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Special Diets for Epilepsy

Overview

When the body burns (metabolizes) fat, it creates substances called ketones. The ketogenic diet tries to force the body to use more fat for energy instead of sugar (glucose) by increasing fat and restricting carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet can be used to prevent seizures in an adult or a child who has any type of epilepsy. It is not yet clear how or why the ketogenic diet prevents or reduces seizures.

One version of the ketogenic diet provides 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate together. People on a ketogenic diet have to eat mostly fatty foods, such as butter, cream, and peanut butter. Foods such as bread, pasta, fruits, and vegetables have to be severely limited. And the person's total calories are also restricted. At every meal, the food has to be measured carefully so that the right amounts of each food are given. Even a slight departure from the diet can cancel its effect.

If you are thinking about the ketogenic diet, keep in mind:

  • For the diet to prevent seizures, your child has to follow it exactly. The amounts and types of foods eaten have to be measured precisely. And preparing meals can take a lot of time.
  • The diet does not work for some children, no matter how closely they follow it.

The ketogenic diet is very strict and can be hard for some people and families to follow. Other special diets for epilepsy that are less strict may also be tried.

The medium chain triglyceride (MCT) diet.

People on this diet take an oil supplement instead of relying on food for the fat in the diet. This can make the diet easier, because less total fat is needed from food and the person can eat more protein and carbohydrates.

The modified Atkins diet.

The Atkins diet is known as a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The modified Atkins diet for people with epilepsy is similar to the ketogenic diet but allows for a little more flexibility in protein, fluid, and calorie amounts.

The low glycemic index diet.

This is the least restrictive special diet for epilepsy. It does not restrict fluids or protein and people do not need to be so strict about calories or the amount of fat they eat. People on this diet still eat much more fat than in a typical diet, but carbohydrates are not as limited.

Credits

Current as of: December 17, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Steven C. Schachter MD - Neurology