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Low-Carb Diet and Toddlers

Low-Carb Diets & Toddlers

By Amalah

Hey 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.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesFast 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!


A Healthy Toddler Diet Includes Carbohydrates

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, carb-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.

Low-Carb Diets Are Not For Kids

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.

Do some research about carbs and children’s diets — this article is a good place to start. As you can see, the way your husband 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 worrying me (a lot): 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 [email protected]

Published February 18, 2011. Last updated January 31, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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