A ketogenic diet is very high in fat (up to 90% of calories from fat), low in carbohydrates, and low in protein. This combination changes the way energy is used in the body. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are usually the main source of energy for the body. Carbs get digested quickly and the body changes them easily into blood glucose for energy. The body uses insulin to help move sugar from the blood into the cells. With the ketogenic diet, your child’s body breaks down your body breaks down fat instead of sugar for energy. This makes byproducts called ketones. A high level of ketones in the blood (ketosis) may be helpful in treating seizures. There are theories about how and why the diet helps to treat seizures, but no one knows for sure.
While diets such as the Atkins diet are low in carbs and high in fat, the amounts of each are very different than the ketogenic diet. Also, protein is not strictly limited in the Atkins diet.
This diet can be dangerous for some children. If your child’s body does not process fatty acids properly, his body would use its own protein for energy. If this happens, it could quickly lead to coma and death. It is important to work with your child’s healthcare provider and a dietitian to follow the ketogenic diet.
The dietitian will develop specific meal plans based on your child’s age, activity level, and calorie needs. Your child’s meal plan will give the exact amount of each food that he should eat at each meal. A typical meal includes a small amount of fruit or vegetable, a protein rich food, and a source of fat such as heavy cream and butter or vegetable oil. The diet cuts out all sweets, such as candy, cookies, and desserts. Other carbs such as bread, potatoes, rice, cereals, and pasta are not allowed on the strictest form of the diet, but may be allowed on some forms of the diet.
Your child will slowly transition to the ketogenic diet over several days. A healthcare provider will carefully supervise your child when following this diet. This diet does not provide enough vitamins or minerals to stay healthy. Your child’s provider will prescribe special vitamin and mineral supplements while your child is on this diet.
Common side effects of this diet include weight loss, constipation, increased cholesterol levels, kidney stones and, in girls, changes in menstrual periods.
If you are interested in this diet, talk with your healthcare provider about whether it is right for your child.