The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

In my last post, we looked at if the Banting Diet is safe for children.  It most certainly is not a safe diet for kids.  Youths, who are still growing and developing, are especially sensitive to changes in diet.  A healthy diet can do them an enormous amount of good and an unhealthy diet can do a tremendous amount of damage.  The Banting Diet is downright dangerous for children and teens.

Dangerous for Children and Teens

Actually, low carb diets can be dangerous for anyone.  Cutting out an entire nutrient group is not ideal to the human condition.  But children are especially sensitive, as they are growing and developing.  In fact, it could actually be downright dangerous.  Dr. Fuhrman, a well-known medical doctor, points out on his blog just how dangerous low-carb diets can be for kids:

Most recently, a sixteen-year-old girl who had no history of medical problems died after two weeks on the Atkins diet. When the paramedics arrived, she was pulse-less, and the electrocardiogram revealed ventricular fibrillation (a usually fatal loss of normal heart rhythm). Her emergency room evaluation showed electrolyte imbalances that occurred as a result of eating a diet of meat, cheese, and salads for two weeks. She was doing the diet together with her mother.

Of course most cases won’t be this extreme!  But the fact is that low carb diets of any kind can be dangerous and a high animal fat diet like the Banting Diet poses even greater risks.  The “low fat” diet that was touted as healthy for so many years has now been shown not to be the fastest way to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean that suddenly switching to the opposite extreme is the best reaction.

Animal fats are saturated fats, which themselves carry lots of disease-causing potential.  Saturated fats “have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.”  Their chemical structure means that we digest them differently than unsaturated fats.  This can lead to the development of high cholesterol, which is showing up in younger and younger populations. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease.  Indeed, reducing saturated fats specifically (as opposed to fats overall) is the most effective way to prevent coronary heart disease in women.  The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of saturated fats to no more than 7% of your diet – well below what the Banting Diet insists on!  It is no coincidence that kids placed on a balanced vegan diet showed drastic improvement and major reductions in their heart disease risk factors.  Those kids were eating basically the exact opposite of the Banting Diet!

Bear in mind that the Banting Diet is doing more than just restricting carbohydrates and promoting animal fat consumption, the dangers of which we have already discussed.  The Banting Diet is also restricting the intake of other foods, too.  The whole long list can be found here.  We’re not just looking at a diet that cuts out wheat, like in a gluten-free diet.  This is a diet where corn, peas, agave, and any kind of fruit juice is absolutely forbidden.  Fruits are also on a highly restricted list, so you can have them, but only in small amounts.  For example, three small figs or one small banana is all the fruit you’re allowed each day.  Notice I said ‘or’ – not ‘and.’  This is not much fruit for a child, who needs that nutrition to thrive.

Children need a balanced diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need for their bodies to develop.  Lacking enough of certain nutrients can have long term effects even beyond what science can currently fathom.

What Do You Want For Your Children?

After reading all of this, what do you want for your children?  Hopefully you want to provide them with a balanced, healthy diet.  Hopefully your goal is to reduce their disease risks and give them the foundation they need to grow and develop optimally.  Doing so will help them live a healthier life, regardless of what choices they make later in life.

The Banting Diet is dangerous for adults and doubly so for children.  Tamzyn Campbell may be a nutritionist, but just having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are always right.  Similarly, not having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are wrong.  I hope I have made a strong case here for why Tamzyn Campbell, nutritionist though she may be, is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and therefore dangerous.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here are the words of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. (whose father is one of my top nutrition idols):

One of the best examples of the low carb misconception is the Atkins program and Paleo both of which emphasize  meat which is so deleterious  to health.  And certainly not for children.

You are right to be alarmed about the Banting Diet……for anyone, especially children.

Do what is right for your children and choose a healthy plant-based diet.

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

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?!

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

For the past couple of days, I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty hard on the Paleo Diet.  Could it be more obvious that I’m not a fan of low-carb diets?  I believe that the key to inspiring kids to eat a healthy diet is an appropriate balance of healthy foods.  The Paleo Diet never claims that foods like whole grains and legumes are unhealthy – it merely claims they make you fat.  And because the Paleo Diet is a low carb weight loss diet dressed up like an ideological attempt to get in touch with our cro-magnon roots, its true goal is not to get adherents to eat healthy, as one might first assume, but rather to get adherents to lose weight through carbohydrate deprivation.

Fresh fruit - banana, strawberry, pineapple, blueberry

Statements like this one, from

Eat high-sugar fruits in moderation. They’re great for you, but it’s easy to overdo it. Remember, your caveman ancestors didn’t have access to Florida’s orange groves 24/7, so you probably shouldn’t try to eat a bushel of oranges in your next paleo diet meal.

bring to light this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing issue with the paleo diet.  My friends, our caveman ancestors would have eaten a bushel of oranges a day on days when oranges were in season. Of course they would have! It would have been folly not to.  Our ancestors would also have dried fruit and eaten it all year round.  But when it was in season, they would have eaten as much fresh fruit as they possibly could have. And it’s healthy for your kids to eat lots of fruit!  It’s far better than sweets and the sugars it contains won’t make your kids fat.  They can eat as many bananas and oranges as they want and as long as they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, they won’t get fat from fruit.  (Incidentally, there is even a whole group of fruitarians out there who eat only fruit, but the health impacts of this kind of extreme diet on children is a post for another day.)  Don’t kid yourself, folks – the paleo diet is a low-carb weight loss diet and nothing more.

