Are low-carb diets for teens healthy or dangerous?

Kate Myerson
Nutrition & Dietetics
Low carb diets gained their popularity because they have been shown to help some people lose weight by eating less carb foods like chips, candy and baked goods. However low carb diets become unhealthy when they cut out nutritious foods like baked potatoes, beans and whole grain breads and pasta and replace them with artery clogging foods like bacon and other high fat animal products.

There is good reason for carbohydrates, our body favors carbohydrates and uses them as the main source of energy. Without carbohydrates our body can break down our fat and muscle stores looking for energy. This is an inefficient form of energy for our body to use and can form ketones which can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes. The other risk is when we swap carbs for high fat animal products, we are putting ourself at a greater risk for high cholesterol which can occur even in teens and lead to heart disease later in life.

The key is to choose your carbohydrate foods wisely. Choose whole foods such as whole fruits, whole grain breads and pastas. If you want to cut back on carbs, limit your intake of sugar sweetened beverages and processed snack foods.
Children are mainly influenced by their parents and society. Years ago and today the low carb craze swept our nation as one of the preferred ways to lose weight. Today the Paleo diet is huge craze.

I want to make perfectly clear that anything that is out of balance is not a good idea. Balance is proper nutrition from all the major food groups and not being limited on anything nutritious. So a low carb diet, no fat diet, no protein, you name it is not good.  When you are out of balance it is only time before things go south.

Secondly, anything that you cannot maintain long term is not a good idea either. Sometimes a short burst of a more extreme diet is ok if it is followed by a specific plan to maintain your results for long term.

I mention this because teenagers see their parents and society doing low carb diets and extreme eating that is impossible to maintain long term and not very balanced. I would not say the actual low carb diet is not dangerous but it is impossible to maintain and it can lead to excessive weight gain after carbohydrates are introduced.

Proper calorie management (which means managing calories in versus out) is always a way a teenager should do things because it shows them life skills to managing their weight long term. Eating good healthy balanced meals and living an active lifestyle is the only way to long term success for the teen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.