Want to talk controversy? Say your kids eat low carb!
I always cringe when someone asks a question about children on our Facebook page. It’s not that I don’t think the questions are important and legitimate. I sometimes repost them to the group because I want to get folks help. More ideas can help! But without fail, questions about kids generate controversy.
No matter the topic, the fight that ensues seems to boil down to the basic question, “Should kids eat low carb?” And man, do people have opinions!
I love the fact people care so intensely for the well-being of children; I don’t always love the fervor with which emotionally-driven conclusions are delivered.
But it’s hard to find anything other than emotionally-driven conclusions. I tried to locate solid research on nutritional needs of children instead of one-size-fits-all guidelines based off of current adult recommendations, and didn’t have much luck. I searched for studies on potential dangers of low carbohydrate diets for children because that’s what you so often hear–it’s dangerous!– but all I turned up was something from 2004 where rats were fed high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and low-protein diet. I didn’t find it particularly compelling or directly translatable to the question about kids: specifically, should kids eat a low carb, moderate protein diet high in natural fats?
I’m sure more scientifically oriented folks could do a better literature review. (If you’ve got something good, link it in the comments!) But you’re going to have to wade through more speculation-delivered-as-gospel than I was able to stomach to find it.
Heck, the research is only now beginning to hint at what low carbers have realized through experience for decades: dietary fat doesn’t give us heart disease, we don’t need grains to be healthy, and we can think clear as crystal without shoveling down bagels to fuel our brain, thank you very much.
The sources I found answering the “Should kids eat low carb?” question with a screaming “No!” are the same ones perpetuating long-held myths about adult low carbing.
So yeah. I was less than persuaded.
But with scientific guidance or not, we still have to feed our kids. Empty phrases like “balance is the key” or “everything in moderation” sound good intuitively, but don’t mean much. Poison in moderation is still poison. No one needs a “balance” of refined foods and sugar to be healthy. Complex carbs like beans are less clear cut–there’s nutritional value. But if children are getting the nutrients they need from other places, then there’s no reason to arbitrarily insist on a particular source for those nutrients, is there?
Should kids be on a diet at ALL?
I suspect this question is what actually sets people off. The idea of “kids on a diet” conjures up images of control-freak parents obsessing over every morsel a toddler nibbles, accompanied with stern lectures: effectively fat-shaming preschoolers. It’s not a pretty image. It’s also almost certainly not a real image, at least not for 99% of the people asking.
Most parents want to do right by their kids, and absolutely do the best they know how.
Kids have to eat something, so by definition, they have a “diet” even if they are not “dieting”–significantly and specifically restricting food intake. The “normal” stuff that most kids eat–the stuff that I ate as a kid–unquestionably isn’t the best choice. Furthermore, some children do struggle with weight and the old calories-in/calories-out model isn’t cutting it for everyone.
Some kids are sensitive to carbs or resistant to insulin, much like their parents. Some are advised by physicians to follow a certain protocol. Some parents may find their child has issues with gluten. There are endless, very valid scenarios where a parent may be restricting a child’s menu for the child’s health and well being. So I assume the overwhelming majority of people asking about kinds and low carb are genuinely looking to care for their children, motivated by need rather than vanity.
Bottom Line: Should kids eat low carb?
Every individual is different, and there’s no single dietary approach that’s right for everyone. However, it’s useful here to remember exactly what low carb is all about: natural, unprocessed food including meat, lots of vegetables, with some fruit.
To be blunt, I have trouble understanding why the question, “Should kids eat low carb?” is even a debate in low carb communities.
You may decide not to worry about fruit intake or not to count the carbs in veggies. You may feel comfortable with your child consuming dairy for the calcium, eating beans or even having some whole grains. You may not shoot for ketogenic, because there isn’t a lot of research on sustained ketosis for youth. But with the Standard American Diet–what most people consider “balanced”–clocking in at 50% carbs (and no doubt much of it plain ol’ sugar), I cannot imagine a single reason you would choose to follow that standard bit of conventional not-so-wise wisdom.
Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m just unimpressed with the decades of nutritional propaganda praising grains, so firmly “ingrained” if you’ll excuse the pun. (For an eye-opening rendition of how the standard became the standard, you may be interested in Jonny Bowden’s book, the The Great Cholesterol Myth.)
But what I think doesn’t really matter when it comes to feeding your kids. It’s what YOU think, and do, that counts.
Do your kids eat low carb? Why (or why not)?