Is the Keto Diet Safe for Children?
Is the keto diet recommended for children? We hear this question a lot. So let’s discuss this and think about this in a common-sense way whilst applying the research that we have available at this time.
Parents are storing up health problems for their children
Did you know that the average kid in the US eats from anywhere from between 12 and 16 teaspoons of sugar every single day? Now they don’t just get a spoon and eat it out of the sugar bowl. They get it in processed crap food that we feed our kids every day. You would think that parents would be up in arms about this – it’s well known in the media. It’s been published in major newspapers, magazines and television programs. Yet, some parents seem not to really care much about this even when it leads to diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity.
These medical conditions are no joke. They can all scar a child emotionally and make their life miserable so if you know a parent or a grandparent or an older child who could benefit from learning about the keto diet, please share this page with them.
Is the ketogenic way of eating low-carb, high-fat safe for kids?
It’s a very valid question. All parents are concerned about doing the exact right thing for their children so let’s talk about this. We want to first talk about the ancestral appropriateness of the ketogenic way of eating. Then, we want to go through some of the most common arguments that you may have been hit with if you’re a parent or a grandparent.
Our ancestors ate a keto diet
So, let’s go back in time, 50,000 years ago. This is my little thought experiment. What did parents feed their kids fifty thousand years ago when they were weaned off the breast and they started to eat solid food? What did their mothers chew up and put in their mouth for them? Was it Pringles or Doritos or whole wheat? No, it wasn’t. It was none of that. There were basically two options that a parent had to feed his or her child and that was meat or some sort of green vegetables. That was it.
Now for maybe one or two months out of the year, there were some berries and there was some fruit but for ten months out of the year, unless you lived right on the equator, you had meat and you had some vegetables and that was it.
Guess what that is? That’s a ketogenic diet. You also might have some nuts from time to time if you were lucky enough to find a tree and were able to break those nuts out. That’s also keto. And so, 50,000 years ago (and all the research available bears this out) the average parent ate a ketogenic diet and their children also ate the same ketogenic diet on day and day out basis.
So just from that common-sense standpoint, to say that a whole food grass-fed ketogenic diet is somehow magically bad for kids is kind of silly. If you think about it like that. Our DNA has been thriving on a ketogenic diet for hundreds of thousands of years.
Now with that being said, let’s go through some of the most common arguments that you may have been hit with if you decide to give your child a ketogenic diet.
“Kids shouldn’t be on a diet”
This is a common argument and, you know what? We totally agree. When we talk about “diet” in the context of children, we mean it in the wider sense of the word, i.e. “the kinds of food that a person habitually eats” rather than “when a person restricts themselves to particular foods in order to lose weight”.
The ketogenic diet is not a diet. It is a way of eating. It is the way that humans should eat. So we’d never want you to put your kid on a Weight Watchers diet or the Slim-Fast diet or the Jenny Craig diet. That’s bad for your child. It’s not a good plan at all and it’s absolutely not what we’re advocating. Absolutely not. You should never ostracise or point out your child’s defects or if they’re overweight, or if they have bad lab work, you shouldn’t make that a negative thing.
The ketogenic way of eating can be a very positive thing like “We’re going to use this to improve your health, to improve your way of life, to make you happier.” That’s why we’re doing the ketogenic way of eating, not to punish your child.
“Kids need carbs”
You may have heard that kids need carbs for energy. This is silliness. Children can burn fat just as rapidly and quickly – and probably more so – than an adult. When a baby is exclusively breastfed, that baby is in ketosis almost all the time.
Human breast milk is very high in fat. It is a ketogenic food and therefore when you wean that child off, why should you think for one moment that you should wean that child off onto a low-fat, high-carb, whole-grain filled diet? There’s no logic there. So children don’t need carbs for energy and if you think your child needs a few carbs for energy, then feed your child some vegetables or feed your child some nuts and berries. Those have carbs.
