Navigating Low-Carb Diets for Children with Diabetes: Expert Insights

by Ella

A child’s diet plays a crucial role in growth, health, and overall well-being. For parents or caregivers of children with diabetes or those at risk, dietary concerns may be particularly pressing. The debate over the suitability of low-carbohydrate diets, often advocated as solutions, for children and teens raises questions about their potential impact on health.

In the United States, diabetes poses a significant health concern for children and teens. Between 2001 and 2017, Type 1 diabetes cases increased by 45%, and Type 2 diabetes cases surged by a concerning 95%. Beyond the immediate effects of diabetes, individuals with this condition face long-term health risks, including heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems, and life-threatening complications.


While there is currently no cure for diabetes, preventing Type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle habits is within reach. Good nutrition is a cornerstone of this preventive approach. Defining what constitutes “good nutrition” becomes complex, especially for growing bodies.


In recent times, health care providers have explored the potential benefits of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly the ketogenic diet, for children and teens dealing with diabetes or at risk of developing it. Advocates highlight the diet’s efficacy in promoting healthy weight, but concerns persist about the severe restrictions of the keto diet, especially for children.


Approximately 50% of children’s calorie intake in the U.S. is derived from carbohydrates, aligning with nutrition guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the majority of these carbohydrates come from added sugars and starches in highly processed foods. Sugary cereals, snacks, sodas, and candies contribute to higher blood sugar levels and increased risks of Type 2 diabetes.


Despite the association of processed foods with health risks, eliminating almost all carbs from a child’s diet may not be advisable due to several reasons:

Growing bodies require the essential nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and restricting carbs may hinder growth and compromise bone health.

Carbohydrates are essential for providing the energy needed for various activities, including sports, play, and studying.
High-protein diets, often a component of low-carb approaches, can strain the kidneys.

Labeling carbs as “bad” may contribute to disordered eating patterns, fostering conditions like anorexia and bulimia.
Restrictive diets can create stress in family and social situations, potentially leading to emotional issues for the child.

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

Opting for healthier carbohydrate choices to replace processed foods.

Eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages entirely.

Encouraging regular physical activity, aiming for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day.

For children and teens with diabetes, a multidisciplinary medical team, including pediatricians or family doctors, should closely monitor their health. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates for a balanced approach to prevention and treatment, it does not recommend keto or other ultra-low-carb diets for kids with diabetes unless under the close supervision of a specialized diabetes care team focusing on safety protocols.

Navigating the complexities of childhood nutrition, especially concerning diabetes, can be challenging. Parents are encouraged to consult with their child’s pediatrician, a reliable source of guidance tailored to the child’s unique needs and the family’s overall well-being. Pediatricians play a vital role in helping children establish habits that contribute to a healthy future, offering valuable insights to address concerns about diabetes and prediabetes.



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