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Low-Carb Diets & Toddlers

Feb18

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHey Amy,

Ok this is either about my toddler’s diet or how to deal with my husband, you’ll have to decide which. My husband has always been “fluffy”, got the lap-band procedure (NOT a gastric bypass – they are way different) and has finally lost some real weight for the first time in his life. His mom and sister have always battled their weight as well. My family of twigs grew up with a chocolate cake permanently on the side board with no real thought to sweets = fatter. His family was understandably and reasonably conscious of their calories and their weight. Before Hubby’s lap-band, he was on the Atkins diet which seemed to warp his thinking about carbs. Now, he is absolutely certain that because any carbohydrate is INSTANTLY converted to sugar in your body, then you might as well consider it pure cane sugar while you’re eating it. Bread = sugar. Potatoes=sugar. Peas=sugar. Carrots=sugar. Tomatoes=sugar. So basically, the four food groups we grew up with are now reduced to Sugar (Bad) and Protein (The only acceptable food on the planet). Occasionally fiber shows up as a valuable food, but not often.

Fast forward to our 17 month old baby. Who has the flu and is exceptionally picky today as a result. Normally, I can find a husband approved food that baby will eat on the second try. My last resort is Nutrigrain bars or yogurt which always go down without a fight. Not bad really in my book. But dairy on an upset stomach is never good. As a result, baby has had little or no dairy protein in two days. So hubby’s narrow, or I should say wide, view of sugars has come to a bit of a head when I told him that I’d managed to get applesauce, animal crackers, and water down him by 11am. Hubby said, “but that’s all just sugar!” My response, “And humans other than you need sugar and/or any other calories of any sort while they have the flu.” I made sure to make the conversation funny in an extreme way by saying that once baby gets better, I’ll be sure to only ever feed him beef paste.

My son is not fat or thin. He sits firmly in the 50th percentile for everything except noggin size (big headed like his daddy). Also, Hubby hardly ever does the actual baby food preparation or feeding.

So what’s your expert non-dietitian view of this carbs=sugars thing and how do I deal with my husband and toddler?

BTW – I’m exactly as pregnant as you are with my second boy! It’s been fun to follow along with your pregnancy.

Thanks for the constant entertainment and realistic perspective!

CJ

Before Hubby’s lap-band, he was on the Atkins diet which seemed to warp his thinking about carbs.

Seemed to? SEEMED TO?

Oh my holy stars and garters. Your husband is wrong. Wrong. WRONG about his thinking about carbs and children’s diets. Carbs are ENERGY. Fuel. Brain food. Which children desperately, DESPERATELY need.

And all carbs are not created equal. Your husband is borderline correct in his thinking about simple carbohydrates — if your body doesn’t use the energy from the food (very unlikely for an active toddler), it will convert those carbs/sugars into fat for later. Simple carbs are foods like white rice, pasta, bread and other things made with refined flour. But unless your child is overweight, or spends 18 hours a day in front of the TV, there is no reason to restrict simple carbohydrates from a healthy child’s diet at the level your husband is suggesting. Especially at 17 months old. At the 50th percentile. Oh my God, give the kid some macaroni and cheese and a bowl of nice steamed peas and carrots already. HE’LL BE FINE.

And then! There’s complex carbohydrates. Whole-grain breads, brown rice, lentils, beans, barley, quinoa, etc. SO GOOD FOR YOU. And yes, good for post-lap-band formerly “fluffy” grown-ups too. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, thus increasing the energy benefits (and feelings of satiety) you get from the foods while decreasing the chances that there will be anything left for your body to convert to fat. We’re whole-grains fanatics at our house. Our pasta (even the aforementioned mac-n-cheese) are all whole grain varieties (wheat, farro, brown rice, etc.), as are our cereals, waffles, crackers, snack foods and sandwich bread. We go for the highest fiber numbers we can find on the labels. (And if I have to choose between HFCS and actual sugar, I’ll choose that evil “pure cane sugar” every time.) We love lentils and beans and try to incorporate them into a lot of our vegetarian and meat-based meals.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally make cookies or pancakes with plain old white flour, or never let my kids pick out an empty-calorie-like treat at the grocery store or hey look! Krispy Kremes! Yaaaaay. We still eat white rice with our Chipotle burritos or Indian take-out and you will have to pry the occasional French baguette slathered in cheese out of my cold, carbo-loaded hands. Basically, balance. It’s a good thing. I can’t get behind your husband’s complete lack of balance in his own diet, and I have an even bigger problem with him thinking it’s the appropriate choice for a 17-month-old.

