.
Keto For Kids Testimonial
The following testimonial is an excerpt from the book: “Keto: The Complete Guide to Success on The Ketogenic Diet”
My 11 year old daughter was told she was borderline insulin-resistant, and that she had ADHD and a behavior disorder. After keto, she lost 38 pounds, and no longer has any symptoms of her conditions. She is now sleeping better and getting amazing grades in school.
|If you decide to give keto a try, make sure you keep their electrolytes balanced-especially in the beginning. Keto flu is a common occurrence when starting this diet, and it’s even more important to make sure our kids stay hydrated and get plenty of electrolytes. Learn more on the keto flu here.|
The ketogenic diet when done right appears to be safe for kids, and it may even be beneficial. Doing keto for kids with medical, behavioral, and developmental issues, shows a lot of promise. However, whether or not keto is the right choice for your family is for you to decide.
Remember, I’m simply a Dad sharing the knowledge and experience I’ve learned over the past 8 years. The content presented is for informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice.
*This page may contain affiliate links.