Low Carb Diet Plan for teenagers


Low carb diet plan for teenagers can be a great option for children that are struggling to meet their daily calorie goals. However, parents do need to understand that these types of diets are considered and alternative option and should only be used as such.

Low carb diet plan for teenagers can be hard to stick to, especially when your friends won’t be giving up their bagels and other high carb foods. But you can do it with steps in this article!


Are low-carb diets safe for teenagers?

Anyone who’s still growing – and yes, if you’re 17, this means you! – should stop at a doctor’s office first thing before trying any kind of sudden diet change. We’ve covered how starvation diets can mess up adults, but they’re even worse for bodies that are still developing. Going hungry when you’re young can actually make you more prone to gain weight later in life.

But given that a lot of doctors are predisposed to be skeptical of low-carb or Paleo* diets, here are some studies that you might read through or even bring in to talk about.

*Speaking of which, it might actually be helpful not to even mention “Paleo” at all – just say that you want to eat (or transition the family to eating) more unprocessed foods with lots of vegetables, complete proteins, and olive oil and less sugar and refined flour. That’s absolutely true, and it sounds a lot more “normal” to doctors who might otherwise get freaked out by the name “Paleo” and make silly assumptions about what you’ll be eating.

Studies on low-carb diets in teenagers

Weight loss – with dramatic individual differences

This study looked at a very low-carb diet (the subjects were instructed to stay under 20 grams per day for the first two weeks, and under 40 grams after that, so basically keto). This was a small study, with just 11 subjects in each group. The subjects in this study were aged 9-18, with an average age of 14-15.

Over 12 weeks, the low-carb group lost more weight and didn’t see any adverse effects in their blood cholesterol levels. But the interesting thing is that if you actually go into the study and look at the results, they were basically similar for both groups except that 3 kids in the low-carb group had totally fantastic results that skewed the average for the whole group. This really suggests that the average teenager might not see a huge difference, but that some teens might have dramatically better results with low-carb.

As for safety, the most common side effects in the low-carb group were constipation/diarrhea and headache. Not fun, but not particularly dangerous.

No significant difference between low-carb and low-fat by 36 weeksKetogenic foods

Another study looked at severely obese adolescents (average age 13-14) – the teens ate either a high-protein/low-carb diet or a low-fat diet for 36 weeks, with check-ins at weeks 13, 24, and 36. This was another small study, with just 33 teens completing the whole 36 weeks.

By week 36, the researchers found that teenagers in both groups lost a significant amount of weight, but they didn’t find any difference between the low-carb and low-fat groups either in weight loss or in hunger/fullness ratings. Neither group had any significant decline in bone density. Both groups also saw improvements in their blood lipids, with the low-carb group enjoying a particularly strong reduction in triglycerides. (Read: going low-carb/high-fat won’t send anyone’s cholesterol levels through the roof.)

The researchers concluded that the low-carb diet was basically safe, or at least “without serious adverse effects.”

Insulin sensitivity improved on low-carb

This study in 55 adolescents (ages 12-18) with obesity found that low-carb and low-fat diets delivered roughly the same weight loss, but that low-carb diets improved insulin sensitivity where low-fat diets didn’t. Insulin sensitivity is a good measure of how well your body processes carbs, so that’s a good sign for improving blood sugar control.

And one more study on weight loss

Take this study with a grain of salt because there was no control group, but it is a bit bigger than the others, which is cool. The researchers took 63 children ages 12-18 and put them on a low-carb diet (under 50 grams of carbs per day) for 6 months. Only 38 actually finished out the 6 months, but of those, most (32) lost a significant amount of weight, ranging from 5.5 kilograms (12 lbs) to nearly 24 kilograms (53 lbs). Again, the diet was safe and the researchers didn’t report any serious problems.

The Safety of Low-Carb Diet for Kids

What exactly is a low carb diet, and are they safe for children? Could decreasing dietary carbohydrates help teenagers who are overweight?

Father and son eating vegetables
altrendo images / Getty Images

The History of Low Carb Diets

Low-carb (low carbohydrate) diets are still very popular, with adults raving about the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet, and the plethora of packaged foods that are available as “low carb” alternatives.

When it comes to nutrition, however, we know that children aren’t simply little adults. Nutrient needs vary between adults and children, which raises the question: Are these diets safe for children to eat regularly? Can we translate what we know in adults into recommendations for children? And with the adolescent obesity epidemic of our era, could a low carb diet make a difference?

Low-Carb Diets

in order to discuss low carb diets, it’s helpful to describe the nutrient proportions in a “regular” American diet. In a classic diet:

  • 10 to 12% of calories are from protein.
  • 50 to 60% of calories come from carbohydrates.
  • 30% of calories come from fat (and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are preferred over saturated fats such as those found in animal products.)