Look, I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician. There are many documented downsides and even dangers to the Atkins diet that I guess your husband has either never heard or has chosen to ignore in favor of the carbs = sugar = bad mantra. While using Atkins for short-term weight loss goals is one thing, cutting out carbs ENTIRELY, fruits and vegetables included for LIFE? Like it sounds like your husband plans to? Really not a good idea, even with the limited research done so far. Low- or no-carb diets are really hard on your kidneys. Long-term followers can lose bone density. High fat, low fiber diets are terrible for your heart and can lead to heart disease, full stop. A lack of fruits and vegetables and antioxidants ups your risk of cancer. And not to mention, a toddler’s body should not be running out of calories to burn and thus turning to his own fat stores for energy, which is exactly what the Atkins plan was designed to do for adult dieters.

Here are some articles about carbs and children’s diets that you should read, and make your husband read. As you can see, the way he is suggesting you feed your son is entirely unacceptable. Then I’d suggest making a family appointment with a nutritionist — one who specializes in children’s diets, preferably, who can hopefully set your husband straight on why children NEED carbs, and help you guys come up with sensible options from the complex-carb list. Hopefully for all of you. Because seriously, an all high-protein, low-fiber diet is just not a good long-term way to feed a growing family.

Finally, just because it’s weighing heavily on me here: I imagine your husband thinks his opinions about carbohydrates come from a concern for his (and his son’s) health, but really, he’s pushing a weight-loss plan on all of you. I mean, that’s the root of all of this, no? Daddy was overweight, and is now scared/worried/terrified that Junior will be overweight if he eats the “wrong” foods. Not good, dawg. That’s some mighty disordered thinking there, and something that could become a problem should Junior’s body just naturally take after Daddy’s, or once he’s old enough to start mimicking Daddy’s relationship/obsession with food and classifying entire essential food groups as “bad” instead of learning about moderation and balance and exercise and all that. We hear an awful lot about us mothers passing on our warped thinking about food and fat and our bodies to our daughters, but fathers can do it too.

If he continues to insist that his body is different and can’t handle carbohydrates at all, or that staying thin is worth the potential risks to his heart and such, well, it’s his body and his health.(Though my concerns from the previous paragraph would still apply.) But for right now, for you? And your children? Put your foot down. Get those other food groups back onto your dinner table, STAT.

__________________________________________________________________
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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19 Responses to “Low-Carb Diets & Toddlers”

  1. Melissa C Feb 18 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

    I would also suggest a call to your pediatrician. I’m sure he/she can recommend some articles as well and possibly even some sample daily menus for children your son’s age.

  2. bethany actually Feb 18 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    Just a quick comment to address one thing: yogurt is actually really good for you when you’re dealing with stomach issues (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.). Yogurt with active cultures help increase the good bacteria in your gut which strengthens your immune system! Just google “yogurt flu” to find a variety of articles about it.

  3. Sarah Feb 18 at 2:23 pm Reply Reply

    I think some nutritional counseling is ESSENTIAL for this dad. Reading a few good articles, as helpful as that can be, will not do enough to erase these “scripts” that exist in his head about food.

    I am trying to lose the last bit of baby weight myself and it is so hard for me to let go of the treat=BAD thinking. I struggle allow myself an indulgence every now and again, but I know that if I go completely cold-turkey on the things I love that I will eventually slip up, binge and feel worse about myself and therefore sabatoge all that I have accomplished.

    I really hope that the mom does all she can to help her husband and to ensure that her child grows up with a well rouded and healthy attitude towards food.

