With so many people hopping on the keto diet bandwagon, you may be wondering whether it’s a meal plan appropriate for the whole family — including the kids. If you’re already eating according to the keto diet, it would definitely be more convenient to only have to make one dinner for everyone, but is that a good idea? SheKnows spoke with nutritionists to find out whether the keto diet is safe for kids, and how to make healthy and delicious modifications to meals that are good for everyone.
Is the keto diet safe for kids?
We have to start by saying that each of the nutritionists we spoke to said that the keto diet isn’t recommended for kids — either for weight loss or health purposes.
“While fat is essential for kids’ health, so are carbohydrates. Restrictions of any type are not suggested. An inclusive approach is key for building sustainable healthy habits,” Rachel Fine, a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition a nutrition counseling firm in New York City tells SheKnows. “I worry that this diet shines carbohydrates in a bad light, and carbohydrates coming from sources like whole grains, fruits, and veggies offer a host of beneficial nutrients for the body.”
In fact, Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and author of the best-selling book Keto Diet says that despite its popularity, the keto diet still isn’t recommended as a first-line approach for encouraging weight loss among kids and teens, mostly because more studies are needed to determine long-term effects and any risks that may be involved.
So why isn’t the keto diet a good idea for children? According to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet, the ketogenic diet causes the body to enter a state of ketosis, which results in fat burning as a primary source of fuel. If allowed to advance, it can lead to ketoacidosis, which is a more serious condition where the blood becomes acidic and can be life-threatening, she explains. “This is due to the body burning fat at such a rapid pace that the liver cannot keep up with processing ketones,” Richards tells SheKnows. “Because a child may be unable to tell when they have entered ketoacidosis it is not recommended for children to follow keto.”
According to Axe, some experts worry that the keto diet may be harmful for children because they need at least a moderate amount of carbs to support growth and to be mentally and physically active.“Concerns include the chance that limiting your child’s carb intake may turn them into a picky eater, cause them to develop nutrient deficiencies, or increase their risk for issues like low bone density, constipation, fatigue, irritability and cravings due to low fiber and low calorie intake,” he tells SheKnows.
By the time kids are teenagers, it may be acceptable for them to try out a keto diet, Richards says. And when in doubt, talk to your child’s doctor. “The younger your child is, the more important it is to get clearance from your doctor first,” Axe says.
How can parents make keto meals kid-friendly?
Thanks to the popularity of the keto diet in recent years you can now find plenty of ideas online and in cookbooks for healthy, family-friendly high-fat, low-carb meals. “Once your doctor has cleared you to start your child on keto, if you’re following a ‘clean keto diet’ — meaning one that includes whole foods and minimally processed ingredients — then you can feed your children the same things you’re eating,” Axe says.
Allow your child to eat until they feel satisfied, encouraging them to fill up on healthy fats that are not only keto-approved, but also beneficial for many other reasons. Examples of the types of foods to emphasize include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and avocado oil, nuts and seeds, grass-fed butter, ghee, eggs, quality cheeses, salmon and other fish and grass-fed meats.
While adults may choose to closely monitor their protein intake on the keto diet, Axe says that this isn’t recommended for children on low-carb diets. “Allow your child to choose how much protein they need to eat to feel full and energized,” he says. “Also, remember that the keto diet doesn’t need zero carbs, so your family can still eat things like beans, berries and yogurt in small amounts. Just choose your carb sources wisely and avoid things like grains, bread, rice, pasta, juice and other sweetened drinks.” Along the same lines, limit the amount of processed fats and meats you feed your children, such as heavy whipping cream, processed cheeses, bacon, sausage, fried foods and cold cuts.
In addition to serving your family healthy fats and proteins, be sure to offer a variety of non-starchy vegetables, ideally with all meals. According to Axe, vegetables are essential for providing fiber, vitamins and minerals. The best types of veggies to eat on the keto diet include all leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussel sprouts, peppers, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers and most other colorful vegetables.
“Even if your child isn’t on a low-carb diet, these same foods can be included in any balanced eating plan that includes lots of variety of essential nutrients,” he notes.