Overview

A high-fat diet may reduce seizures

If medicine does not control your seizures, a special diet may work. Ketogenic diets, which are low in carbohydrates and protein and high in fat, can reduce seizures in patients with epilepsy. These diets make the body use fat instead of sugar for energy.

Studies show that 50 percent of patients who eat a ketogenic diet see a 50 percent or greater reduction in seizures. The diet is used most often in children.

About

What is a ketogenic diet?

While you are probably aware of the “keto” diet popular in the media these days, ketogenic diets used to reduce seizures are very strict. Even a slight departure from the diet can cancel its effect.

If your child follows a ketogenic diet, they will eat:

  • Food that is carefully measured 

  • Limited amounts of bread, pasta, fruits and vegetables 

  • Mostly fatty foods like butter, cream and peanut butter

  • Restricted total calories

Your epilepsy team and dietitians help you add the ketogenic diet to your child's treatment plan. You must commit to the diet exactly. The diet can impact your whole family. Meals take time to prepare. The diet comes with medical risks that need to be watched.

Our dietitians support you every step of the way. You get individualized nutrition education, meal planning resources and recipes. We regularly monitor your child’s health to make sure they get the nutrition they need.

Who is it for? 

Ketogenic diets are used to treat children with severe seizures who do not respond to antiepileptic medicines.

Anyone with epilepsy can use the ketogenic diet. Doctors do not fully understand how it prevents or reduces seizures, but it does work for some patients.

Evaluation

You should plan to first make a three-month commitment to see if the ketogenic diet works for your child. The diet does not work for some children, no matter how closely families follow it.

If a ketogenic diet controls or reduces your child's seizures, your child’s epilepsy team will recommend that you commit to the diet for two years. This allows the team to monitor the diet's effectiveness.

You can begin to wean your child off the ketogenic diet after two years. During this time, you can see if the diet remains necessary. Many children keep the benefits of ketogenic therapy even after stopping the diet.

Treatment process

What to expect from a ketogenic diet

When your child eats a ketogenic diet, they eat large amounts of fat and limited amounts of carbohydrates and protein. 

When the body’s metabolism burns fat, it makes ketones. The ketones build up and put the body into a state called ketosis. Ketosis can help decrease seizures in patients with epilepsy.

Your child’s epilepsy care team will recommend the best diet for your child. You meet with your child’s doctor and dietitian to discuss the process needed to start the diet. 

Before beginning a ketogenic diet, your child is admitted to the hospital. The care team monitors your child and teaches you how to provide the ketogenic diet at home.

Here’s what to expect:

  • Your child fasts the day before starting the diet.

  • We slowly introduce the diet over several days.

  • The body adjusts to the dramatic dietary changes.

  • Your child may feel tired and lack energy for the first few days.

When it works, the ketogenic diet works fast. Children start having fewer seizures in two to three weeks. After two to three months, your child’s doctor and dietitian can test how well the diet works.

Types of ketogenic diets

There are different types of ketogenic diets:

This is the most restrictive ketogenic diet. It requires specific measurements of food and nutrients, such as 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate together.

Similar to the "South Beach Diet" (but not quite the same), this is the least restrictive diet on the list. It was originally developed to lower glucose levels in people with diabetes.

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

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.

Patient stories

How the ketogenic diet changes lives

Learn how the ketogenic diet helps reduce seizures for two of our patients.

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Treatment locations

Epilepsy treatment locations

We offer specialized epilepsy clinics at UW Health locations in Madison.

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  • University Hospital - Pediatric Epilepsy Clinic
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 890-6500
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