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Fad diets for kids

5-minute read

Having a healthy, balanced diet is important for your child’s development. Sometimes, you might have to avoid giving your child certain foods due to a food allergy or intolerance.

However, there are also some diets that claim to have health benefits, but many of these diets lack a balance of nutrients. These fad diets can be unhealthy for your child.

Find out about some of the healthy diet choices for children, as well as diets that children should avoid.

What makes a healthy diet for children?

A healthy, balanced diet is essential for your child’s health. Managing your child’s diet is important for their growth and development. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating suggests that children should enjoy a variety of food from these five food groups:

  • vegetables and legumes
  • fruit
  • grains
  • lean meats and other proteins
  • dairy

Your child’s salt, sugar and fat intake should also be managed for their wellbeing.

Managing your child’s food allergies and intolerances

There are diets specifically designed for children who have allergic reactions to certain foods.

Sometimes children have non-allergic reactions to certain foods. This is called a food intolerance.

If you suspect your child has a food allergy or a food intolerance, you should see your doctor. They can help you manage your child’s diet by considering what foods to avoid or include. These diets don’t promote wellbeing or weight loss for otherwise healthy children.

You can visit the ASCIA website for more information on food allergy avoidance diets.

Dairy free

Some infants are allergic to cow’s milk. Other young children aren’t able to digest the milk sugar lactose (lactose intolerance).

If your doctor diagnoses either condition, seek advice about the products your child should avoid. These may include:

  • milk
  • butter
  • cheese
  • yoghurt
  • sour cream

Dairy products are important sources of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Children who do not have reactions to dairy do not need to avoid dairy products. Dairy products do not cause mucus, as is commonly believed. Avoiding dairy when children have a cold will not improve symptoms.

You should also ask your doctor about which foods your child should substitute for dairy.

Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, rye and barley. Only a small percentage of people have a condition called coeliac disease which is treated by avoiding gluten. Others may have a gluten intolerance.

There is no health advantage in putting your child on a gluten-free diet unless they are intolerant to gluten or have coeliac disease.

Plant-based diets

Vegetarian, vegan and pescetarian diets are safe for children, if they receive balanced nutrients.

It can be difficult to get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 on a plant-based diet. There are foods that contain some of these nutrients, including:

  • tofu
  • legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • wholegrains
  • Asian greens
  • tempeh
  • soy

It’s important to include a variety of cooked and raw plant-based foods in your child’s diet.

Why are fad diets unhealthy for children?

Children need a wide range of nutrients to help their brains and bodies develop and grow. Fad diets tend to lack some of these important nutrients and can compromise your child’s growth and development.

Many fad diets make claims about their health benefits. Most of these claims have no evidence to support them.

A diet is likely to be a ‘fad’ if it requires your child to:

  • skip meals
  • avoid certain food groups
  • greatly decrease the amount of food they eat

Long-term use of a fad diet can have a bad effect on your child. It can impact their energy levels.

Certain statements or claims about a diet should make you concerned. Such statements include:

  • this diet is the quick easy way to good health or weight loss
  • you need to eat a particular combination of food (as specified in the diet) to lose weight
  • the way to health and weight loss is to avoid whole food groups, for example grains or dairy products, or carbohydrate or fat
  • you need a particular supplement or pill or herb for good health Some examples of fad diets are given below

Paleo diet

The paleo diet bans all grains, dairy products, legumes (or ‘pulses’) and sugar. Apart from sugar, the foods on the banned list are healthy for your child. These are recommended for healthy eating in both children and adults.

Babies and toddlers do not have fully developed immune systems. They may be at risk from some of the ingredients in home-made Paleo diets.

Detox diets

There are some diets that claim to remove toxins from your body. These often involve eating only certain food groups or avoiding solid food.

These diets are not supported by dietary advice. Children should not be on a detox diet. It would deprive them of necessary nutrients for growth and development.

Low-fat diets

Babies and toddlers need fat in their diet to develop and grow. Any child under 2 years of age should not be on a low-fat diet.

Sugar-free diets

Sugar-free diets involve a focus on eating fats and proteins. The most well-known diet of this type is the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet encourages the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates (sugars) for weight loss. This means reducing or not eating foods such as:

  • fruit
  • legumes
  • vegetables
  • wholegrains

While these foods have sugar, they also contain nutrients that are important for your child’s development. Your child should not be on a sugar-free diet unless instructed by your doctor

Fasting

Fasting can be dangerous for children and has no health benefits. It deprives children of the nutrients they need for growth and energy. Many faiths don’t require children to fast as part of their religious practices.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


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