During the 1920s and 1930s, when the only anticonvulsant drugs were the sedative bromides (discovered 1857) and phenobarbital (1912), the ketogenic diet was widely used and studied. This changed in 1938 when H. Houston Merritt, Jr. and Tracy Putnam discovered phenytoin (Dilantin), and the focus of research shifted to discovering new drugs. With the introduction of sodium valproate in the 1970s, drugs were available to neurologists that were effective across a broad range of epileptic syndromes and seizure types. The use of the ketogenic diet, by this time restricted to difficult cases such as Lennox–Gastaut syndrome, declined further.
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.
The ketogenic diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in half of the patients who try it and by more than 90% in a third of patients. Three-quarters of children who respond do so within two weeks, though experts recommend a trial of at least three months before assuming it has been ineffective. Children with refractory epilepsy are more likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet than from trying another anticonvulsant drug. Some evidence indicates that adolescents and adults may also benefit from the diet.
H. Guldbrand, B. Dizdar, B. Bunjaku, T. Lindström, M. Bachrach-Lindström, M. Fredrikson, C. J. Östgren, F. H. Nystrom, “In Type 2 Diabetes, Randomisation to Advice to Follow a Low-carbohydrate Diet Transiently Improves Glycaemic Control Compared with Advice to Follow a Low-fat Diet Producing a Similar Weight Loss,” Diabetologia (2012) 55: 2118. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-012-2567-4.
Therapeutics: The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920s as an alternative therapeutic option to treat children suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy. Since its inception, the utilization of the ketogenic diet has expanded as a therapeutic treatment for many other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, GLUT-1 deficiency syndrome, Bipolar disorders and even cancer.
Increased Energy: Fat and ketone bodies can be utilized as a fuel source for nearly all of the cells in the body. Once the body begins to use ketones as its primary fuel source, there will be a noticeable increase in energy since you are avoiding the ups and downs associated with high-carbohydrate/high-glucose/high-insulin levels that result in feeling lethargic and tired throughout the day.
Before starting, ask yourself what is really realistic for you, Mattinson suggests. Then get your doctor’s okay. You may also work with a local registered dietitian nutritionist to limit potential nutrient deficiencies and talk about vitamin supplementation, as you won’t be eating whole grains, dairy, or fruit, and will eliminate many veggies. “A diet that eliminates entire food groups is a red flag to me. This isn’t something to take lightly or dive into headfirst with no medical supervision,” she says.
A ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) is typically lower in carbohydrates and higher in fats than a standard American diet. Once your body adapts to a ketogenic diet, it switches from primarily using carbohydrates and glucose to fat and ketones as fuel. This adaptation within the body increases fat breakdown and oxidation, which can improve body composition, general health, performance, and perhaps even longevity! The amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein needed to achieve a well-formulated keto diet for beginners differs from person to person and is goal-dependent. Any dietary protocol in which you are lowering carbohydrates sufficiently enough to induce a state of ketosis can be considered a ketogenic diet. However, throughout this guide you will begin to understand how to construct a well-formulated ketogenic diet to meet your goals.
Tracking protein is important for anyone who has adopted a ketogenic diet. Depending on activity level and other metabolic factors, some individuals may be able to tolerate more protein. As mentioned above, at a certain level protein can be glucogenic; so tailor it to your needs. However, we would say to lean towards more, not less, especially for older individuals trying to preserve muscle mass.
Achieving optimal ketosis hinges on finding the right balance of macronutrients (or “macros” in keto-speak); these are the elements in your diet that account for the majority of your calories, a.k.a. energy—namely, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. By the way, it’s often “net grams” of carbohydrates that are counted toward your daily intake; “net” deducts the amount of fiber in a food from its carbohydrate total.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the primary energy source. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits.1There are scientifically-backed studies that show the advantage of a low-carb, ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet. One meta-analysis of low-carbohydrate diets showed a large advantage in weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine study resulted in almost double the weight loss in a long-term study on ketone inducing diets.
Keto and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Research involving TBI has found that upon immediate trauma to the head, the brain takes up massive amounts of glucose. However, soon thereafter, the brain becomes resistant to taking up and utilizing glucose. This damage leads to insulin resistance and inflammation of brain tissue. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of ketones have been shown to not only reduce inflammation but to reduce glucose uptake in the brain as well. The ketogenic diet may also be a therapeutic treatment option for those individuals who have experienced long-term ramifications of a TBI by providing ketones as an alternative fuel source that can be readily taken up and utilized by the brain following these traumas.
As with other customized properties of the diet, the consumption of dairy is individualized. If digestive or glycemic problems develop due to the lactose and casein in dairy, then dairy may need to be avoided. If you can tolerate it, opt for lower carbohydrate dairy like cheese, heavy whipping cream, and butter, rather than higher carbohydrate products like milk.
Cruciferous vegetables, also known as brassicas and “cole crops”, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, are truly a low-carber’s best friend! They are the perfect replacement for starchy ingredients such as potatoes, rice and pasta. You can turn them into everything from mash to pizza crusts – true keto magic! Did we mention that most of them are super cheap, environmentally friendly and packed with nutrients, too?
Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, PhD, RD, , Mary Dean Coleman, PhD, RD, Joanne J. Volpe, Kathy W. Hosig, PhD, MPH, RD, “Perceived Hunger Is Lower and Weight Loss Is Greater in Overweight Premenopausal Women Consuming a Low-Carbohydrate/High-Protein vs High-Carbohydrate/Low-Fat Diet,” The Journal of Pediatrics: Vol 105, Issue 9: 1433–1437; September 2005. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000282230501151X.
The nerve impulse is characterised by a great influx of sodium ions through channels in the neuron's cell membrane followed by an efflux of potassium ions through other channels. The neuron is unable to fire again for a short time (known as the refractory period), which is mediated by another potassium channel. The flow through these ion channels is governed by a "gate" which is opened by either a voltage change or a chemical messenger known as a ligand (such as a neurotransmitter). These channels are another target for anticonvulsant drugs.
Long-term use of the ketogenic diet in children increases the risk of slowed or stunted growth, bone fractures, and kidney stones. The diet reduces levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, which is important for childhood growth. Like many anticonvulsant drugs, the ketogenic diet has an adverse effect on bone health. Many factors may be involved such as acidosis and suppressed growth hormone. About one in 20 children on the ketogenic diet develop kidney stones (compared with one in several thousand for the general population). A class of anticonvulsants known as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (topiramate, zonisamide) are known to increase the risk of kidney stones, but the combination of these anticonvulsants and the ketogenic diet does not appear to elevate the risk above that of the diet alone. The stones are treatable and do not justify discontinuation of the diet. Johns Hopkins Hospital now gives oral potassium citrate supplements to all ketogenic diet patients, resulting in one-seventh of the incidence of kidney stones. However, this empiric usage has not been tested in a prospective controlled trial. Kidney stone formation (nephrolithiasis) is associated with the diet for four reasons:
There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.
Take a multivitamin. “Because you are removing grains, the majority of fruit, some vegetables, and a significant amount of dairy from your menu, a multivitamin is good insurance against any micronutrient deficiencies,” says Jadin. Depending on what your individual overall diet looks like, Jadin says you might also need to add a calcium, vitamin D, and potassium supplement.
While it may be new to you, the keto diet has actually been around since the 1920’s, when the Mayo Clinic reported its effectiveness for helping epilepsy (that is still the case). Since then, there’s strong evidence that the keto diet helps with weight loss as well as type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, professor in the department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and co-author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
When dietary carbohydrate is broken down into the energy substrate glucose, thereby raising blood glucose levels, the pancreas is stimulated to secrete insulin (the hormone that stores fat and inhibits ketone production). However, when carbohydrate intake is restricted, insulin remains suppressed, and the body’s primary fuel source shifts from glucose to fat, priming the body to enter a state of ketosis. When fat oxidation/breakdown is increased to a certain extent, ketones are made in the liver through a process known as ketogenesis (i.e., keto + genesis = ketone formation). When carbohydrate intake is restricted, blood glucose and insulin levels decrease, which allows fat stores to be broken down rapidly for energy. Most cells in the body can utilize either fatty acids or ketones for fuel, including the brain, which has shown to be more efficient in the presence of ketones rather than glucose.
About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether. Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions. This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.
Aude, Y., A. S, Agatston, F. Lopez-Jimenez, et al. “The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat: A Randomized Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine 164, no. 19 (2004): 2141–46. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.19.2141. jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/217514.
But beyond that, experts aren't convinced that the keto diet has any other scientifically proven health benefits. In fact, it may have some distinct downsides. If you follow the keto diet incorrectly, for example (like by eating lots of saturated fats, versus healthy unsaturated fats), you're at risk of raising your cholesterol levels. “The best strategy to keep your heart healthy is to get as much fat as possible from unsaturated sources such as olive, avocado and canola oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives," says Ansel. For some people, it's possible to actually improve cholesterol if the fats in their diet are from varied and healthy sources, says Harvey.
Supplemental ketosis: This form of ketosis has recently gained momentum in the field of ketogenic dieting. Supplemental ketosis is a ketogenic state that is achieved through the ingestion of ketogenic supplements. Consuming these substances alone does not mean that an individual is “keto-adapted.” While these products can help during the keto-adaptation period, especially if one is experiencing the “keto-flu,” they will only elicit short-term increases in blood ketone levels. Exogenous ketones can acutely produce benefits similar to the ketogenic diet; however, these products are best used in conjunction with a well-formulated keto diet for beginners, or the very at least, a diet that restricts carbohydrates. The commonly used supplements on the market are medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and exogenous ketones. MCT oil is a fat that, in contrast to other longer-chain fatty acids, travels straight from the intestines to the liver where it is readily metabolized. This allows for ketone production in the liver to occur faster than with other fats (long-chain fatty acids have to travel through the lymph and circulatory systems first). Exogenous ketones are synthetic substances that mimic the ketones produced in our body (endogenous ketones). Exogenous ketones can come in the form of ketone salts or ketone esters.