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.
Now that ketogenic diets have become popular, many keto hybrid diets have sprung up, including plant-based versions. (One is “ketotarian,” which is predominantly plant-based but includes the option of eggs, ghee, and fish and shellfish.) While this approach can be healthy, Hultin cautions against trying keto as a vegan. “Because you can’t eat beans or lentils on a ketogenic diet, and nuts and seeds are even limited due to their carbohydrate content, you’re really just left with some tofu and will need to rely on low-carb protein powder,” she says. There is a good possibility this won’t pan out. “I don’t see this as a sustainable diet due to the extreme restrictions,” she says.
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In addition to the traditional ketogenic and Atkins diets described above, there are modifications that can be implemented to both of these diets in order to produce greater benefits on an individual basis. One such amendment, called the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD), is structured similarly to the Atkins diet where protein and fat are consumed freely but carbohydrate intake is further restricted, providing an intermediary diet between Atkins and ketogenic diet. This approach is commonly being used with great success among children with epilepsy due to its ability to increase the likelihood of adherence to the diet while still minimizing glucose intake from dietary carbohydrates.
There are theoretically no restrictions on where the ketogenic diet might be used, and it can cost less than modern anticonvulsants. However, fasting and dietary changes are affected by religious and cultural issues. A culture where food is often prepared by grandparents or hired help means more people must be educated about the diet. When families dine together, sharing the same meal, it can be difficult to separate the child's meal. In many countries, food labelling is not mandatory so calculating the proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrate is difficult. In some countries, it may be hard to find sugar-free forms of medicines and supplements, to purchase an accurate electronic scale, or to afford MCT oils.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital protocol for initiating the ketogenic diet has been widely adopted. It involves a consultation with the patient and their caregivers and, later, a short hospital admission. Because of the risk of complications during ketogenic diet initiation, most centres begin the diet under close medical supervision in the hospital.
The low glycemic index treatment (LGIT) is an attempt to achieve the stable blood glucose levels seen in children on the classic ketogenic diet while using a much less restrictive regimen. The hypothesis is that stable blood glucose may be one of the mechanisms of action involved in the ketogenic diet, which occurs because the absorption of the limited carbohydrates is slowed by the high fat content. Although it is also a high-fat diet (with approximately 60% calories from fat), the LGIT allows more carbohydrate than either the classic ketogenic diet or the modified Atkins diet, approximately 40–60 g per day. However, the types of carbohydrates consumed are restricted to those that have a glycaemic index lower than 50. Like the modified Atkins diet, the LGIT is initiated and maintained at outpatient clinics and does not require precise weighing of food or intensive dietitian support. Both are offered at most centres that run ketogenic diet programmes, and in some centres they are often the primary dietary therapy for adolescents.
While a keto diet for beginners is also low in carbohydrates, it is NOT synonymous with traditional low-carbohydrate diets seen in popular media or even some scientific research. Since there is no strict definition of a “low carbohydrate diet,” some research studies utilize 30–40% carbohydrate diets and indicate that they are “low-carb.” However we now know that is roughly the same percentage as a standard American diet that has plagued our society with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Thus, while lowering carbohydrate intake in general is beneficial, it must be reinforced that traditional low-carbohydrate diets DIFFER from a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
Also make sure that you know what foods have mostly carbs, fat, and protein, so you can make the right choices. For instance, it’s not just bread, pasta, chips, cookies, candy, and ice cream that contain carbs. Beans may contain protein, but they’re also very high in carbohydrates. Fruit and veggies also mostly contain carbs. The only foods that don’t contain carbs are meat (protein) and pure fats, like butter and oils (including olive oil and coconut oil).
Positive science on ketosis coupled with personal successes passed by word-of-mouth have driven more people to explore the ketogenic diet, says Volek. More recently, the keto diet hints at having a promising therapeutic role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Research is still early in many areas, but Volek suspects there will more definitive answers on the wider scope of the diet’s benefits within the next decade.
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.