Navigating the world of nutrition can be challenging enough for an adult. When it comes to kids, many parents apply their dietary preferences to the whole family. This approach certainly saves time and money with shopping and meal preparation, but fad diets and the nutritional needs of growing children and young athletes are not equal.
What Is The Keto Diet?
Keto has become a popular dietary approach for many adults looking to lose weight and those active in the fitness industry. In general terms, Keto or “ketogenic” diet is a low carbohydrate, high protein meal plan. Several popular diets can fall under this umbrella including paleo, Atkins, and the South Beach Diet. Die-hard keto followers focus more on protein and fat for 90 percent of their calories, leaving a very slim carbohydrate margin.
Harvard Medical School describes keto as: “The diet aims to force your body into using a different type of fuel. Instead of relying on sugar (glucose) that comes from carbohydrates (such as grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits), the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat.” In a daily 2,000-calorie diet, that might look like 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of protein.”
It’s a restrictive form of eating in that some claim it helps to shed pounds and improve performance. While many adults may experiment or swear by it, should children and young athletes adhere to a keto diet? Let’s look at arguments for both sides.
Keto for kids…Yes
The Harvard School of Medicine also points out that the keto diet is used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. Studies since the 1920s show that keto can reduce seizures by 50% in children with epilepsy when appropriately prescribed as a diet. And some research has shown keto diets help children with brain cancer. tumors depend on carbs (glucose) for energy. The keto diet has been said to starve tumor cells of the glucose they need, thus helping reduce tumor size when combined with other forms of treatment. An article in the medical journal Aging (Albany, N.Y.) entitled “Ketogenic diet in cancer therapy,” summarizes the rationale in providing a fat-rich, low-carbohydrate diet in cancer therapy is to reduce circulating glucose levels and induce ketosis such that cancer cells are starved of energy while normal cells adapt their metabolism to use ketone bodies and survive. Furthermore, by reducing blood glucose also levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor, which are important drivers of cancer cell proliferation, drop. Keto diets may be appropriate for children and young adults with certain medical conditions and must be prescribed and monitored by professionals.
Keto for kids…No
An overwhelming amount of research and studies show a keto diet is not appropriate for children or young athletes. Carbohydrates are fuel for performance. And in a keto diet carbohydrates are reduced to well below 10 percent of daily caloric intake. Not only are carbohydrates restricted, but it also limits the number of micronutrients – minerals and vitamins – which are essential for growth, repair, and daily body function. The restrictive nature of the keto diet can have adverse effects in children and young athletes including dehydration, low blood sugar, electrolyte imbalance, and impaired growth.
Adults often forget that just about any diet approach out there was initially created and promoted for one goal – weight loss for adults. Restrictive diets may have some short-term benefits but are often impossible for most to adhere to long-term. And with many of the restrictive diets, there is no long-term research on the impact of an adult.
So what’s the best diet approach for children and young athletes? Education. Young athletes need to understand nutrition principles and how food helps fuel and repair the body. Children, and adults, should be taught that there is no good or bad food, just poor choices. Meals should focus on minimally processed foods and have a foundation in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and water. Expose children and teens to a variety of whole foods and cooking at a young age so they can learn how to properly fuel their athletic career for years to come.