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What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

Mandi Rogier
Mandi Rogier

The ketogenic diet is an eating plan most commonly used to control epilepsy in children. This food plan emphasizes fats while strictly limiting carbohydrates. This diet should only be attempted with the assistance of a doctor and dietician as a means of controlling serious health problems.

The term ketogenic comes from the diet’s manipulation of ketones in the body. Ketones are the byproducts produced when the body is forced to use fat as a source of energy instead of its preferred fuel of carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates so severely that the body quickly uses up any sugars that are present, and turns to fats for fuel.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Higher ketone levels are associated with a reduction in seizures for young patients with epilepsy. A ketogenic diet is rarely the first treatment attempted. When several medications fail to work, or have serious side effects, the ketogenic diet is sometimes explored as an alternative means for controlling the child’s seizures. This diet does not work for all patients.

A ketogenic diet cannot be started or stopped all at once. The diet must be gradually incorporated into the child’s regular lifestyle. If the patient elects to go off of the diet at a later time, he must stop gradually as well. If a ketogenic diet is stopped suddenly, the patient’s seizures may get worse.

The diet is carefully tailored to meet the individual needs of the patient. It generally includes three to four times as much fat as it does carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are present in nearly all processed foods as well as grains, fruits, and milk. For this reason, controlling carbohydrates this strictly can be very difficult.

The types of fats used must be monitored very carefully to provide the healthiest diet possible. Weight is carefully monitored and controlled to prevent obesity since this diet is heavy in fat. A range of supplemental vitamins and minerals must be included for the patient to maintain a healthy body.

Side effects of the ketogenic diet include constipation, dehydration, kidney stones, and high cholesterol. Many children struggle with the diet because of the restrictions it places on activities that may otherwise be considered part of a normal childhood. Cake and candy cannot be consumed at parties and on holidays. School meals are usually inadequate, and every snack and meal must be carefully monitored.

Your nutritionist will likely help you and your child find effective ways to track your keto diet. Your nutritionist might give you a notebook or packet to fill out every day. Alternatively, your nutritionist might recommend a keto diet app. Keto diet apps take your health information and suggest meal plans and foods to buy. Most apps also have space for you to track what you’re eating and record relevant information to share with your nutritionist.

Any parent considering the ketogenic diet for their epileptic child should consult a doctor before attempting to use this method for controlling seizures. A qualified dietician will need to become a part of the child’s regular care team to ensure that the diet is proving beneficial and not harmful to the patient.

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