LCHF and Parenting

If you are considering adopting a Low Carb, High Fat diet for your family it is worth recognising that there are no nutrients (vitamins, minerals or micronutrients) in starchy carbohydrate foods that cannot be found in low carbohydrate alternatives, often in a superior form. All foods give us energy and contrary to the standard dietary guidelines there is no absolute requirement for carbohydrates in our diets. But does this apply to children as well?

In adults as well as children, sugar and starchy refined carbohydrates are processed into energy quickly by the body and produce a sharp spike in blood sugar levels that in turn encourages our bodies to produce insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone and prolonged, excessive production of insulin encourages weight gain. Conversely, eating more fats and protein provides a longer, slower and steadier release of energy where blood sugar levels normalise and we remain fuller for longer.

Most young people metabolise carbohydrates quite well. Over time however, especially when exposed to large amounts of carbohydrates some become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance results in insulin becoming less effective and blood sugar levels become elevated, potentially leading to the development of Type-2 diabetes and obesity. Restricting carbohydrates during childhood can help to prevent childhood obesity that frequently leads to adult obesity. Behavioural problems such as ADHD have also been linked to excessive carbohydrate intake.

A common argument is that the brain needs glucose for energy and diets low in carbohydrates can be detrimental to learning, memory and thinking. This argument is extended to children and brain development. This argument remains unproven in human studies and although the brain does run on glucose it can run equally well on ketones as its’ primary fuel source. The currently recommended standard dietary guidelines are very high in carbohydrates and limit essential proteins and fats. Proteins and fats are essential for brain development where as carbohydrates are not.

Cholesterol levels have been shown to increase slightly when children start on a Low Carb, High Fat diet, but these tend to normalise over time. If your child or teenager is overweight or obese there is a possibility that they have already developed insulin resistance and a Low Carb, High Fat diet may be a very effective treatment. You should not however adopt a Low Carb, High Fat diet for your child if you have not received consent from their doctor. You should also not adopt a Low Carb, High Fat diet for an infant or a toddler.

“Training children to avoid pastries, sweets, processed food, fizzy drinks and take-away food sounds like a no-brainer, but this is often viewed as “deprivation” by society. By restricting carbs in childhood, you are offering them the gift of a long, healthy life, not deprivation. To appreciate the alternative, one just has to look around and realise how many people are sick and overweight; radiant health is no longer the norm.

Feeding a child a low-carbohydrate diet will not only improve mental aptitude and focus, but prevent serious health hazards later on.

One of the best recognised and highly recommended treatments for autism and epilepsy is, in fact, a ketogenic diet. The well-known ketogenic diet is an eating plan where all carbohydrate foods (including fruit and carb-rich foods) are removed from the child’s diet, and he/she is placed on a very high-fat diet, together with sufficient protein and vegetables. The body is therefore forced to burn fats instead of carbohydrates.

Carbs are turned into glucose, particularly important for brain function. Where there are no carbohydrates provided, the liver then converts fat into ketone bodies. These can then be used by the brain as a source of energy, and has been shown to lead to a dramatic decline in seizure occurrence in epileptic children.

The ketogenic diet has been successfully used for decades, so clearly it is neither dangerous nor unhealthy. However, feeding a moderate carbohydrate diet that includes sweet potato, carrots, nuts and even a little gluten-free grain in moderation (such as buckwheat and quinoa) in small amounts and infrequently – would be acceptable for most healthy children.

Breakfast cereals may just be the elephant in the room. Many parents can’t imagine giving children anything else to eat at breakfast other than a plate of cereal, with reduced-fat milk, plenty of sugar and perhaps a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast with margarine. This is a recipe for disaster for the rest of the day, as there is virtually no protein or fat. The fat that is provided is a toxic version of a real fat. Margarine is no substitute for butter whatsoever – one is toxic and inflammatory, the other (butter) is nutritious and healthy. You may as well open a packet of sugar and pour this down the child’s throat. It is no wonder there are so many “diagnoses” of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)…….

To summarise, for the normal child, don’t take all carbs away, but make sure the carbs given are not in the form of grains or sugars – and before going to parties, fill them up with fat and protein. They will eat a lot less junk.” 

Prof. Tim Noakes, The Real Meal Revolution

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