Following a strict ketogenic diet may offer your child significant or entire relief from seizures. But this dietary therapy requires a big family commitment and sizeable lifestyle changes. Our team of pediatric experts supports you at every step. Here, get answers to common questions about the ketogenic diet and epilepsy. 

What is the ketogenic diet for epilepsy?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that uses strict ratios of nutrients, customized to each child, to treat seizure symptoms. Families must weigh all foods on a gram scale for the diet to be most effective. 

Children following the ketogenic diet for epilepsy often eat meals with a lot of heavy cream, butter and oils. They will be instructed to limit or eliminate carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, potatoes, cereal or pasta.

Who can this diet help?

The ketogenic diet may benefit anyone with epilepsy, no matter your age or seizure type. Our team doesn’t place general restrictions on who can start this diet. However, we do not recommend this dietary therapy for all children. 

Young children under 10 years old may benefit most from the ketogenic diet.

At our Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy Clinic, epilepsy doctors and our dietitian discuss dietary therapies in detail with families. Together, we create a treatment plan that’s personalized to every child’s needs and circumstances.

How effective is the ketogenic diet at managing seizures?

Every child reacts to this dietary therapy differently. Some children experience seizure relief immediately. Other children see gradual or no seizure relief after weeks or months. 

When following a strict ketogenic diet, research has shown that about one-third of children:

  • Experience major relief (a 90% decrease in seizures), with one-quarter of those children becoming seizure-free
  • Have moderate relief, with 50% to 90% reduction in seizures. 
  • See no improvement in seizures.

How does the ketogenic diet heal epilepsy?

Doctors aren’t certain exactly how this diet stops or controls seizures. Some people in the medical community believe this therapy’s benefit comes from ketones. When fats break down inside the body, this process creates ketones. When someone follows the ketogenic diet, the body uses ketones as a source of energy instead of glucose (sugar from carbohydrate breakdown).

What does a ketogenic diet epilepsy menu look like?

Our dietitian calculates a customized diet for every child, based on their activity level, health and other factors. This diet tells families how much fat, protein and carbohydrate your child should eat for every meal. We provide families with plenty of meal ideas and guidance, as you make this big lifestyle change.

A common meal your child may eat on the ketogenic diet may include:

  • One hot dog (no bun)
  • Green beans cooked in butter
  • Heavy whipping cream

Are there any side effects of the ketogenic diet?

Children may experience varying side effects, as with any other epilepsy treatment. Common side effects of this dietary therapy include an upset stomach, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. We monitor how well your child is tolerating the ketogenic diet and help you manage any uncomfortable side effects.

Is it healthy for my child to follow the ketogenic diet long term?

This diet does not provide enough vitamins and minerals on its own. For that reason, children must take special supplements while following the ketogenic diet. Our dietitian closely monitors children to ensure they eat enough calories for their weight and age.

We typically do not recommend children follow this diet long term. Children who experience benefits from this therapy may follow the ketogenic diet for 2 to 3 years. At that point, children usually go back to eating normally. Improvements to seizure control are often permanent. 

Children usually stop the plan if they see no change in seizure control after 3 months. 

Can other diets treat seizures?

Other dietary therapies to treat epilepsy include the modified Atkins diet and the low-glycemic diet. Both of these plans use similar nutritional principles to the ketogenic diet, but they allow for more carbohydrates and taste better. These diets may be easier for children older than 10 to tolerate. 

Learn more about medical epilepsy treatments.