While teenagers have some dietary needs than adults, several studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets are both safe and effective for them – when a tool of a comprehensive strategy. In this article, we will look at the studies on low-carb diets for older children and teens as well as the weight loss results of these programs.
Are low-carbohydrate diets safe for teen weight loss?
Anybody who is still developing needs to consult with a doctor before making any sudden changes to their diet. We all know starvation diets can significantly affect adults. They are even worse for young bodies that are still growing. Pure caloric restriction in a diet plan or weight loss program can intentionally or unintentionally lead a teen to a starvation diet. Starving yourself when you are young can make you more likely to gain weight or struggle with obesity in adulthood.
But considering that many doctors tend to be doubtful of Paleo or low-carb diets. Below are a few studies that you will want to read and even bring up for discussion.
Instead of mentioning the word “Paleo,” you can instead label it as emphasizing more unprocessed foods. Whole foods such as veggies, whole proteins, less sugar, eliminating refined flours, and increasing healthy fats like avocados and olive oil. This approach may sound more “normal” to physicians rather than the word “Paleo”. Trendy diet names can be concerning and leaves some making crazy assumptions about what you or your teen will be eating.
Studies on low-carb diets in adolescents.
Weight loss with significant unique differences in teens.
This study published in the Journal of Pediatrics looked at an extremely low-carb diet plan. The participants were limited to below 20 grams a day for the first two weeks. After that, for the subsequent weeks, it will be below 40 grams. The participants in this study were young children between the ages of 9 and 18, with a median age of 14 to 15.
Over 12 weeks, the group on low-carb diets lost more pounds and did not notice any adverse effects in their blood cholesterol levels. Interestingly, closer examination reflects similar results, except for three children in the low-carb group who had excellent results. These participants’ results increased the loss average of the entire low-carb group. So, while the average adolescent may not experience any significant difference, some teenagers may have fantastic results with low-carb diets.
Regarding safety, the common side effects noticed in the low-carb group were headache, diarrhea, or constipation.
The similar outcome with impact on triglycerides
Another research study examined severely obese teenagers with an average age between 13 and 14. These teens consumed either a low-fat diet or a higher-protein/low-carb diet for 36 weeks, with check-ins at the 13th, 24th, and 36th weeks. This was also a small study, with only 33 teenagers completing the full 36 weeks.
By the end of week 36, the research team found that teens in the two groups both lost a significant amount of weight. However, they saw no difference between the low-fat and low-carb groups of teens in terms of weight loss or hunger/fullness ratings. Neither group had a measurable reduction in bone density. Both also witnessed significant improvements in their blood lipid levels; however, those in the low-carb group saw a sharp decline in triglycerides.
The researchers reported that the low-carb diet was safe or had no severe side effects.
Sensitivity to insulin increased on low-carb.
A 2009 study of 55 obese teenagers aged 12 to 18 found that both low-fat and low-carb diets produced similar weight-loss results, except that low-carb increased body’s sensitivity to insulin, whereas low-fat diets did not. Insulin sensitivity shows how well the body is processing carbohydrates. Thus, it is a good indicator of improving blood sugar control.
One more study on teen weight loss.
This study, while lacking a control group, has more participants than the others. The researchers placed 63 children between the ages of 12-18 on a low-carb diet (<50 grams of carbohydrates per day) for six months. Of the 38 participants that complete the entire six months, the majority (32) lost a considerable amount of weight. The results range from 12 – 53 pounds. Researchers reported no serious complications, indicating that the diet was safe and effective.
Putting all these studies together.
Although not all these studies agree – most concluded that low-carb diet plans were much better than low-fat diets. Some did not see any significant difference – NONE reported any severe adverse effects. At least, this indicates that low-carbohydrate diets are just as safe as traditional weight-loss diets. The evidence suggests that low-carb diets will not make teenagers’ cholesterol levels go over the roof. It may cause their bone density to decrease or result in any other adverse outcome.
Judging by the attrition rates from the studies, low-carb diets do not appear to be more challenging for teenagers to follow than low-fat diets. Statistically, while people can lose weight on a low-fat diet, most won’t continue to lose weight in the long run since very few successfully adhere to the diet.
One fascinating thing may be the research indicating significantly different weight-loss results for different people, what we at BioIntelligent Wellness call biochemical individuality. Some teenagers might get amazing results on low-carb diets, whereas others may experience average results. It’s important to note that additional benefits of limiting processed carbohydrates in the diet plans for both teenage boys and girls are that they lose weight, and their acne improves. Surely, a low-carb diet program cannot be the only solution for weight loss in teens.