Kids and the Ketogenic Diet


With a population increasingly focused on health, nutrition, diets and weight loss, comes a natural rise in risky trends and habits that can be unhealthy and dangerous if not monitored by medical professionals.

That’s the case with the ketogenic diet, a closely monitored special high-fat diet used to help children with difficult-to-controls seizures. Over the past few years, it’s also gained popularity as a weight-loss trend.

The increased presence in traditional media, online and in social media has led many well-meaning parents to self-initiate the ketogenic diet to their child. Without the right kind of supervision, the ketogenic diet can have serious medical complications including hypoglycemia, acidosis, nutrient deficiencies, extreme sleepiness, increased stomach upset and malnutrition. These can all lead to hospitalization and in some cases an increase in seizures.

When and How Should it be Administered?

Whether or not a child should use the ketogenic diet is not a simple process. To be considered a candidate for the diet a child must first be referred by their neurologist. Following that referral, preliminary lab work is done to ensure the diet will be safe for the child. The child is then evaluated by a nurse practitioner and dietitian. The child’s caregiver also has requirements that need to be followed regularly and closely to maintain safety while the diet is being administered. Only after all these steps have been completed, can a child begin the diet.

Then, after a child is approved to begin the diet, he or she has a dedicated team that includes a neurologist, nurses practitioner and dietitian focused specifically on the ketogenic diet. Additionally, the ketogenic diet requires a hospital admission of 3 to 5 days due to the high risk of hypoglycemia and excessive ketosis.

What Should Parents Do?

If parents are interested in using dietary treatments like the ketogenic diet or similar diets, in their child with difficult to control seizures or for any other reason, they should discuss this with their neurologist and/or pediatrician and then follow-up with the ketogenic team at Primary Children’s Hospital.