According to estimates, at least one in 100 people has epilepsy. When dealing with a condition such as epilepsy, it’s vitally important to be aware of the effect that certain foods and your overall diet can have on your health. Numerous foods have been linked to an increase in epileptic episodes and seizures, making proper education crucial.
Here, we will cover various diets beneficial for those with epilepsy, foods to prevent seizures, and foods to avoid altogether.
Diets for Epilepsy
1. Ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet is a popular high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet shown to help control seizures in many individuals with epilepsy. Typically, this diet will be recommended by a health professional and monitored by a nutritionist or dietician because of its strict requirements. With this diet, foods and fluids are weighed and measured in grams of calorie and nutrient content.
The ketogenic diet works by producing ketones in the body. Ketones are formed when the body uses fat rather than carbohydrates as its source of energy. Higher ketone levels in the body have been linked to improved seizure control. The diet will typically follow either a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of fat to protein and carbohydrates, depending on which is recommended. This means that for every three or four grams of fat consumed, one gram of protein or carbohydrate should be consumed with them.
Most often, this diet is used for children with treatment- and drug-resistant epilepsy. Studies have shown that more than 50 percent of children on a ketogenic diet often experience at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures. Some studies have shown that 10 percent to 15 percent of children with epilepsy even become seizure-free on a ketogenic diet.
2. Modified Atkins diet
The modified Atkins diet (MAD) is similar to the traditional ketogenic diet, though less restrictive. The “modified” moniker comes from the fact that only 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates are allowed per day, compared with 20 to 40 grams per day on the traditional Atkins diet. Although the parameters of the MAD and ketogenic diets are very similar, a few key differences are worth noting.
First, with MAD, there is no fluid or calorie restriction or limitation. In addition, though high-fat consumption is encouraged, foods are not weighed or measured. There is also no restriction on proteins; in fact, roughly 35 percent of calories on the MAD diet come from protein. Although foods are not weighed or measured, carbohydrate intake still is closely monitored.
Research has shown that MAD prevents and reduces epileptic seizures at rates similar to the ketogenic diet, with 40 percent to 50 percent of patients experiencing more than 50 percent reduction in seizure frequency. In addition, roughly 15 percent of individuals with epilepsy become seizure-free on MAD.
→ For more information on why healthy fats are a vital component in any successful diet, click here.
Foods to Help Prevent Seizures
Although avocados are fruits, they contain almost no sugar, making them a valuable addition in the MAD and ketogenic diets. They are composed primarily of monounsaturated fats that have been shown to promote heart and brain health, and encourage weight loss in overweight individuals. In addition, avocados are rich in numerous essential vitamins and minerals, including B-complex vitamins and magnesium.
2. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is another popular food used in the MAD and ketogenic diet. The oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are very important in maintaining proper metabolic function. In addition, MCTs are one of the best forms of fat for triggering ketosis in the body and encouraging the body to use fat, rather than carbohydrates, for energy.
→ For more information on the multitude of health benefits coconut oil has to offer, click here.
Nuts, high in fat and low in carbohydrates–walnuts, macadamia, almonds, and others–comprise another great food group to incorporate into an epileptic individual’s diet. These nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats and low enough in carbohydrates to allow the benefits to be reaped. Many are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for maintaining optimum brain health.
Foods to Avoid
1. Refined carbohydrates
Research has shown that consumers of low-glycemic-only foods may experience up to 90 percent fewer epileptic seizures and episodes. It is thought that refined carbohydrates, because of their typically high glycemic index, can cause blood-glucose levels to fluctuate. This, in turn, can trigger seizures.
Foods such as pizza, white bread, white pasta, chips, and soft drinks are forms of refined carbohydrates to be avoided. Instead, opt for foods low on the glycemic index, such as whole grains, brown rice, legumes, and nuts.
2. Some fruits and vegetables
While most fruits and vegetables are healthy additions to any diet, those on the medium to high glycemic range can have the same effect on blood-glucose levels as refined carbohydrates. High-glycemic fruits and vegetables include mangoes, potatoes, bananas, corn, dates, carrots, and pineapples.
Be sure not to exclude low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, as they provide many essential vitamins and minerals. Such fruits and vegetables include apples, broccoli, oranges, asparagus, strawberries, zucchini, and tomatoes.
3. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a popular food additive, used as flavoring and a preservative in a wide variety of foods. Studies have shown MSG may alter nerves and lead to epileptic seizures, although conclusive evidence has yet to be found. However, it’s still best to avoid MSG because of its numerous other health consequences.
Consuming large amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of a withdrawal seizure, which happens as blood alcohol levels decline following alcohol consumption. In fact, alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures even in individuals without epilepsy, making the risk for those with epilepsy even greater.
In addition, frequent alcohol consumption can cause the liver to increase its metabolism to compensate for the toxins being introduced into the system. This also can cause metabolization of antiepileptic drugs to occur quicker, reducing their effectiveness in reducing and/or preventing seizures.
While you don’t have to avoid alcohol altogether, it’s recommended that individuals with epilepsy consume alcohol on an infrequent basis and no more than one drink per day.
Diet plays a huge role in the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures. By modifying your diet and eliminating triggering foods, you can experience a better quality of life and reduce the frequency of epileptic episodes. Becoming aware of how your diet affects your life with epilepsy is crucial in monitoring and managing the disease.