What is the Epilepsy Diet?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill

The epilepsy diet, also known as the ketogenic diet, is a dietary plan that heavily restricts carbohydrate consumption while being very heavy on high-fat foods. Generally it is more restrictive than the modified Atkins diets and requires much more closely monitored results. In most cases it is prescribed by a doctor because it has been shown to reduce the number of seizure occurrences in those with epilepsy.

The epilepsy diet is not often used in adults. Although the plan has been shown to be equally as effective in adults as in children, most adults find the diet to be too restrictive. Children who do not yet have such set eating patterns may be more likely to stick with the plan long-term. The epilepsy diet is usually used in those who have not responded to certain seizure medications. It is closely monitored by a registered dietitian.

This diet plan has strict guidelines which much be followed exactly. For this reason, most parents of children using the plan need the professional help of a dietitian. Patients are advised to eat roughly 75 to 100 calories per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. The amount of carbohydrates and proteins in comparison with certain other fats must also be closely monitored. Carbohydrates must only come from certain sources, therefore many foods are entirely off-limits. Even everyday items like toothpaste must be measured to ensure that no added sugar is found.

Oftentimes the epilepsy diet is started in the hospital. The child is usually required to fast from all sustenance other than water for 24 hours. Once this portion is complete, approved foods are slowly introduced. This allows his or her body to adjusted to the change gradually.

Many children will stay on their regular seizure medications while they are on the epilepsy diet. Usually, half of all children on the diet will see a reduction in seizures. Some will stop having seizures altogether. Certain epileptic conditions are more responsive to this treatment than others, so results will vary based on the individual.

Adults who use this or another less restrictive diet plan will follow the same basic principles. The modified Atkins plan, for example, is still very restrictive of carbohydrates and sugars and heavy on certain fats and proteins. Less restrictive options should still be monitored by a licensed dietitian to ensure they are being adhered to properly and are working effectively.

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