Low-Carb Diets Not Recommended for Kids with Diabetes, Says AAP

Low-Carb Diets Not Recommended for Kids with Diabetes, Says AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend low-carbohydrate diets for children or teenagers with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The AAP’s report states that there is little evidence to support the use of low-carb diets in managing diabetes in children, and there are concerns about the potential risks of nutrient deficiencies and stunted growth. Rather than focusing on restricting carbs, the AAP encourages families to cut out “bad” carbs such as sugary drinks and processed foods, while ensuring that kids get enough healthy carbs from vegetables, beans, and fiber-rich grains.

Low-carb diets like the popular “keto” diet can impose strict limits on carbohydrate intake, which may deprive kids of essential nutrients during critical periods of development. Amy Reed, a pediatric dietitian, agrees with the AAP’s recommendations and emphasizes that the focus should be on healthy eating rather than restriction.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune system attack on the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, while type 2 diabetes, often associated with obesity, is characterized by the body’s inability to properly use insulin. In both cases, diet plays a crucial role in managing blood sugar levels. While low-carb diets may be recommended for adults with diabetes, the AAP advises against them for children.

Dr. Tamara Hannon, a pediatric endocrinologist, suggests that families start by eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks, including juices, as a simple and cost-effective way to improve diet. The risks associated with low-carb diets for kids range from nutrient deficiencies to stunted growth and can contribute to “diet culture,” body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.

For parents considering a low-carb diet to manage their child’s diabetes, the AAP recommends working closely with healthcare providers and conducting extra monitoring to ensure adequate growth, bone health, and nutritional status. However, it’s important to note that not all families have access to specialized healthcare services, particularly in areas where specialists are scarce.

In general, the AAP advises that children with diabetes or prediabetes follow the same diet guidelines as all children aged 4 to 18. This includes a balance of protein, unsaturated fats, and carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy products, and high-fiber grains. Increasing fiber intake is especially important for managing blood sugar levels, as it slows down digestion.

Families on a budget can opt for frozen or canned vegetables, which are just as nutrient-packed as fresh ones in most cases. Making healthy carbs more appealing to children can involve creative solutions such as incorporating beans and vegetables into tacos. However, Dr. Hannon emphasizes that improving kids’ diets is not solely the responsibility of parents but also requires support from society, particularly when it comes to accessible healthy food options for lower-income families.

The report from the AAP was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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