In contrast, in a low carb diet:

  • Only 10 to 20% of the calories come from carbohydrates.
  • The remaining 80 to 90% of calories come from proteins and fats.

Most low-carb diets also advocate avoiding sugars or simple carbs that have a high glycemic index, which can raise blood sugar faster than high-fiber complex carbohydrates. We will talk about specific foods found in a low carb diet below, but first, let’s talk about the use of this diet in children.

Safety as a Bottom Line With Low-Carb Diets for Kids

It’s important to first note that studies suggest a strict low carb diet may have a negative impact on short term and long term health of children and adolescents.

One survey of teen nutrition patterns found that those who ate more low-carb foods had a diet with fewer fruits and vegetables than those on a higher carb diet. These children also had a higher intake of meats and added fats resulting in higher cholesterol. In addition, those on lower carb diets consumed less fiber and vitamin C than those on a higher carb diet.

Long-term effects were not evaluated in this study, but we know from many other studies that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber are important in warding off disease.

Another concern is that low-carb diets may be hard for kids to follow, and they may simply gain back any weight they lost on the diet when they return to their previous dietary practices. Some experts are also concerned that a high protein/low carb diet could have long-term negative effects on a child’s heart and kidneys.

Benefit and Controversies of Low Carb Diet in Overweight Teens

We know that the incidence of childhood obesity is escalating in the United States. The implications of this go far beyond “looks” and even the emotional ramifications of “looking fat.” The health effects of childhood obesity, as in adults, ranging from diabetes to sleep apnea.

Researchers have attempted to determine the reasons for the skyrocketing rate of childhood obesity. It may seem ironic that as weight among teens has increased, the number of calories consumed in a child’s diet hasn’t changed significantly over the past 30 years.

What researchers are guessing is that, while the lack of exercise may play a big role, the amount and type of carbohydrates consumed is responsible. It’s thought that high glycemic foods cause an excessive amount of insulin to be secreted after eating, which in turn leads to weight gain.

Although very few research studies have been done on low-carb diets for kids, one study did show that overweight teens did better on a low-carb diet vs. a low-fat diet. Researchers concluded that a low-carb “diet appears to be an effective method for short-term weight loss in overweight adolescents.”

Teens in this study ate no more than 20g of carbs each day for two weeks, which was then increased to 40g of carbs during weeks 3 through 12 by allowing them to eat more fruits, nuts, and whole grains. They were allowed to eat as much protein, fat and overall calories as they wanted. In comparison, a group of teens in a low-fat diet was limited to less than 40g of fat a day, 5 servings of starch and as many fat-free dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables that they wanted for 12 weeks.

Interestingly, after one year, of 36 children in the study, only one teen on the low-fat diet, but 8 on the low-carb diet, came back for a follow-up. The researchers concluded that may mean that the low-carb diet might have been easier for the teens to follow.

When you consider that some overweight teens have “tried everything” and continue to gain weight and some even have weight loss surgery, you have to wonder if trying a low-carb diet has to be safer than the alternatives. Due to the risks and complex nutritional needs of children, a low-carb diet should likely only be tried under the guidance and supervision of your pediatrician or a registered dietician who has experience managing teens on low-carb diets.

Let’s talk about exactly what foods are considered low carb, as well as what a modified low carb diet might look like.

Low-Carb Foods

Many foods that are high in carbs seem to be the things that kids like the best, for example, bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, cereal, and fruit juice.,

On the other hand, low-carb foods, in addition to prepackaged low-carb meals and snacks, include:

  • Lean meats, chicken, and fish
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter
  • Greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and kale
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupes
  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sugar-free Jell-o
  • Sugar-free yogurt
  • Unsweetened soy milk
  • Low-carb milk (Hood Calorie Countdown Dairy Beverage, which has artificial sweeteners)
  • Low-carb bread
  • Low-carb pasta (Dreamfields pasta)

Modified Low-Carb Diet or “Moderation in Everything”

Since many experts blame the rise in childhood obesity on the fact that kids eat more carbs these days, especially more simple sugars, even if your child doesn’t start a low-carb diet, taking a closer look at carbs is a good idea.

In addition to more exercise and eating more high-fiber foods, avoiding high-calorie foods, high-fat foods and foods with any trans fats or more than 10% saturated fat may help to encourage the eating of more low-carb foods and avoid high-carb foods made up of simple sugars, such as:

  • White bread (choose whole grain bread instead)
  • Soda and fruit drinks
  • Sugary breakfast cereals
  • Potato chips
  • Cakes, pies, and brownies
  • Candy and other junk food

What Are The Uses Of The Low Carb Diet For Children?

