Many of my clients ask if their family, and their kids specifically, can also follow keto. Before answering this question, it is important to understand that the Ketogenic Diet should not really be viewed as a diet, but rather a lifestyle.
So, yes, keto is not only for adults who are trying to lose weight or live a healthy life, but this lifestyle is also suitable for kids.
I was thinking to myself the other day that if I could choose any industry to be in, I would still choose to be in the health and wellness industry. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing else. What a privilege it is for me to be able to love what I do, but to make a difference in the lives of my children by imparting healthy principles so that they don’t have to struggle one day with a lack of knowledge and understanding for nutrition and their bodies.
Since we, as a family, started keto in 2015, I have seen not only improvements in my own health but improvements in my children’s health too. As parents, we have a huge responsibility towards our children when it comes to their nutrition.
Unfortunately, there are still many parents who are oblivious when it comes to their children’s nutrition requirements. For many parents, it is not willful ignorance and basically stems from what they, as the parent, have been taught.
If only your mama could have taught you about healthy eating, but she didn’t, because she didn’t know any better. Information was not as available as it is today with the internet. What mama knew about healthy eating was what she read in magazines and what the doctor said. And, we all know now our dietary guidelines were based on lies.
Taking a step back, it is very interesting to learn that a ketogenic metabolism is part of our DNA.
Ketogenic Period 1: The Fetus
If we look at a lean human body, it consists approx of 74% fat and 26% protein. As you can see, fat is not only vital to the structural makeup of human cells, but if you have read my post on Keto-adaptation, you would have learned that fat is also the preferred energy source of our mitochondria (mitochondria are the energy-burning units of each cell).
In utero and immediately after birth the baby utilizes ketones. They get fatty acids from the placenta as well as two other products called glycerol and ketone bodies. At this stage of the pregnancy, it can be beneficial for moms to follow a low-carb, high-fat diet, and even supplement with ketone supplements e.g. exogenous ketones, MCT oil/powder, and coconut oil.
Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K, are essential for the formation of a healthy fetus. This is why moms can have plenty of full-fat dairy as part of their keto meal plan as it is filled with healthy cholesterol (that is unless the mom is dairy-sensitive). If moms are diary sensitive, other sources of saturated fat like coconut oil, animal fats, ghee, seafood, and egg yolks are just as rich in healthy fats.
Breast milk consists of more than 60% fat, and it is loaded with both saturated fat, cholesterol, and ketones. A newborn baby that is breastfed is in ketosis. Ketosis is crucial for the healthy development of the baby’s brain.
Now think about it. If Ketones play such a vital role in the early stages of development, why would this change when the baby moves into early childhood and is no longer breastfed?
If you are a mom, you will agree with me that we want our kids to grow up happy and healthy. This starts with proper nutrition from early childhood. Unfortunately, we don’t know any better and we raise our kids on synthetic baby milk, regular milk, which by the way is meant for little cows and highly inflammatory. We feed them carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, cereals, and fruit juices.
What Happens When We Feed Our Kids Carb-rich Diets
The body’s capacity for storing carbohydrates is quite limited. If you had to take all the blood in your body and put it in a canister, it would only be about 4-5 liters of blood. The same for a little kid. In that 4-5 liters of blood, the body can only store 4 grams of sugar.
Now, let’s put this in perspective. One bowl of cereal can easily contain 38 grams of carbs. That is 9.5 times more sugar than the body can store. Apart from being toxic and damaging the arteries, the excess sugar will convert to triglycerides and then be stored as fat. The body prefers to use glucose from carbs before it will use fat for energy. This means, any fat that is eaten with a carbohydrate-rich meal, will directly be stored in the fat cells. These are foods such as yoghurt, cheese, and the fat that naturally occurs in meat. Does it make sense why childhood obesity has doubled since 1990 and is at a historical record high?
Listen to these riveting statistics. More than 15% of primary school kids are obese. Thirty percent of primary school girls are obese. New figures from the World Obesity Federation estimate that by 2025, 3.91 million South African school children will be overweight or obese. This will result in 123 000 children with impaired glucose tolerance, 68 000 with overt diabetes, 460 000 with high blood pressure, and 637 000 with stage-1 fatty liver disease. While this is what’s happening in South Africa, it is not much better globally… Childhood obesity is one of the most severe global public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting every country in the world. In just 40 years, the number of school-age children and adolescents with obesity has risen more than 10-fold, from 11 million to 124 million (2016 estimates). In addition, an estimated 216 million were classified as overweight but not obese in 2016 (*).
The problem is not being fat or overweight. The real problem is that the high-carbohydrate diets we feed our kids cause a rapid increase in blood glucose.
Diabetes Is Not Supposed To Be A Childhood Disease
To adjust for this rapid rise in glucose, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin to lower these high levels of blood glucose. However, because we have our kids eat large amounts of carbs all the time, the pancreas then overcorrects, which causes our kids’ blood sugar to drop; usually about 2-hours after eating. This then results in low blood glucose that triggers hunger.
