Monday, August 27, 2012
This topic has been on my mind these last few weeks and sharing my thoughts about it is more of a brainstorming session. I have not yet had time to look for research on the topic or even read articles on the web.
Peter Attia just wrote a blog about low-carb for kids concerning his young daughter. I know there has been some blogging on this topic but there are few guidelines and even fewer authoritative voices.
I have been trying to be helpful to my 15-year-old daughter as she is going through the process of thinking about her own eating style. She is home-schooled and has been taught from a young age to make decisions concerning her lifestyle and educational choices more than is typical of children who go to school. More about that later.
When it comes to kids and teenagers there are different issues at stake than for adults who may have had serious obesity problems, carb addictions and health problems that are the result of eating a poor diet for decades.
In many ways kids have an easier time changing habits if they are encouraged and have their parents as role models more than as preachers of a new life style.
Kids have bad habits but they have likely not experienced as many limitations as a result of unhealthy eating habits. On the other hand they have extra challenges as well. The research in epigenetics gives some indication that children whose mothers ate a high-carb diet during pregnancy and/or were diabetic during pregnancy have more insulin-producing cells in their pancreas, setting them up for greater chance of metabolic syndrome and weight struggles earlier in life and possibly for a lower carb tolerance.
There are many social pressures on kids to eat high-carbohydrate diets that they are surrounded by, including school breakfast and lunch options, fast food, snacks that friends eat etc.
Even at high school sports events meal breaks for traveling teams are typically at fast food restaurants and snacks provided at meets are often cookies, sandwiches and chips, all filled with starches, grains and sugars.
The reason my daughter is eating lower carb is in part because we don't have grains and beans and sugar in the house any more. We do have lots of choices when it comes to veggies, nuts and seeds, meats, dairy and fruit. Eating this way will almost automatically limit carbs to no more than about 120-150 grams/day, depending on total calorie intake.
I believe that "diet" for kids should almost always mean "lifestyle diet" not "reduction diet", even for kids who are obese. Any diet that can not be maintained for life would possibly deprive children of nutrients they need for their bodies to grow and being "on a diet" would single them out among their peers and have a potentially very negative effect on their sense of self.
Assuming all this, I encouraged my daughter, who is ideal weight, to consider a low-carb diet for overall health and the potential benefit of improved athletic performance, in particular in endurance events where it helps to fuel exercise more with fat than with glycogen.
As a swimmer on the High School team, the longest distance she currently swims is 500 yards, but during practice she typically swims between 5000 and 7000 yards, making this an endurance event.
After reading part of Volek and Phinney's book on low carbohydrate performance she told me today that gong very low-carb (ketosis) is not what she wants to do. The reason:
Too many restrictions; she can't have the occasional slice of gluten-free pizza, she would have to think and plan far more what to have for meals away from home and for snacks; she can NEVER EVER have certain foods again.
Since we have raised her from very young to make responsible choices for her well-being I feel very comfortable with letting her make her own choices in this area. She did her homework to learn about all the options and the possible consequences. She, like everyone else, is an experiment of one and knows her body better than anyone else. It will take her at least a couple of months to fine-tune what works and what does not work. She will make mistakes along the way, but I may have spared her many mistakes that I made when I grew up, including an addiction to sugar and pastries.
Her daily carb intake may end up closer to 150 grams/day or as low as 60, but it will be low-carb and grain-free.
I am so thankful that she will likely be able to avoid so many diseases that are common in our culture just by eating right: cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, many types of brain dysfunction.
So to sum it up, yes, I think low-carb is a very good idea for kids, it may be the only healthy diet around for kids, but it may not be necessary to go to the same extremes (think induction Atkins) as a middle-aged obese adult who has full-blown metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, heart disease and who has not been able to exercise much for many years.