Having said all of that, the paleo diet does have some good points, some things that do make it advantageous for children’s health.  It advocates completely eliminating all sweets and processed meats.  This is fantastic! And by cutting out carbohydrates on the Paleo Diet, potato chips, French fries, white bread, and white rice are no longer being consumed.  These are really fantastic steps.  If more people would adopt these basic tenets of the paleo diet it would go a long way to reducing the obesity epidemic among our children.

But these benefits do not outweigh the health dangers of putting your child on the paleo diet I have explored in the last two days.  Cut out the processed foods, the white grains, and the sweets, and you’ll start seeing some of the paleo diet benefits over time.  But if you cut out the good stuff, too, like legumes and grains, restrict the vegetables your kids can eat, and increase their meat consumption, you are putting them at risk of serious health problems.  As adults, we can make the decision to put our health at risk.  We can decide to do foolish things that we know will make us sick.  But should we really enforce these decisions – which we know will have negative consequences – on our children, too?

I think not.

Take the good parts of the Paleo Diet and apply them in your kids’ diets right now.  I promise they will do a world of good.  But leave the rest behind.

Read more about the Paleo Diet:
What is the Paleo Diet?
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Yesterday I addressed two major reasons (and one minor one) why the Paleo Diet is unhealthy for kids, both of which focus on what is not allowed.  Today I am going to address my third major problem with the Paleo Diet, which focuses on what is emphasized for consumption.  I’ll also consider the benefits of the Paleo Diet for kids and

The third major reason I think the Paleo Diet is unhealthy in general, but especially for kids, is its emphasis on meat eating.  Of course if you’re cutting out carbohydrates, you’ll need something to make you feel full and spinach isn’t likely to do it, so meat it is.  And if you’re cutting out other primary sources of protein like beans, pulses, legumes, and tofu, then meat it is.  The paleo diet does permit one to eat nuts (although you’re warned not to eat too much of higher carb nuts like cashews), but how many nuts is your child going to eat? And remember, peanuts are a legume, so they are not permitted.  When I was a kid the only way you could get me to eat nuts was in the form of creamy peanut butter, if that!  The paleo diet, like the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet before it, is just another typical low-carb diet with a strong emphasis on replacing grains with meat.  At least the meats that are recommended are grass-fed or free range or wild, but even so, too much meat (I would argue any at all) is not good for your child.  Human bodies don’t process animal fat well, for one, so feeding your child lots of paleo diet-inspired meat is only setting them up for health problems later in life.  Meat is high in protein and a few other nutrients, such as B12, or iron in red meat, but it is mostly nutritionally devoid.  There’s a lot of oxidants in meat but no antioxidants, folks.

Grilled SteakAnother big problem with this huge meat emphasis in the paleo diet is that by substituting meat for other foods that make you feel full, you’re putting your child at risk of becoming sick.  Eating too much meat literally forces your child’s body into a state of ketosis.  Ketosis is a syndrome that occurs when your body does not have enough carbohydrates or sugars to burn for energy.  The result is that your body begins to burn fat and ketones build up in your bloodstream.  Did you know that ketosis sets in after only 3-4 days on the paleo diet?

Some of the symptoms of ketosis, such as bad breath and nausea are well-known.  But it also causes other problems.  By depriving your child of carbohydrates, you’re putting their body into a “starvation” mode in which their body will store every available extra carbohydrate.  The paleo diet could actually make your child gain weight, particularly if they cheat when they get the chance, such as at school or with friends.  The first fat to burn up in a ketosis state is your glycogen stores around your organs, which means your child won’t have as much energy to sustain intense physical activity, like running around outside and playing, or playing sports with friends, both of which are important activities for kids, physically, socially, and mentally.  Without intense physical activity, your kids aren’t building the lean muscle they need as a foundation for their bodies and for a high metabolism that will help keep them more trim.

Here are some of the other health dangers of the paleo diet:

  • High Cholesterol – People are now testing high in cholesterol at very young ages, including in children.  Cardiovascular disease, including high risk of heart attack and stroke, has its roots in childhood.  A diet high in meat like the paleo diet is setting your child up for cardiovascular disease later in life.
  • Kidney Problems – Digesting meat puts a lot of strain on the kidneys because there are a lot of extra proteins, fats, and toxins in them the body has to strain out of the blood.  This can also lead to kidney stones.
  • Osteoporosis – Osteoporosis is setting in at younger and younger ages and bone density loss is now being detected in young people, especially young women.  A diet that is too high in protein means your body is excreting that acidic protein in your urine (a symptom of ketosis), but that acid cannot be excreted on its own – it has to be partnered with a base. The most plentiful base in your body? Calcium, which is excreted in high levels when on the paleo diet.  Worried your child isn’t getting enough calcium to strengthen their growing bones? So why would you put them on a diet that causes them to lose the calcium they’ve already got?
  • Vitamin & Nutrient Deficiencies – If your child is not eating any grains, and is eating less fruit and vegetables on this diet, they are likely to be deficient in a number of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  Supplements are great but the best way to absorb these essential building blocks of our bodies is by consuming a healthy diet.  Kids need a proper balance of nutrients even more than adults because their bodies are still growing and developing.
  • Other Long-Term Health Problems – lists some additional long-term health concerns: Your liver is exposed to extra stress as it is forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins, potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins are converted into glucose, your body has a more difficult time producing mucus and the immune system becomes impaired as risk of pathogenic infection increases, and your body loses the ability to produce compounds called glycoproteins, which are vital to cellular functions. The result? By putting your child on the paleo diet, you might actually be making them sick.

With all this in mind, are these really the kinds of things you want to be doing to your child?  As parents, we want to inspire healthy kids, not make our kids sick!

My conclusion: The Paleo Diet is bad for kids.