Low blood sugar is not good at all, so the way the body protects itself is through a hormone called Ghrelin that releases as blood glucose drops. This hormone then causes intense hunger. This hunger presents itself in the form of cravings, and these cravings are usually for sweets. As soon as you satisfy these cravings, the cycle starts all over again, which means the child is in a constant state of elevated insulin.
Eventually, this leads to insulin resistance and then Type-2 Diabetes. We are seeing an alarming increase in the rate of diabetes in children. Type-2 Diabetes has increased threefold over the last decade.
It doesn’t just stop here… Insulin also suppresses two other essential hormones called growth hormone and glucagon. Growth hormone is used for muscle and bone development, while glucagon promotes the burning of fat and sugar. These high-carbohydrate diets that almost all our kids are subjected to can lead to more diseases like ADHD, problems focusing, and a ton of other conditions. Statistics show  that 6,1 million children ages 2 – 17 years of age are diagnosed with ADHD. Of these children, 62% are medicated. Well, it blows my mind that a 2-year-old can be diagnosed with ADHD. Could it perhaps not be terrible two’s, or even a high-carbohydrate diet being the cause?
Children Can Thrive Under A Ketogenic Diet
I wish I had this information about Ketogenic Diets and metabolism during my pregnancy and early years of my children’s lives. But, better late than never! It doesn’t matter when you start, as long as once you’ve learned and experienced the health benefits of living a ketogenic lifestyle, you will immediately start to improve the health of your family.
Imagine your little one waking up in the morning, having a bowl of cereal, and two hours later when he needs to sit in class and listen to the teacher, his blood sugar drops and he can barely keep his eyes open. Our kids deserve to feel their best and have the mental clarity, focus, improved moods as they grow up. A low-carb, high-fat diet will give them more sharp little minds and more energy for sport. Going into adolescence they will struggle less with acne and all the hormonal rollercoasters that come with this phase.
What I Do In Our House
In our house, our kids eat roughly the same as we do. I am a little more lenient with them and I do allow treats here and there. We also teach them why certain foods are not good and what it does to the body. We buy and allow keto-friendly substitutes. A huge part of what we do in our house is around educating them and helping them understand why these foods are not good and what it does to their health. I was once confronted by someone who told me that once my kids leave my house they will binge on anything and everything that I withheld from them. At first, this scared me, but then I realized that giving them the information, it will help them make good, informed decisions when they are older. And this became totally apparent when Leandie interviewed them on Kyknet’s Slank – #ProudMom)
Make no mistake, we love good food, and keto is really enjoyable. Here are some practical things that we do:
- We do allow the kids some fruit. Mostly seasonal fruit such as strawberries and some fruit they use to make smoothies. Now and again I will include dried fruit such as mango in their lunchboxes.
- We don’t limit their protein intake. As adults, we generally stick to between 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kg lean body mass, whereas our kids will go up to 4 – 6 grams of protein per lean body mass per day. Protein is vital for their growth, and we also welcome the fats that come with protein. My son is practically a carnivore.
- Carbohydrates are not needed for growth at all, so we will limit carbohydrates for our kids as much as possible. They just don’t eat any white bread, pasta, rice, or potatoes.
A Typical Day
- Upon waking they each drink a big glass of cold water. Coldwater tends to shrink mitochondria and make them more efficient. It is advisable to use purified water that has no chlorine or fluoride as these are not great for cellular health.
- After they get dressed for school, they report to the kitchen for breakfast, which usually consists of an omelette with cheese and bacon or egg muffins.
- They also have their omega-3 soft gel capsule in the morning.
- Their lunch boxes consist of low-carb ham and cheese sandwiches (Real Meal Revolution Bread, also available from Checkers), seasonal fruit like strawberries or dried mango, and salami sticks (from Woollies or a local butchery).
- On the way to school, they have a serving of BHB (Keto Halo Exogenous Ketones). Before I started my company, Keto Halo, I use to give them a teaspoon of MCT oil. MCT oil is a precursor to ketones and these ketones from the exogenous ketones or MCT oil are so good and just what their little brains need at school. Read more on BHB and mental improvement in this post.
- They usually come home from sport around 3:30 p.m. where they typically have some protein from leftovers of the previous night. Or I’ll make them a smoothie with full-fat yoghurt, some seasonal fruit, and some whey protein.
- As a family, we eat dinner as early as possible, which is usually around 6/6:30 p.m. Dinner is always a mixed green salad with cheese and avo, and a high-fat animal protein dish such as rib-eye steak, pork belly, chicken with the skin and fat on, etc.
I always have sugar-free sweets and cookies in the house. Not all of these sugar-free sweets and treats have keto-friendly alternative sugars in, but I would much rather have my kids eat something with an alternative sugar than having real sugar. Read more about alternative sugars here.
In closing. It is so important that parents educate themselves about healthy living and in doing so pass on that knowledge to their children. In today’s day and age, with all the knowledge and information at your fingertips, there is absolutely no reason for your kids (and you!) not to live healthily. Should all families do strict keto? Perhaps not, but at least give it a try and see just how enjoyable this Keto lifestyle is.