The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?
This week an article came out touting the Banting Diet for children, starting from the age of 6 months. The Banting Diet is yet another trendy Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, emphasizing eating lots and lots of animal fat. The nutritionist in the article claims this is a healthy diet for kids – but is she right? Is the Banting Diet really safe for kids?
What is the Banting Diet?
The Banting Diet is a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet. It is similar to other carbohydrate-restricting diets in that most carbs are forbidden but it is different from diets like Atkins because instead of emphasizing eating lots of protein, the Banting Diet emphasizes eating lots of fat, particularly animal fats.
In fact, the number one rule of the Banting Diet is to eat a lot of animal fat. Eating lots of animal fat is the number one solution on the Banting Diet. Hungry? Eat more animal fat! Getting the urge to snack (snacking is strictly forbidden)? Eat more animal fat! If you’re on the Banting Diet you might as well make eating more animal fat your mantra.
The other half of the Banting Diet focuses on reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing calories with fat. Skip the milk and go for the cream; double cream is even better. Even too much dairy is disallowed because it contains too many carbohydrates. Instead, go straight for the butter, as much as you want. Avoid carbs if at all possible, including disguised carbs like quinoa, peanuts, legumes, and beans. Starchy vegetables are also a no-no. Also avoid having too much fruit and too many nuts because they also have carbs and sugars.
Finally, the Banting Diet tries hard to distinguish itself from Low Carb High Protein diets like the Atkins diet by emphasizing that you are not to have too much protein. In fact, you should choose the smaller protein portion if you eat out. Choose the fattiest cut of meat you can. And eat ALL the fat.
Is the Banting Diet Safe for Kids?
In a recent article, nutritionist Tamzyn Campbell claims the Banting Diet can benefit children by reducing obesity. She claims it can even be started as young as six months, with severe carb restrictions waiting until six years. But is she right? Is it really healthy to feed a baby or even a child a diet overwhelmingly high in animal fats, with little to no grains and very little fruit, nuts, and protein?
Let’s consider first what experts say about the nutritional needs of children. Children are growing and developing at a very rapid pace, in ways that adults are not. Not only are children physically developing and growing quickly, but their brains are also growing and developing, with new brain cells growing and new synaptic connections being forged every day. The way that children develop now, in their youth, will dramatically impact their health in the future, for the rest of their lives, including their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health.
In order to achieve this rapid level of growth, children need to take in very high levels of vitamins and minerals, nutrients they need to grow and develop. Their nutritional needs are different from that of adults and diets that severely restrict one major food group (carbohydrates), no matter what the source, are creating a danger for kids’ health. A vegan diet, for instance, might omit animal sources of protein, but vegetable sources of protein are still permitted and encouraged. The Banting Diet, on the other hand, emphasizes a very specific source of one food group (fats, from animals only – the Banting Diet goes so far as to claim that seed oils are toxic) with the exclusion of another entire food group (carbohydrates). This will necessarily have an effect on growth and development. Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association notes that:
[I]n children going through a development process, there can be permanent inhibition in their reaching full genetic potential when an entire group of macronutrients is eliminated from the diet. It doesn’t matter if it is fat, protein, or carbohydrates, it’s just not healthy.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Joan Carter, a Registered Dietician at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine emphasizes the differing dietary needs of kids:
Low-carb diets are not a good choice for kids because children are nutritionally different than adults, and these diets are restrictive in many of the nutrients they need. Growing children need more calcium than adults, and their tissues need vitamins and minerals that come from fruits, vegetables, and grains. With diets that restrict these and other important nutrients, it shortchanges kids in a way that can affect their growth and development.
Children also have much higher energy needs than adults. Not only are kids using energy to run amok with their friends and tear your house apart like whirling dervishes, they’re using that energy to grow and to learn. Over 20% of our calories are used to fuel the brain. Restricting carbohydrates, the body’s most ideal source of energy, certainly will not help your child to learn.
Carbohydrates are fuel for the body and they encourage ideal performance. Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, points out that “carbohydrate loading is used by endurance athletes for a good reason — it gives their bodies an extra storage of fuel so their performance increases dramatically. In full-grown adults, we know that restricting carbohydrates cuts down on athletic performance and endurance.” So, too, with children. Kids need carbohydrates in order to run around and get exercise, something we as parents should be encouraging them to do. (If your child isn’t getting enough exercise, just putting them on a low-carb diet won’t solve all their problems. Get them away from the screens and outside with their friends!)
While fat is an essential nutrient like salt, your kids don’t need very much of it. Fat adds calories, but it’s not the optimum fuel for your tank. It’s kind of like putting ethanol in a car designed to run on petrol – the car will probably still run, but it won’t be very efficient and it will damage the engine. A small amount of ethanol mixed into the petrol can be a good thing, but only ethanol? Not ideal. So too with fat in kids’ bodies.
Carbohydrates are the ideal fuel for a child’s growing body and they come together with lots of nutrients kids need. Is fruit high in sugar? Sure! But fresh fruit also has enzymes, minerals, and vitamins kids need. So too with healthy whole grains and vegetarian sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts, and pseudo-grains like quinoa.
So what happens when the body isn’t getting carbohydrates as fuel? Essentially the body begins to think it’s starving and in starvation mode it doesn’t work optimally. The body breaks down fat for fuel, but in the process it creates what are called ketones, which are not good for kids and can actually impair their ability to learn.
Dr. Bruce Rengers, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, explains why this is. He points out that “ketones have a dulling effect on the brain.” This is because ketones reduce glucose uptake by brain cells – in effect ketones keep the brain functioning, but at a reduced level from what it should be. Joan Carter, RD notes, “Essentially, this quasi-starvation mode is not good for alertness, and it’s certainly not good for children.” She’s right – how could a diet like this possibly be good for children?!