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Low - Carb Diets Unhealthy for Kids

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Low-Carb Diets: Unhealthy for Kids, No Solution To Childhood Obesity Epidemic, Expert Says

Saint Louis University Dietitian Gives Eight Pieces of Advice for Parents

ST. LOUIS --( Parents of overweight children should resist the temptation to join the latest food craze and feed their children low-carbohydrate diets to take off pounds, says a Saint Louis University dietitian who specializes in nutrition issues related to kids.

Children on low-carbohydrate diets essentially are starving themselves of critical nutrients, which may take a serious health toll on their physical and intellectual development, says Bruce Rengers, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at the Saint Louis University Doisy School of Allied Health Professions.

If I were a parent, Id want to give my kid every health advantage I could. I wouldnt want to risk it by putting my child on a low-carbohydrate diet, Rengers says.

Glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, is the brains preferred source of energy. Thats one reason breakfast is so important; it usually includes the foods that the body converts into the glucose fuel that charges the brain for the day.

When a diet lacks carbs, the body will draw its energy from ketones, a byproduct that comes from breaking down body fat.

Ketones have a dulling effect on the brain, Rengers says. Low-carb diets work by fooling the body to think its starving. If youre putting a kid into a starvation situation, they dont grow as well and they are not as likely to do well in school.

Children also could become malnourished because low-carbohydrate diets are not nutritionally balanced. They generally are high in animal protein and fat, which has been linked to stomach and colon cancer, osteoporosis and other diseases.

Vegetables and whole grains foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and cancer fighting phytochemicals generally are off-limits during the early phases of the diet. Low-fat milk, which is an important source of calcium, also is restricted on the diet.

At a time when children need calcium to form strong bones, they are decreasing their calcium intake and setting themselves up for osteoporosis, Rengers says.

Its also hard to stay on a low-carbohydrate diet forever, and children need to learn healthy eating habits that they can stick with for life, he says. They otherwise run the risk of going off a low-carbohydrate diet and gaining back the weight they had lost.

They cant sustain eating the way Atkins and other low-carbohydrate diets suggest, Rengers says. We should be teaching children to eat differently because theyre going to have to face the weight issue their whole life.

Rengers generally opposes weight loss diets for children unless medically necessary.

A child shouldnt be on any diet to lose weight without being evaluated and closely supervised by a physician experienced in treating pediatric obesity and a nutritionist, Rengers says. Diets are not appropriate for kids except in certain medical situations.

When a parent puts a child on a diet, she is sending the wrong message, he adds. It stigmatizes the kid, by telling him that hes fat. The childs self-esteem may be damaged and he is more likely to eat out of stress.

While diets are not the answer to fight the battle of the bulge for children, Rengers suggests parents take action to help children manage their weight:

· Bring back the family meal. Enjoy your time together rather than scarfing down your meal and focusing on whos eating what. When families eat together without distractions such as televisions and newspapers, they sit and enjoy each other. It should be a time when families learn to like each other, Rengers says. They also tend to eat healthier food.

· Gently push veggies. It may take putting broccoli on the plate eight to 10 times before children will nibble at it, Rengers acknowledges, but over time they will learn to eat it. Kids do like vegetables if theyre exposed enough. Dont take complaints to heart.

· Give your children three regular snacks and three meals each day. You eat at your snack and you eat at your dinner. You dont eat continuously.

· Stock an assortment of different foods, but limit the amount of junk food you have. Moderation is the answer. Its unrealistic to expect kids to eat only vegetables and tofu, Rengers says. To have no junk food at all is not reasonable. Kids will find ways to sneak it.

· Encourage your child to drink water instead of soda, fruit-flavored beverages or juice. It doesnt take a lot of extra juice each day to add to obesity. Liquid calories dont satisfy your appetite as much as the calories you get from food, Rengers says. More juice than four to six ounces a day isnt a good thing in the diet of a child.

· Limit your childs sedentary activities to less than two hours a day. Encourage him to find other things to do than watching television or videos, talking on the phone or sitting at the computer.

· Play with your child. Wrestle on the floor, throw a ball, take a walk. Youre telling your child to learn to love activity, Rengers says. Parents should give themselves permission to play with their kids instead of thinking its a waste of time.

· Set a good example. Actions speak louder than words and children are more likely to eat a balanced diet and stay physically active if its how your family lives.

It is part of a parents job to teach their young children good nutrition habits and to be active, Rengers says. Food and activity should be enjoyed. Thats what life is about enjoying and having fun.

© Health News 2004 All Rights Reserved.

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