“Children’s developing brains need carbs”
You may have heard that children’s developing brains need carbs and this again is false. Your child’s liver is able to make glucose at a moment’s notice. If your child’s red blood cells or some of your child’s brain cells are in need of glucose, their liver can make that glucose within seconds – faster than you can get glucose from your digestive system.
So, what your child’s developing brain really needs is lots of fat because your child’s brain is 60 to 70% fat by dry weight. The neurons that your child is trying to develop so that they can think fast, run fast and jump high – those are all made of fat. Every cell membrane in your child’s body has to have cholesterol as part of the cell membrane or that membrane cannot function properly. And if your child’s cells cannot function properly then your child cannot function properly.
“Children need dietary fibre”
Another argument you might hear is that children need dietary fibre. Again, vegetables, nuts and berries. They’re all ketogenic foods. They all have fibre and your child can eat them and will love them. That is part of the ketogenic way of eating.
“The keto diet will stunt your child’s growth or weaken their bones.”
There are studies to prove that this is crap! The reason why some people say this is because they are referring to a faulty studies where children were put on a “medicinal ketogenic diet” which included drinking fat (usually unhealthy oils like vegetable and corn oil). This is nothing like the keto diet we’re talking about today. We’re talking about eating good, real, healthy, unprocessed foods – not pouring all sorts of oil down your neck.
Children’s bones need good quality fats not liquid fats that you would give a child with a severe intractable seizure disorder (the reason the medical ketogenic diet – completely different to today’s – was first prescribed). The children in this study may have had weaker bones (because many already had weak bones and lack of use made them weaker) but that old, medical ketogenic diet bears no resemblance to the whole food grass-fed organic ketogenic way of eating that we’re talking about today.
A medically-prescribed ketogenic diet and the everyday ketogenic diet we’re talking about are two different things. It’s a lot like comparing ketosis to ketoacidosis. If people don’t know the difference between those, they shouldn’t give be giving anybody advice. And if they don’t know the difference between a prescribed ketogenic diet for a child with terrible seizures or another brain disorder and a whole food ketogenic way of eating then they need to keep quiet because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
“Letting your child eat fat will make them fat.”
We hear this a lot, “Eating fat will make you fat” This is back to kindergarten keto. If people don’t know better than that, then they need to stop talking! Repeat after us: Fat doesn’t make you fat. Sugar makes you fat.
Eating simple sugars and simple starches and needless nutrient empty carbohydrates, that’s what makes you fat that’s pretty much established science at this point.
“The keto diet will ostracise your child.”
This is more of a touchy-feely argument. What if your child goes to a birthday party, they’ll be ostracized and they’ll be embarrassed because they can’t have a piece of cake or they can’t have a cookie or they can’t have a Coke.
There’s two ways to handle this right and you get to pick because you’re the parent. You’re responsible for your child. If your child is going to a party, you can let them eat non-keto, let them see how they feel later. It’s a great learning experience
for the average child who’s been eating keto to have some Doritos and a Pepsi and a piece of birthday cake and then when they get home and they’re holding their belly and they want to go lay down. You can explain to them “How you feel right now, that’s empty carbs. You don’t want those. Those are bad for you.”
If you want to be a stricter, cleaner keto family, then you can pack their own snacks to take with them to the party. You can make them a little keto cake. You can send some nuts and some berries. We guarantee you all the kids will be jealous of your child’s blueberries and blackberries because they’ll want some, too. They would rather have that than the cake most of the time!
“My doctor won’t like my child being on the keto diet.”
Another common objection is “My doctor won’t like or doesn’t agree with the keto diet”.
You’re going to see your doctor with your child. If your doctor is not on board with the ketogenic diet, when they say, “What kind of foods does your child eat? What are you feeding your child?”, don’t say keto. Tell them that your child is eating dairy, meat, fish and vegetables. It’s not a lie. Don’t say your child eats a ketogenic diet because your doctor may not understand that or already have a bias against it.