"The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed. We don't know if it works in the long term, nor whether it's safe," warns registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"Those with type 1 diabetes should avoid a ketogenic diet," warns Joseph Galati, MD, a hepatologist at the Liver Specialists of Texas in Houston, "Many patients with type 1 diabetes have some degree of renal impairment, and handling the build-up of ketones and acids in the body may cause too much stress on the kidneys. Of course, any pregnant women with diabetes, especially those requiring insulin should avoid such an extreme diet given the low glucose levels will be a constant [health] threat."
Ketogenic diet (“keto” diet for short) is a catch-all term for any diet that pushes your body into the natural metabolic state of ketosis, which means burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. Though there’s no set formula for keto, generally, the diet works by cutting back on carbohydrates, to about 20 g of net carbs to start, and replacing those with mostly fat and a moderate amount of protein, according to the popular website Keto Connect. Net carbs are the total number of carbs minus the fiber and sugar alcohols, according to the Atkins website. (More on this diet later.)
As a Certified Diabetes Educator, I was taught to educate my gestational diabetes and pregnant patients with diabetes to avoid fruits and dairy before noon. I know this is hard! That’s when you all are craving that glass of orange juice, but that’s the whole point here. We need you to give up that orange juice for the next six or so months for the sake of your baby. Instead, you can have a real orange with lunch; try it with a spinach salad with tuna salad and whole wheat pita. The nutritional value is pumped up by all those vitamins and the spike on your blood glucose will be reduced dramatically by the fiber in the real fruit combined with the protein you had in your lunch. You can even have a glass of milk; you’ve included all of your necessary food groups, and you are still only at 45 carbohydrates for the whole meal!
For patients who benefit, half achieve a seizure reduction within five days (if the diet starts with an initial fast of one to two days), three-quarters achieve a reduction within two weeks, and 90% achieve a reduction within 23 days. If the diet does not begin with a fast, the time for half of the patients to achieve an improvement is longer (two weeks) but the long-term seizure reduction rates are unaffected. Parents are encouraged to persist with the diet for at least three months before any final consideration is made regarding efficacy.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy. This may help keep you alert and focused.