Debating Low-Carb Diets for Children with Diabetes: What’s Best for Their Health?

by Ella

As parents and caregivers, we all strive to ensure our children eat a nutritious diet to support their growth, health, and well-being. However, when it comes to children with diabetes or those at risk of the condition, dietary choices can become a source of concern. Are low-carbohydrate diets, often touted as a solution, a wise choice for children and teenagers? Or could they potentially lead to other health challenges?

Diabetes is a pressing health issue for young people in the United States, with a significant increase in cases over the years. The number of children and teenagers aged 20 and under diagnosed with type 1 diabetes has risen by 45%, while type 2 diabetes cases have surged by an alarming 95% from 2001 to 2017.


The concerns surrounding diabetes in children go beyond the immediate condition itself, as individuals with diabetes can experience long-term health consequences, including heart disease, kidney problems, vision issues, and life-threatening complications.


While there is currently no cure for diabetes, we have the ability to prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle habits. For children with type 1 diabetes, we can provide them with the best tools to manage their blood sugar effectively and lead active, healthy lives. The cornerstone of this battle to safeguard our children’s health is good nutrition. However, defining precisely what “good nutrition” means, especially for growing bodies, can be challenging.


In recent times, some healthcare providers have suggested low-carbohydrate diets, particularly the ketogenic diet, as a potential solution for children and teenagers with diabetes or those at risk. They often point to the diet’s success in helping some people achieve a healthy weight. Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced that the severe restrictions of the keto diet are the best approach, even for children who already have diabetes.


Children in the U.S. typically derive about half of their daily calories from carbohydrates, aligning with nutritional guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, a significant portion of these carbohydrates comes from added sugars and starches found in highly processed foods.

Sugary cereals, chips, snacks, sodas, cookies, and candies are examples of foods linked to higher blood sugar levels, weight gain, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. These processed foods, unlike nutrient-rich carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, fail to provide a sense of fullness and satisfaction. In fact, strong evidence indicates that the flavors and textures of processed foods trigger cravings, leading to overconsumption and subsequent health consequences.

Despite these concerns, completely eliminating carbohydrates from a child’s diet may not be a wise strategy for several reasons:

Growing bodies require essential nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Restricting carbohydrates can potentially slow a child’s growth and harm their bone health.

Carbohydrates provide the energy necessary for children to thrive in various aspects of life, including school, physical activity, and social interactions.

High-protein diets, often adopted in low-carb diets, can strain the kidneys as they must eliminate excess protein not needed by the body.

Labeling carbohydrates as “bad” foods can set children on a path to disordered eating habits, which can lead to various health problems.

Restrictive diets can add stress to family and social situations, making children feel out of place among peers and siblings. Preparing keto-friendly meals can also create tension and worry among parents and caregivers.

A more balanced approach to low-carb and keto diets for children involves three key steps:

Choose Healthier Carbohydrates: Encourage children to opt for nutrient-rich carbohydrates over sugary and starchy processed foods to reduce diabetes risks.

Avoid Sugary Beverages: Eliminate sugar-sweetened drinks from a child’s diet entirely.

Stay Active: Combine a balanced diet with 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to regulate blood sugar levels and support a healthy body weight.

Children and teenagers with diabetes should receive ongoing monitoring from a dedicated, multidisciplinary medical team, which may include their pediatrician or family doctor. Due to the risks of disordered eating and other health issues, ultra-low-carb diets like keto are not recommended for children with diabetes, except under the close supervision of a diabetes care team that focuses on safety protocols to protect the child’s overall well-being.

Navigating the conflicting advice surrounding childhood nutrition can be daunting. Whenever questions or concerns arise about diabetes, prediabetes, and your child’s health, consult with their doctor. Pediatricians are committed to helping children and teenagers manage health risks and adopt habits that promote a healthy future. Rely on your pediatrician for guidance tailored to your child’s unique needs and your family’s well-being.



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