A ketogenic diet is high in fat, and low in protein and carbohydrates. Our body usually breaks down carbohydrates into sugar, or glucose. Glucose is our body’s main fuel for energy. When we do not eat enough carbohydrates, our body starts to use fat for energy. These fats are broken down into ketones, and hence the name, “ketogenic diet.”
The requirements of a ketogenic diet are centered around fat. A person generally eats 3 to 4 grams of fat for every gram of protein and carbohydrate consumed. This means that about 70-80% of your daily calories come from fat, and the rest are split evenly between protein and carbohydrates.
Ketogenic diets are mainly given to children who suffer from the seizure disorder, epilepsy. The diet can be effective because the brain’s use of fat instead of sugar lowers the onset of seizures. The diet is mainly prescribed when all other methods have failed to control convulsions. A ketogenic diet should have enough calories for a growing child while allowing the brain to use ketones instead of glucose.
When a doctor decides to put their patient on a ketogenic diet, the patient must go to the hospital for a 24 to 72 hour observation period. The patient will be fasting during this time. The fasting period is needed for the patient’s body to use up all of its stored carbohydrates. The patient is monitored for the presence of ketones in their blood. The appearance of ketones means that the patient’s body is digesting fat for energy. The patient will still take epilepsy medication while starting the diet.
A true ketogenic diet is extremely difficult to follow. All foods must be weighed, and each meal must be completely eaten. There is almost no snacking between meals, and all meals outside of the home must also be measured. Sugary foods should be avoided to prevent the body from switching back to glucose for energy. The only time a patient can have sugary foods is when he or she has too many ketones in their blood.
Foods allowed on the diet include eggs, butter, fish, fresh meats, nuts, cheese, oil, and cream (1). Vegetables and fruits can be eaten in small quantities. A child on a ketogenic diet cannot eat ice cream, pies, chewing gum, cakes, biscuits, and chocolate because of their sugar contents.
Certain foods provide little calories from protein and carbohydrates, so they are considered meal fillers. These “free foods” include water, sugar-free lollipops, spices, and artificial sweeteners.
Ketogenic diets successfully regulate seizures in about one-third of the children on the diet. The diet is starting to be researched in adults with epilpsy, and is becoming more popular in use. A smaller number of people who are recommended to consume a ketogenic diet include those with Type 2 Diabetes who do not take insulin.
Ketone levels are monitored through urine and blood tests. A child may stop a successful ketogenic diet after two to three years. The child slowly decreases fat consumption over a few months in order for any seizure issues to be monitored.
There is a LOT of hype about the ketogenic diet. People have recently been turning to it for weight loss.
The Atkins Diet is a modified modified ketogenic diet.
Unfortunately, patients on any type of ketogenic diet may experience side effects like constipation, altered cholesterol levels, low blood sugar, and upset stomach. Few children are at risk for kidney stones, but a lag in growth may occur. Adults on this diet, however, should be cautious of kidney stones and gallstones.
Adults who use this diet to lose weight may actually be at risk for gaining weight. Unless calorie content is strictly monitored, the amount of fat in this diet can really pack on the pounds.The types and qualities of the fats will ultimately determine how the diet affects your body.
Anyone on a true ketogenic diet is at risk for nutritional deficiencies, since grains, vegetables, and fruits are rarely eaten. Talk to your doctor before taking any type of multivitamin. Only certain types of multivitamins can be taken with seizure medications.
Remember, eating large amounts of healthy fats is not the same as following a ketogenic diet. A true ketogenic diet’s main purpose is to control seizures. It’s important to discuss all dietary changes with your doctor or Registered Dietitian.
- Mahan L. K., Escott-Stump S., Raymond J.L., Krause M.V. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St. Louis, MO. Elsevier/Saunders. 2012.
- Yancy W. S., Foy M., Chalecki A. M., Vernon M. C., Westman E.C. “A low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 01 Dec. 2005. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/. Accessed 3 Nov 2015.