Keto diet for children is primarily used for the treatment of epilepsy since the diet has been scientifically proven effective against this condition. The diet may be used in conjunction with medicines or used as primary treatment, like in cases of refractory epilepsy, a severe form of epilepsy where seizures cannot be managed with antiepileptic drugs.

The following are some salient points about the use of keto diet to treat epilepsy in children.

  • In cases of refractory epilepsy, a ketogenic diet can be a more effective treatment option than administering a new medication.
  • Ketogenic diet could be considered when antiepileptic drugs have side effects that outweigh the benefits.
  • Children with epilepsy may display a reduction in the frequency of seizures while on a ketogenic diet.
  • Research shows that about two-thirds of children following a ketogenic diet have more than 50% reduction in seizures. About 25% of these children have a chance of becoming seizure-free.
  • If the child shows signs of improvement due to a keto diet, then the doctor may reduce antiepileptic medications, thus minimizing the side effects experienced by the child.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), several epilepsy syndromes, like Dravet syndrome, Doose syndrome, Rett syndrome, GLUT-1 (glucose transporter type-1) deficiency, and tuberous sclerosis complex, often respond positively to a ketogenic diet.

Furthermore, several clinical studies support using the keto diet as a subsidiary cancer therapy. However, targeted studies are needed to validate the recommendation.

It is not known if a keto diet for children is helpful beyond treating epilepsy. There is no long-term research analyzing the effects of the diet on conditions such as overweight and type 2 diabetes. If your child does not have epilepsy and you want them to try the diet for weight loss or other reasons, then consult a pediatrician first.

For How Long Can Children Follow Low Carb Diet?

The recommended duration for adherence to keto diet varies as per the case of epilepsy. If the diet shows effectiveness, then the doctor may recommend discontinuing the diet after two years of seizure control. Children and teens with fewer changes in their condition may have to continue the diet for several years.

In some cases, with improvement, the use of a modified Atkins diet may be allowed.Modified Atkins diet is a less restrictive variation of the ketogenic diet with flexible nutrient intake. 

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Low Carb Diet?

Some of the common side effects that you may observe in children and teens following the keto diet are:

  1. Dehydration
  2. Gastrointestinal issues, like nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  3. Fat intolerance and gastritis
  4. Electrolyte imbalance and acidosis
  5. Mood changes, hyperactivity, and irritability
  6. Micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron-deficiency anemia

Some severe side effects of keto diet may include:

  1. High cholesterol
  2. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  3. Kidney stones
  4. Poor bone health

Some of the side effects, like dehydration, can be managed by monitoring the hydration levels of children and teens, while some others, like mood changes, may subside with time and adjustment with the diet.

7-Day Meal Plan

Most people can consume up to 50g total carbohydrates per day and maintain ketosis. This sample 7-day keto diet plan, with an average of 20.5g net carbs per day, will show you how to eat right, not less, with Atkins keto while still enjoying a variety of satisfying foods.

Day 1: Monday

Total net carbs: 20.7g

  • Breakfast (4.6g net carbs): Eggs Scrambled with Sautéed Onions and Cheddar Cheese
  • Snack (2g net carbs): Atkins Peanut Butter Fudge Crisp Bar
  • Lunch (5.8g net carbs): 6 oz deli ham over 2 cups mixed greens with ½ Hass avocado, 5 large black olives, ½ cup sliced cucumbers, and 2 Tbsp blue cheese dressing
  • Snack (4.5g net carbs): 3/4 medium zucchini cut into sticks and 2 oz provolone cheese
  • Dinner (3.8g net carbs): Baked Catfish with Broccoli and Herb-Butter Blend

Keto tip of the day: Low carb diets like Atkins keto have a diuretic effect, so make sure you’re drinking at least 6 to 8 glasses of water each day. Not consuming enough water—especially when starting a new low carb diet—can lead to constipation, dizziness, and sugar/carb cravings. Also make sure you add extra salt to your diet in order to make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes. Try sipping on full-sodium broth or adding a little extra salt to your food.

Day 2: Tuesday

Total net carbs: 20.1g 

  • Breakfast (5g net carbs): Atkins Frozen Farmhouse-Style Sausage Scramble
  • Snack (4.4g net carbs): 1 cup sliced red bell pepper with 2 Tbsp ranch dressing
  • Lunch (5.4g net carbs): 1 serving Tuna-Celery Salad with Mixed Greens and 3 cherry tomatoes
  • Snack (2.2g net carbs): 1 stalk celery with 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • Dinner (3.2g net carbs): 7 oz bone-in pork chop with Cauliflower-Cheddar Mash

Keto tip of the day: Get moving! Exercising regularly can help you achieve ketosis by aiding your body in using up its excess glucose before storing as glycogen. It’s normal to feel a bit sluggish when starting a keto diet, so if you’re new to the low carb lifestyle, stay active with low-intensity movement like yoga and walking. When you’re feeling more energized, add in some high-intensity exercise a few days a week. 

