Ensuring a child’s diet is appropriate is crucial for their growth, overall health, and the energy they need for activities they enjoy. If you’re a parent or caregiver of a child with diabetes or at risk of it, you might be concerned about what they should or shouldn’t eat.
Diabetes is a pressing issue among children and teens in the U.S. Between 2001 and 2017, cases of type 1 diabetes increased by 45%, and type 2 diabetes cases rose by a staggering 95%.
The concerns related to diabetes extend beyond the condition itself, as it can lead to long-term health complications like heart disease, kidney issues, vision problems, and severe complications. While there’s no cure for diabetes, adopting healthy habits can prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes and help children with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels effectively.
Defining “good nutrition” for growing bodies can be challenging. Some health care providers have suggested low-carb diets, like the ketogenic diet, as a solution for children and teens with diabetes or at risk. They highlight its effectiveness in achieving healthy weight. However, not everyone agrees that such restrictive diets are the best option for kids.
Children in the U.S. obtain about 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, but many of these carbs come from added sugars and processed foods like sugary cereals, chips, and snacks. These foods are linked to higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Unlike nutrient-rich carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, these processed foods don’t provide satiety and can lead to overeating.
Cutting carbs drastically from a child’s diet might not be wise because growing bodies require nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Carbohydrates provide essential energy for activities like sports, studying, and socializing. High-protein diets can strain the kidneys, and labeling carbs as “bad” can contribute to disordered eating habits.
Moreover, restrictive diets can create stress in family and social situations, making kids feel different from their peers and adding extra work for parents.
A balanced approach to low-carb and keto diets for kids involves:
- Opting for healthier carbohydrate sources.
- Avoiding sugary beverages.
- Encouraging regular physical activity.
Children and teens with diabetes should be closely monitored by a medical team that includes their pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend keto or ultra-low-carb diets for kids with diabetes except under strict medical supervision to ensure safety.
Navigating childhood nutrition advice can be challenging. Whenever you have questions or concerns about diabetes and your child’s health, consult their doctor. Pediatricians are essential in helping children manage health risks and develop healthy habits tailored to their unique needs and those of your family.