  4. Stephanie Feb 18 at 2:36 pm Reply Reply

    Carbs are NOT bad. My God! I subsisted on bread as a child because I was extremely picky, and I was very skinny. My dad’s side of the family all live in France, they love their carbs and they’re all thin. It’s called moderation. But the real thing is that your toddler is not getting high fiber foods – this is a growing problem for many kids. Fruits and vegetables help combat this, a lot. And the 50th percentile doesn’t mean anything for a 17 month old BABY — I wouldn’t worry about that at all. Again, everything in moderation.

  5. Dana Feb 18 at 2:50 pm Reply Reply

    Please RUN, don’t walk, to your nearest registered dietitian’s office. Your ped should have local recs for you. Starting a healthy relationship with food is so important. Your husband didn’t have that chance, your son can.

  6. RJ Feb 18 at 3:17 pm Reply Reply

    You may want to look into the Paleo or Primal diet. It sounds cliche, but it truly is a healthy mix of proteins, fats, vegetables, and fruit. One place to start would be everydaypaleo.com. The information there is straight forward (along with recipes), and from the perspective of a MOM. One thing to keep in mind is that no single Paleo diet is the same. The principles are the same, but the interpretation (or leniency) varies widely. You can easily adapt it to meet your lifestyle.

  7. jive turkey Feb 18 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    Adding to the chorus of voices suggesting you seek backup from a dietitian and pediatrician to arm you with facts & recommendations.

    Be prepared for your husband not to believe them, at least at first. I have a very stubborn mother-in-law who firmly believes I am depriving my 2-yo daughter because I don’t give her pudding, chocolate milk, and red meat every day — despite my repeating over and over that our pediatrician has deemed our fruit-and-veggie-loving kid perfectly healthy. People CLING to their ideas about food and nutrition with a DEATH GRIP, I’ve found, and un-learning some of that stuff takes time. Best of luck to you!

  8. Hil Feb 18 at 3:44 pm Reply Reply

    I would further suggest that if your husband doesn’t respond well to your opinions or to the dietician’s recommendations for your son, an appointment with a therapist might help him address his attitudes toward weight and food.

  9. Heather Feb 18 at 4:06 pm Reply Reply

    I’d actually start with lap band doc (who hubby apparently trusts) and get a recomendation from them as to a good general nutritionist who can talk about family eating.
    That way, hubby can also run through the “but *I* can’t do it” senarios with someone who his trusted doctor trusts.

  10. NS Feb 18 at 7:31 pm Reply Reply

    My mother had (has) very disordered thoughts about food and eating , and I always joked that it was a good thing that I loved food too much to develop an eating disorder. Fast-forward 18 years, and my little brother ended up in a rehab clinic after losing over 50 lbs in three months. He was diagnosed as bulimic/anorexic and an obsessive-compulsive work-out addict. Eating disorder issues don’t just happen to females! As your son gets older he will be picking up cues from his father around food/diets, so decide now what message you want him to receive. This hyper-focused attention to food sends a powerful message, and from experience I can tell you that there are a million little non-verbal lessons that your husband’s behavior could potentially be teaching your son. For your son’s sake and future health, please follow the advice to get to a pediatrician/dietician for some advice!

  11. Sid Feb 21 at 11:11 am Reply Reply

    This whole scenario is so tragic to me. Our culture is obsessed with weight and food. I feel sorry for your husband who has, after I’m sure years of negative social pressure, found a way to manage his weight and now faces all sorts of ill-informed critcisms for not doing it the “right” way (i.e., according to conventional notions of over-exercise and low fat diets). However,
    he does need to realize that his very specific weight-loss diet is not necessarily what’s best for his children, or for himself long-term. Having grown up with an eating-disordered father, I know how damaging parental over-focus and negativity around food can be to kids.
    If your husband wants to save his children from enduring what he’s had to, he’s much better off focusing on your family sharing the experience of cooking and eating real, whole foods together (and I’m sorry if it offends anyone but I STRONGLY disagree with including grains in this category, there’s significant scientific evidence these cause more harm than good to most people, especially those with weight issues) and finding enjoyment in regular physicial activity.

  12. From Belgium Feb 22 at 9:09 am Reply Reply

    Since when is a carrot bad for you! Or a tomato!

