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Are fad diets safe for kids?

A closer look at fad diets that reduce carbs and the effect they can have on kids.

There seems to be a never ending supply of fad diets that advertise that they help to shed pounds or get people to eat to "healthier".  It's questionable whether many of the diets are really effective for adults, but what about our kids?  A fad is defined as "something (such as an interest or fashion) that is very popular for a short time," according to Merriam-Webster. The definition itself should have you thinking it's probably not a good idea.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has addressed this very topic, specifically weighing the risks of the very popular fad, the low carb diet.  This type of fad diet including Aktins or Paleo diets may all vary on the amount and types of carbs you can eat, but the message that carbs are bad or cause weight gain is the main theme.

Eliminating food groups

Many fad diets focus on eliminating entire food groups.  For example, the Atkins or other low carb diets stress avoidance of sugary foods and refined carbs, but also promote cutting back on healthier carbs such as whole grains, vegetables, milk, yogurt, and fruits.  Healthier carbs are essential for meeting dietary fiber, calcium, B vitamins, and energy needs.  Eating or drinking carbs high in added sugar obviously does not provide nutritional benefits our kids need every day, but avoiding healthier carbs may compromise their growth and energy demands.

Harmful messages

Parents or caregivers who are fad dieters need to be careful about the mixed-messages they are giving their children about "healthy" eating.  Fad diets often eliminate entire food groups and are too restrictive, resulting in unbalanced eating habits.  If kids are taught that certain foods are "taboo" they may feel badly about eating particular foods restricted on the diet, affecting their self-esteem.  The end result may be that your child is unable to balance their diet with a variety of foods.

What should my child eat?

A position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, stresses the responsibility parents and caregivers have in developing children's life-long healthy eating behaviors.  Teaching kids to eat a variety of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products is important; but we should also educate them on how to eat all foods in moderation so they can learn how to balance their diets.  Simple nutrition tips and using the Choose My Plate website are helpful guides to learning more about healthy eating for you and your children.  Remember, if the diet sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

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