The ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that has been shown to have several health benefits. In recent years, there has been growing interest in using the ketogenic diet to help manage certain health conditions in children, including epilepsy and brain cancer.
On the other hand, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the past three decades, and nearly one-third of adolescents and children are now obese or overweight. Overweight kids are more likely to develop health problems later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. As obesity rates rise and low-carb diets go into the mainstream, parents across the country are asking.” Are keto foods safe for kids?”
For these two questions, this article reviews the safety of the keto diet for kids, as well as its potential uses and drawbacks.
Uses of the Keto Diet in Kids on Epilepsy
Since the 1920s, the keto diet has been used to treat children and kids with refractory epilepsy – a seizure disorder.
Epilepsy is defined as refractory when treatment with at least two traditional antiepileptic drugs has failed.
In several studies of children with this disorder, following a keto diet reduced the frequency of seizures by up to 50%.
The antiepileptic effect of the keto diet is thought to be the result of several factors:
- reduced brain excitability
- enhanced energy metabolism
- brain antioxidant effects
This diet is also used in combination with traditional chemotherapy to help treat certain types of brain cancer in adults and children.
Almost all tumors rely on carbohydrates (glucose) for energy. The keto diet is said to deprive tumor cells of the glucose they need and therefore help reduce tumor size when combined with other forms of treatment.
While several animal studies have been conducted and human studies are ongoing, further data are needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of the keto diet in treating childhood brain cancer.
Over the past 20 years, new versions of the keto diet have emerged, some of which are less restrictive but offer many of the same benefits. This includes the modified Atkins diet.
While the therapeutic keto diet restricts calories, carbohydrates and protein, the modified Atkins diet is more lenient in terms of overall calories, fluids and protein. This allows for more flexibility while providing similar benefits.
The types and amounts of foods are carefully selected and monitored. The patients work closely with the dietitian. Not all patients with epilepsy are suitable for a ketogenic diet. Always check with your doctor first.
Why Keto Diet is Not for Kids on Weight Loss?
The keto diet removes three of the five food groups that have the essential vitamins and minerals kids need to thrive. If kids don’t eat carbohydrates, they can eat as much butter, bacon and eggs as they want, but they’ll miss out on the following:
- Dairy, which has vitamin D and calcium essential for growth and bone development.
- Fruits, which are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
- Grains, which fuel brain development and give kids the energy to grow, play and exercise.
Keto is not recommended for weight loss in pediatric patients. Weight management programs such as Keto require vigilant monitoring by healthcare professionals. In addition, growing children are not the same as adults.
A quick-fix weight loss program is not sustainable in children. It is important to teach them healthy lifestyle choices and techniques (as opposed to “diets”) that will lead to greater success as adults.
Also, kids may not feel great after starting keto. They may experience side effects of the keto diet, such as constipation, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Side Effects of Keto Diet for Children
As with any diet that restricts one or more food groups, the keto diet may have certain adverse effects. Children and adolescents are at increased risk for side effects because their growing bodies are more susceptible.
When the body experiences ketosis, children (and adults) may feel some of the initial side effects, including:
The side effects occur because the body actually thinks it is starving.
In addition, a keto diet may impair concentration and focus, lead to nutritional deficiencies, and may result in high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, weak bones, and kidney stones.
The keto diet is used along with conventional therapies to treat epilepsy and brain cancer in children and adolescents.
Medical guidance is mandatory and may help minimize adverse effects such as dehydration and digestive problems.
Because of its restrictive nature, this diet is neither appropriate nor safe for most healthy children and kids.