    Carbs are not evil!

  13. Mary Feb 22 at 7:56 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a grad student on my way to becoming a registered dietician, and I just wanted to restate the NEED for this family to go together for a nutrition counseling session. If you have insurance it may be covered, but if not, just one short appointment could make such a huge difference in the long term health and happiness of your family. Heather’s suggestion to get a dietician referral from the Lap-Band doctor is a great one.

    Amy, thanks for giving such sensible advice as always. The only small correction I want to chip in is that white rice and refined flours ARE in fact complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are straight up sugars, while complex carbs include all starches and fiber. Of course, refined and whole-grain products differ in metabolism, as evident in the glycemic index. Long time reader, love your column!!

  14. Sivy Feb 23 at 2:44 pm Reply Reply

    I am going to second the Paleo/Primal diet. My familly eats Paleo – heavy on the protein and fats and good carbs (veggies!!!) Also, it sounds like the Atkins information was incorrect, as the only meat part of the diet should last only 30 days. After that the body has adjusted and will store the protein as fat. I also second everydaypaleo.com as well as marksdailyapple.com for good tips, ideas and I believe that everydaypaleo has links to the science behind the Paleo diet.

  15. Quinn Mar 01 at 11:58 pm Reply Reply

    Please please PLEASE get to nutritional counseling. And possibly just plain counseling for your husband. His relationship with his body and food is NOT healthy and it WILL affect your kids.

    My mother has a disordered and warped view of food and her body as well, and I have heard for years that potatoes, carrots, rice, beans, peas all are starchy and thus BAD and will make you FAT and thus BAD. I KNOW this to be untrue, but it’s so hard to shut off her voice in my head. Sometimes I get paralyzed trying to figure out what to eat because everything I can think of is BAD.

    My mom also rigidly controlled my diet growing up. Anything treat-like was restricted–I even had to bring home cupcakes and cookies from classmate’s birthdays and have that for dessert. Can you imagine what it was like to sit in class watching all your classmates eat a cupcake and not be allowed to yourself? Since treats were so rare I would eat them very, very slowly, not wasting a single crumb.

    As I got older I realized I didn’t have to ask my mom before eating candy or whatever. Thing was, as my mom had regulated what and how much I ate my entire life, I had no internal mechanism to stop myself (except fear of her finding out). I literally would eat an entire bag of candy–that I didn’t even really want!–because I didn’t know how to stop. It turned into bulimia when I was 12.

    It probably comes as no surprise that I struggle with food and my body to this day, although I have much better internal controls now. But my point is that your husband’s relationship with food is VERY unhealthy. Your son WILL pick up on that. What’s worse, however, is his rigid and unhealthy control of your son’s diet. Please, do not let him do this to your kids.

  16. Tracy Mar 04 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    Your husband isn’t following an Atkins diet. The Atkins diet (which many people don’t realize, including maybe Amy) is NOT a no-carb, no-vegetable diet. You are supposed to eat vegetables. Not all vegetables, but it’s definitely NOT a no-veg diet. (No, I’m not an Atkins groupie, I just feel it gets a bad rap based on misinformation.)

  17. Jasmine Mar 06 at 8:20 pm Reply Reply

    I’m late to the discussion, but PLEASE feed your child healthy fats as well. It is absolutely vital for brain development.

    http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/adhd_low_fat_diet.html

  18. kim Mar 15 at 5:29 pm Reply Reply

    Way late, but I wanted to third the paleo approach to eating and everydaypaleo.com. Our family eats paleo + a little dairy. We don’t worry about carbs at all. As long as my son gets enough protein and good fats and his food quality is high, I don’t worry about it. Everything he eats is nutrient-dense, real, unprocessed (or minimally, I should say, people get semantic about that word sometimes), so there’s nothing to worry about.
    As I said, I’m no low carb advocate, but I just wanted to point out that ketogenic diets are sometimes prescribed to kids with epilepsy to help control seizures.
    Carbs certainly have their place in the average kids diet, but they don’t NEED a whole lot of carbs. And a low-carb diet is not necessarily a weight-loss plan, but can be undertaken for health reasons.

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