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What is the Ketogenic Diet?

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The ketogenic diet is a special diet designed to help children with epilepsy that fails to respond adequately to routine anti-epileptic medications. A typical ketogenic diet is made up of the following:

  • A high proportion of fats
  • Adequate levels of protein
  • A low proportion of carbohydrates

This diet is termed ketogenic because it mimics the effects of fasting, which causes the body to produce ketones. During starvation, the body is forced to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. In a ketogenic diet, the main source of energy is fat and when this is combined with a low intake of carbohydrates, the body makes ketones.

When a person follows a regular diet, food is converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and used by various cells as an energy source. The brain usually relies on glucose as an energy source, but when too little carbohydrates are available, the liver processes fats to provide the brain with energy in the form of fatty acids and ketone bodies. An increased blood level of ketone bodies is referred to as ketosis and several studies have shown that a ketogenic diet is associated with seizure reduction in children with epilepsy that is difficult to manage.

The ketogenic diet contains adequate amounts of protein for body growth and repair. The total calories in the diet are also sufficient to maintain a healthy weight for a given age and height.

In the classic ketogenic diet, the ratio of fats to carbohydrates and proteins combined is 4:1. Examples of the high-fat foods eaten include butter, cream, lard, olive oil and duck fat and examples of high-carbohydrate foods to avoid include grains, bread, pasta, sugar, starchy fruits.

Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc

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