This article was reviewed by Jes Harvey, RD, on November 7, 2019. Harvey is a registered dietitian specializing in the ketogenic diet for children and adults. She is a certified specialist in Pediatric Nutrition and educates children with epilepsy on the ketogenic diet as an anti-seizure medication. Harvey also manages a private nutrition practice consulting adults on the ketogenic way of eating.
The ketogenic diet is indicated as an adjunctive (additional) treatment in children and young people with drug-resistant epilepsy. It is approved by national clinical guidelines in Scotland, England, and Wales and reimbursed by nearly all US insurance companies. Children with a focal lesion (a single point of brain abnormality causing the epilepsy) who would make suitable candidates for surgery are more likely to become seizure-free with surgery than with the ketogenic diet. About a third of epilepsy centres that offer the ketogenic diet also offer a dietary therapy to adults. Some clinicians consider the two less restrictive dietary variants—the low glycaemic index treatment and the modified Atkins diet—to be more appropriate for adolescents and adults. A liquid form of the ketogenic diet is particularly easy to prepare for, and well tolerated by, infants on formula and children who are tube-fed.
You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.
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.
Blanket statement: It’s always best to check with your doctor before starting on this regimen. With that said, “the keto diet isn’t recommended for those with liver or kidney disease, or someone with a medical condition, such as a gastrointestinal issue, who can’t metabolize high amounts of dietary fat,” says Sarah Jadin, a Los-Angeles based registered dietitian and founder of Keto Consulting, LLC. If you’ve had your gallbladder removed, the keto diet may be a no-go. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with certain rare genetic disorders shouldn’t try this diet.
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.
Detrimentally, this results in high levels of both ketones and glucose. Extremely high ketone levels in the blood will elicit a dangerous biological environment that can even result in death. It must be clarified that DKA is very different than nutritional ketosis or fasting ketosis; ketone levels cannot be produced at such high levels in healthy individuals as they are with those in DKA.
As for branched-chain amino acids, you'll find smart people who swear that they're keto-friendly, and others who don't. One of the BCAAs, valine, can be glucogenic, meaning that it can lead to glucose production and potentially contribute to leaving ketosis behind. But does that mean it will happen? Not necessarily, particularly if you're just an occasional supplement user.