Day 3: Wednesday

Total net carbs: 19.7g

  • Breakfast (2.9g net carbs): Spinach and Swiss Cheese Omelet
  • Snack (1g net carbs): Atkins Strawberry Shake
  • Lunch (6g net carbs): Grilled chicken over baby spinach, tomato, and avocado salad
  • Snack (2.2g net carbs): 2 oz ham, 2 Tbsp cream cheese, and 2 dill pickle spears
  • Dinner (7.6g net carbs): Beef Sauteed with Vegetables Over Romaine

Keto tip of the day: If you are new to a low carb lifestyle, you might start to come down with what’s known as the keto flu. A term coined by the keto community, this is a temporary side effect experienced by some people when they start the keto diet. If you are experiencing headaches, weakness, and poor concentration, don’t throw in the towel! Electrolytes and water are quickly depleted when you first start a keto diet, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water and consuming a little extra sodium and potassium. It also helps to get adequate sleep and make sure you are eating plenty of healthy fats.

Day 4: Thursday

Total net carbs: 19.3g 

  • Breakfast (4.7g net carbs): Cheese and Spinach Omelet Topped with Avocado and Salsa
  • Snack (1g net carbs): Atkins French Vanilla Shake
  • Lunch (6g net carbs): Atkins Frozen Crustless Chicken Pot Pie
  • Snack (2.2g net carbs): ½ medium zucchini cut into sticks and 1 oz monterey jack cheese
  • Dinner (5.4g net carbs): 5 oz hamburger topped with 1 oz pepper jack cheese, 1 small tomato, ½ Hass avocado, and 2 romaine lettuce leaves

Keto tip of the day: Craving something sweet? Whip up a decadent dessert with this easy recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie Bites suitable for all Atkins phases. Note that one serving of this recipe will add 1.8g net carbs and 7.1g of fat to today’s menu. Browse Atkins extensive recipe database for more low carb dessert recipes.

 Day 5: Friday

Total net carbs: 21.9g

  • Breakfast (2.6g net carbs): 2 large eggs, ¼ cup shredded cheddar, and 4 Tbsp Salsa Cruda
  • Snack (2g net carbs): Atkins Cafe Caramel Shake
  • Lunch (6.9g net carbs): Atkins Frozen Chili Con Carne with a side of 2 cups mixed greens and 2 Tbsp Italian Dressing
  • Snack (4.4g net carbs): 1 cup sliced red bell pepper with 2 Tbsp ranch dressing
  • Dinner (6g net carbs ): Half of a California cobb salad with ranch dressing from California Pizza Kitchen

Keto tip of the day: It’s the end of the work week, so meet up with your friends or family for dinner! Living low carb doesn’t mean you have to cook every one of your meals. Stay on track when dining out by asking the restaurant for nutrition information, choosing meat and veggie dishes, opting out of starchy sides like mashed potatoes, and avoiding sugary condiments like BBQ sauce. And check out these other keto-friendly restaurants!

Day 6: Saturday

Total net carbs: 20.7

  • Breakfast (4.9g net carbs): Red Bell Pepper Filled with Creamy Eggs and Spinach
  • Snack (1g net carbs): Atkins Strawberry Shake
  • Lunch (2.5g net carbs): Tuna salad with 4 oz tuna, 2 stalks celery, 1 dill pickle spear, 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • Snack (4.5g net carbs): 1 portobello mushroom cap, ¼ cup Salsa Cruda, and 1 oz pepper jack cheese
  • Dinner (7.8g net carbs): 5 oz Italian sausage, ¼ medium onion sliced, and ½ red bell pepper sliced with a side of 2 cups baby spinach, ½ cup sliced mushrooms, and 2 Tbsp Blue Cheese Dressing

Keto tip of the day: If you’re feeling celebratory or are out on the town, enjoy a low carb drink without throwing off your week. One 3.5 ounce glass of dry red wine has 2.6g net carbs, and 1 ounce of bourbon has 0g net carbs. However, watch out for hidden carbs in mixers, and remember that these are additional carbs to today’s menu. You can easily keep track of your daily net carbs with the Atkins app or this guide.

Day 7: Sunday

Total net carbs: 20.8

  • Breakfast (2.9g net carbs): Pumpkin Flax Pancakes
  • Snack (1.7g net carbs): 5 whole snap peas and 2 oz cheddar
  • Lunch (3.1g net carbs): 6 oz chicken breast over 2 cups Romaine hearts with 5 radishes and 2 Tbsp Creamy Italian Dressing
  • Snack (3.2g net carbs): 2 stalks celery and 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • Dinner (9.9g net carbs): Baked Salmon With Charmoula Over Broccoli

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