Are you overwhelmed by all the different diet options for people? We get it. With so much diet advice available to you, it can be hard to know if those diets are helpful for your kids.
Here, Vanessa Chrisman, registered dietitian at the Clinical Nutrition and Lactation program at CHOC, helps you understand which diets are safest and healthiest for kids.
Are vegetarian diets healthy for kids and teens?
A vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, fish, seafood and shellfish and may include eggs and/or dairy products.
“It can be really healthy for children and teens,” says Vanessa. “Vegetarian diets include a lot of healthy foods like fruit, veggies, whole grains and protein-rich foods like eggs, tofu, and dairy products. If your child is eating a variety of those foods, it can be very beneficial.”
“On the other hand,” she adds, “if you have a picky eater, it can be a restrictive diet.”
Vegetarian diets are associated with lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, type 2 diabetes and lower obesity risk.
In recent years, plant-based diets/foods have become very popular. Vegetarian diets would be considered plant-based, as are vegan diets. In general, a healthy diet includes foods that come from plants (likes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds).
Are vegan diets healthy for kids and teens?
Vegans are strict vegetarians who do not eat dairy, eggs, gelatin or other animal products.
While the vegan diet is more restrictive, it can be healthy for kids too. Parents should seek help from a registered dietitian to make sure their child is meeting their nutritional needs, says Vanessa.
Calcium, vitamin D, and B12 are some of the micronutrients that can be low in a vegan diet. However, if you include soy milk or other non-dairy milks in the diet, most are enriched with calcium and vitamin B12.
“Calcium is really important for children in the development of strong bones and teeth,” says Vanessa.
Are paleo diets healthy for kids and teens?
The Paleo diet is a diet trend that Vanessa says is less suited for children.
The paleo diet is a high-protein, high-fiber diet consisting of lean meat, fish, fruits, veggies, eggs and oil. It excludes grains, dairy, anything with sugar, salt, beans and other legumes.
Supporters say a paleo diet helps people lose weight, says Vanessa. But it’s hard for kids to maintain their growth on this diet and get all the nutrients that they need.
Are organic diets healthy for kids and teens?
Diets rich in organic foods are healthy for kids and teens. Recent studies have shown that organic varieties of food may have greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus when compared to the same food that is not organically produced.
Organic meats, dairy products, and eggs also have been found to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats – important for brain and heart health). Organic foods also have less pesticide residue and fewer harmful bacteria compared to non-organic foods. Whether these health benefits are worth the extra cost in food expenses remains up for debate.
Apart from health reasons, families may choose to adopt an organic diet for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by conserving soil and water and reducing pollution.
Is intermittent fasting healthy for kids and teens?
Intermittent fasting may be an alternative to traditional dieting for adults but has not been studied in children. However, research results on the benefits of intermittent fasting have not been consistent.
While some studies have shown potential benefits, others have shown no difference in regard to weight loss/weight maintenance, blood sugar control, and blood lipids. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for those in periods of rapid growth, such as children and adolescents.
Instead, an intentional approach to eating is recommended for children and adolescents.
Besides specialized diets, how can kids and teens maintain healthy eating habits?
When it comes to maintaining and creating healthy eating habits, parents play a huge role. They are the ones buying the food, preparing meals and setting a schedule for the family. Whether parents realize it or not, they are modeling to their kids what to eat and how to eat. Lifelong eating habits are established in the home. Parents are gifted this amazing opportunity to teach their children how to eat in a healthy way, says Vanessa. This is one of the many important reasons why we encourage kids and teens to eat together with their families at least once a day.
Healthy eating for kids is an essential part of their overall healthy lives. For children, it’s especially important because their growth and development depends on it. Maintaining healthy eating habits becomes easier when it’s part of the daily routine. Some simple eating habits we encourage include:
- Eating breakfast daily.
- Offering fruit/vegetables at snack time.
- Serving vegetables at dinner every night.
- Limiting snacking after school.
- Avoiding sweet drinks.
- Eating dinner together as a family.
Parents can include children in meal prep and meal planning, making it fun to try new, health foods as a family.
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At CHOC, we specialize in providing a full continuum of pediatric nutrition services, including inpatient and outpatient services, depending on our patients’ needs.