Dietary Therapies for Epilepsy & Seizure Disorders

Certain diets may help reduce the frequency of seizures in people who don’t benefit from medication or surgery. The experts at NYU Langone recommend three different diets for people who have epilepsy. They offer advice on which one may best suit a child or adult based on the type of seizures or epilepsy he or she has.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet consists primarily of foods high in fat, with most of the remaining calories supplied by protein. The diet is intended to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis causes the body’s cells to use fats, called ketones, instead of glucose from carbohydrates for energy.

Ketosis mimics a fasting state, and research shows that seizures often lessen or disappear during periods of fasting in some people with epilepsy. Some children may be able to stop the ketogenic diet after a few years and remain seizure-free.

The diet is used mostly in children with difficult-to-control, generalized epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and consists of 35 to 45 calories and 0.5 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. High fat foods include mayonnaise, butter, and heavy cream. Small portions of fruit, cheese, meat, fish, or poultry are allowed, and foods must be carefully measured and weighed. 

Small amounts of sugar can reverse the effects of the diet and cause a seizure, so sugar is prohibited. As a result, parents must be vigilant about ensuring that the child’s medications, vitamins, toothpaste, and other products don’t contain sugar.

Modified Atkins Diet

The modified Atkins diet is an alternative to the ketogenic diet. Like the ketogenic diet, people eat foods high in fat, such as bacon, eggs, mayonnaise, butter, hamburger, heavy cream, and oil. But in the Atkins diet, people can eat more foods and can even eat some breads and cake products, as long as the total daily carbohydrate count remains below the amount prescribed by a neurologist.

This diet is easier to follow when eating in restaurants and outside the home, and is easier for the entire family to follow.

Low Glycemic Index Diet

A low glycemic index diet focuses on foods with a low glycemic index, meaning they have little impact on blood glucose levels. These foods include meat, cheese, and most high fiber vegetables. 

This diet attempts to reproduce the positive effects of the ketogenic diet, although it allows for a more generous intake of carbohydrates. Foods don’t have to be weighed, but it’s important to monitor portion sizes and balance your intake of carbohydrates with adequate amounts of fat and protein.

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