Would it be better for children to eat as few carbs or even none at all?
In It’s All Good, her low-carb, gluten-free cookbook due out in April, actress Gwyneth Paltrow says that she feeds her two children no carbohydrates. As Paltrow relates, she turned to such a diet after a 2011 health scare in which she thought she was having a stroke and “going to die”; it turned out that she had migraines, a panic attack and was anemic and deficient in vitamin D. She now avoids coffee, sugar, shellfish, potatoes, wheat and all meat excluding fish.
Low or No Carbs: Can Kids Be Healthy On This Diet?
Paltrow has garnered quite a bit of criticism and ridicule over her dietary choices along with accusations that she is in effect starving her children, depriving them of essential nutrients and revealing herself to be a celebrity-health-nut mother who puts her beliefs before properly caring for her children. Some nutritionists say that a low-carb diet deprive children of essential nutrients and make it harder for them to think and do well in school. The diet has been suggested to help kids who are obese but one study has shown that kids have a hard time sticking to it.
Writing in the Guardian, Joanna Blythman argues that a no-carb or low-carb diet actually makes “perfect sense” for children. Paltrow’s children do eat fruits and vegetables and these contain carbohydrates and natural sugars, as well as fiber and micronutrients. What she is cutting out of her kids’ meals is the starchy foods that more than a few health experts and studies have said are contributing to rising rates of obesity in children and adults. The mantra that starchy foods should be the basis of our meals is under question, Blythman writes:
The fact of the matter is that there are no nutrients (vitamins, minerals, micronutrients) in starchy carbohydrate foods that we can’t get elsewhere, and often in a superior form.
Of course, the processed food industry works ceaselessly to convince us that we must eat highly refined starchy foods, such as breakfast cereals and white bread, trumpeting that they give us energy. But all food gives us energy. Contrary to what we have been led to believe, there is no dietary “need” to eat starchy carbohydrates at all.
Starchy foods (especially those high in sugar and made of highly refined carbs) provide short-term energy in contrast to the “longer, slower, steadier release of energy” we get from protein and fat. As a result, we may get an energy boost from eating the former but then need to “refuel” — eat more — before too long.
Indeed, one pediatrican points out that a modified low-carb diet that is not overly restrictive can be “a good diet for kids.” If Paltrow’s aim is to keep her kids from eating the highly processed products that food companies zealously push on us, more power to her.
The Real Issue: Access To Healthy, Fresh Foods
But what about those of us who, unlike Paltrow, live in places that are “food deserts,” where the price of fresh fruit is far greater than that of airy white bread, salty snacks and gallons of soda? If we had unlimited resources, we’d all try to feed our kids the very best. Many of us cannot, for reasons often beyond our control; we then face the dilemma of knowing what’s healthy for our kids and us, but not being able to access the best foods, let alone to afford them.
As Blythman writes, carbohydrates — certainly potentially addictive, sugary products made from highly processed ingredients – don’t need to be the centerpiece of our meals. “Thanks” to the efforts of “Big Food” companies, such foods are readily available. Not only saying what diet is healthy, but pushing for policies and regulations to make such a diet more accessible to more people: Now that would be a really, really good thing.
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