The low-carb, high fat ketogenic diet seems to be everywhere these days! In addition to promoting weight loss, some proponents say it helps reduce epilepsy and cancer. But is this wishful thinking, or backed up by medical research?
Summing up the Ketogenic Diet
You’ve probably heard a lot about the ketogenic diet, but basically, it’s an eating plan where you consume 75% of your calories from fats, 10% from protein, and only about 5% from carbohydrates. That means your body uses fat for energy, rather than glucose. Our article about Ketogenic Diet – A Bulletproof Way to Lose Weight? gives you some general information about this diet.
Even though it’s especially popular for weight loss today, with variations like the Bulletproof Diet, Johns Hopkins scientists initially developed the ketogenic diet (or keto diet) nearly a hundred years ago as a way to reduce symptoms of epilepsy. So does it live up to the hype?
The Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy
In certain forms of epilepsy, especially in children, the ketogenic diet can be helpful. It can reduce the frequency of seizures and the amount of medication needed for seizure control. While not all epileptic patients benefit, this special diet is effective in about 50 percent of epilepsy patients.
Of course, if you have epilepsy, you shouldn’t start this diet without being under a doctor’s supervision. Later, you can continue on your own. You’ll kick off the ketogenic diet begins with a fasting phase, in which the patient fasts for 18-24 hours and drinks little, until so-called ketones are found in the urine. These occur during fat reduction in the body.
You must supplement the ketogenic diet with vitamins and certain minerals to prevent nutrient deficiencies. The ratio of fat to carbohydrates is crucial, usually a ratio of 4:1 or 3:1. In order to achieve this ratio, many patients like to work with a dietitian, in addition to their doctors.
With imagination and great recipes, you can make some delicious meals with this diet plan. We’re big fans of this recipe for keto peanut butter cookies!
Decadent Keto Peanut Butter Cookies
- Baking Sheet
- mixing bowl
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup erythritol or other no-calorie sweetener like Splenda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine ingredients in a bowl, and form into dough.
- Roll dough into 1" balls.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes and enjoy!
Children are often better at adapting to a ketogenic diet than adults who have so far eaten “normally”. Despite the benefits for adults with epilepsy, many find it difficult to adhere to this new eating plan of eating less glucose– even if it can boost metabolic levels. Sometimes the siren song of processed carbohydrates is just too great!
Additional challenges might include side effects of the diet, including constipation and dehydration. Of course, these side effects are usually far worse in exchange for improved seizure control.
Ketogenic Diet and Cancer: Fact or Fiction?
While the ketogenic diet has been effective in treating epilepsy, the link between the keto eating plan and cancer treatment isn’t as well-established. There’s a recurrent rumor that certain diets and foods, from the Atkins diet to the South Beach Diet are supposed to destroy cancer cells or stop the growth of tumors and metastases.
At this point in time, however, they haven’t conducted enough clinical trials to make this direct connection. Specialists agree that according to current scientific findings, there isn’t conclusive evidence on the keto diet and cancer prevention. They also couldn’t see improvement in the tolerability of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
For these reasons, nutrition experts and dietitians don’t currently support the ketogenic diet for cancer patients. However, there are indications that an increase in fat intake without restricting carbohydrates could have a positive effect in patients with so-called tumor cachexia, i.e. physical emaciation due to cancer.
The Bottom Line
While some components of the ketogenic lifestyle might be good for cancer patients, like avoiding refined carbohydrates, the data simply doesn’t support this eating plan for treatment of cancer cells, yet. On the other hand, the ketogenic has been an effective treatment for many suffering from epilepsy for nearly a century.
Removing glucose-rich, high-carb processed foods from your diet might have many positive health benefits. But a ketogenic diet probably isn’t the magic cancer-fighting bullet you might be hoping for.
Instead, aim for a diet rich in whole foods, with a healthy balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Talk to your doctor about an optimal eating plan for you. You can always talk to friends and family on FamilyApp for extra health ideas, too.