The original therapeutic diet for paediatric epilepsy provides just enough protein for body growth and repair, and sufficient calories[Note 1] to maintain the correct weight for age and height. The classic therapeutic ketogenic diet was developed for treatment of paediatric epilepsy in the 1920s and was widely used into the next decade, but its popularity waned with the introduction of effective anticonvulsant medications. This classic ketogenic diet contains a 4:1 ratio by weight of fat to combined protein and carbohydrate. This is achieved by excluding high-carbohydrate foods such as starchy fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, grains and sugar, while increasing the consumption of foods high in fat such as nuts, cream, and butter. Most dietary fat is made of molecules called long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). However, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)—made from fatty acids with shorter carbon chains than LCTs—are more ketogenic. A variant of the classic diet known as the MCT ketogenic diet uses a form of coconut oil, which is rich in MCTs, to provide around half the calories. As less overall fat is needed in this variant of the diet, a greater proportion of carbohydrate and protein can be consumed, allowing a greater variety of food choices.
One thing many people love about keto diet meal plans is that tracking your food is optional. "One of the biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet is that there's no need to meticulously track your calories like you may in other diets," notes Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and cofounder of Ancient Nutrition. "Because you're filling up on fat and protein, you're more likely to feel satisfied and energized all day long, which causes you to naturally eat less." This isn't to say that food tracking on keto is discouraged. "Some people may find calorie counting a useful tool to be more mindful and aware of what they're eating, but it's not necessary on the ketogenic diet," says Dr. Axe, but there's no need to get too stressed about hitting a certain caloric goal, especially if you're not trying to lose weight. (Related: The #1 Reason to Stop Counting Calories)
But if no carbs are available, our bodies start burning fat as a primary fuel source and producing ketones in the liver, which the body can turn into energy. This metabolic state, called ketosis, is what happens when someone is starving. But it's also how Harper's body works every day. His system relies on fats like butter, oil, and lard as a primary energy source instead of packing them on as in-case-of-emergency poundage.
Note: Are you a vegetarian or vegan and want to go on a ketogenic diet? It’s still possible! Just keep in mind that the dietary restrictions can sometimes be a little bit intense. Make sure to plan ahead and prepare to aid your success. To help out, we’ve published articles (with 7 day meal plans included) for both the vegetarian ketogenic diet and the vegan ketogenic diet.
I was a Corpsman (not a corpse-man as some recent somewhat fanatical president would say), and I can tell you many stories of Marines and Sailors who maintained restrictive diets (aka picky eaters). Most obvious was lack of sustaining energy (hypoglycemia) at mile 15 (with 80lbs of gear including a 6.5lb rifle and 200 rnds of ammo, etc.) and depletion of essential vitamins, electrolyte imbalance. They were always the first to collapse and have to hear me scold “see I told you so.” An IV of D5W usually does the trick (D is for dextrose, OMG!)
When ketosis kicks in, the body switches from stealing protein for fuel to burning fat. “The body starts to rely more heavily on fat stores,” Notte explains. Molecules called ketones are released when body fat is metabolized, and some cells in the brain can use ketones for fuel. However, your brain needs more than 100 grams of carbohydrates a day, according to research, and while your body makes the switch to relying on fat—ketones—for energy, your brain can suffer.
Wondering what fits into a keto diet — and what doesn’t? “It’s so important to know what foods you’ll be eating before you start, and how to incorporate more fats into your diet,” says Kristen Mancinelli, RD, author of The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss, who is based in New York City. We asked her for some guidelines.
A: The most common ways to track your carbs is through MyFitnessPal and their mobile app. You cannot track net carbs on the app, although you can track your total carb intake and your total fiber intake. To get your net carbs, just subtract your total fiber intake from your total carb intake. I have written an article on How to Track Carbs on MyFitnessPal.
As for branched-chain amino acids, you'll find smart people who swear that they're keto-friendly, and others who don't. One of the BCAAs, valine, can be glucogenic, meaning that it can lead to glucose production and potentially contribute to leaving ketosis behind. But does that mean it will happen? Not necessarily, particularly if you're just an occasional supplement user.
The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D. A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises:
In many developing countries, the ketogenic diet is expensive because dairy fats and meat are more expensive than grain, fruit and vegetables. The modified Atkins diet has been proposed as a lower-cost alternative for those countries; the slightly more expensive food bill can be offset by a reduction in pharmaceutical costs if the diet is successful. The modified Atkins diet is less complex to explain and prepare and requires less support from a dietitian.
You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.
Probably, and there are a few reasons why, Keatley says. For starters, people usually reduce their daily caloric intake to about 1,500 calories a day because healthy fats and lean proteins make you feel fuller sooner—and for a longer period of time. And then there’s the fact that it takes more energy to process and burn fat and protein than carbs, so you're burning slightly more calories than you did before. Over time, this can lead to weight loss.
The modified Atkins diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in 43% of patients who try it and by more than 90% in 27% of patients. Few adverse effects have been reported, though cholesterol is increased and the diet has not been studied long term. Although based on a smaller data set (126 adults and children from 11 studies over five centres), these results from 2009 compare favourably with the traditional ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet is not a benign, holistic or natural treatment for epilepsy; as with any serious medical therapy, there may be complications. These are generally less severe and less frequent than with anticonvulsant medication or surgery. Common but easily treatable short-term side effects include constipation, low-grade acidosis and hypoglycaemia if there is an initial fast. Raised levels of lipids in the blood affect up to 60% of children and cholesterol levels may increase by around 30%. This can be treated by changes to the fat content of the diet, such as from saturated fats towards polyunsaturated fats, and, if persistent, by lowering the ketogenic ratio. Supplements are necessary to counter the dietary deficiency of many micronutrients.
Because it lacks carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet is rich in proteins and fats. It typically includes plenty of meats, eggs, processed meats, sausages, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and fibrous vegetables. Because it is so restrictive, it is really hard to follow over the long run. Carbohydrates normally account for at least 50% of the typical American diet. One of the main criticisms of this diet is that many people tend to eat too much protein and poor-quality fats from processed foods, with very few fruits and vegetables. Patients with kidney disease need to be cautious because this diet could worsen their condition. Additionally, some patients may feel a little tired in the beginning, while some may have bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and sleep problems.
Fairly recently, the diet was introduced as a weight-loss diet by an Italian professor of surgery, Dr. Gianfranco Cappello of Sapienza University in Rome. In his 2012 study, about 19,000 dieters received a high-fat liquid diet via a feeding tube inserted down the nose. The study showed an average weight loss of more than 20 pounds in participants, most of whom kept it off for at least a year. The researchers reported a few minor side effects, like fatigue.