Millions of Americans live with a diagnosis of epilepsy, which means daily medications to help control seizure activity. But, there are other alternatives to medications.

One of these alternatives is a change in diet.

The ketogenic diet has been in practice since the 1920s in young children. Now, adolescents and adults are seeing the benefit from this diet as well.

Jennifer Fillenworth, registered dietitian at Mercy Health, counsels patients on the Modified Atkins Diet through the Mercy Health Hauenstein Epilepsy Program, the only certified-adult ketogenic program in West Michigan.

What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that is used to control seizures in some people with epilepsy. It became popular as a therapy for epilepsy in the 1920s and 30s. The diet focuses on high-fat items such as butter, vegetable oils and heavy cream. The diet eliminates carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals. This diet is closely monitored by a team composed of a physician and dietitian.

  • The name ketogenic means that it produces ketones in the body (keto = ketone, genic = producing). Ketones are formed when the body uses fat for its source of energy.
  • Usually the body uses carbohydrates (such as sugar, bread, pasta) for its fuel, but because the ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrates, fats become the primary fuel instead.
  • Ketones are not dangerous. They can be detected in the urine, blood, and breath. Ketones are one of the more likely mechanisms of action of the diet; with higher ketone levels often leading to improved seizure control. However, there are many other theories on why the diet will work.

Who does this diet help?

This diet has been shown to help those with epilepsy. Most commonly children are treated with this diet from a young age. There is growing evidence to support that the ketogenic diet is also helpful in adults. Mercy Health is currently offering a Modified Atkins Diet to adults with epilepsy.

What is the Modified Atkins Diet?

The modified Atkins diet is a less restrictive version of the ketogenic diet. The classic ketogenic diet has a calorie restriction, fluid restriction, protein restriction, and requires weighing and measuring foods. The modified Atkins diet is consumed more freely. Patients are just required to stay between a 10-30 gram carbohydrate restriction per day. Many patients on the modified Atkins diet even go out to eat at restaurants.

Does it work?

In studies so far, yes. About half had a 50% reduction in seizures after 6 months. Many were able to reduce medications. Patients undergoing the Modified Atkins Diet at Mercy Health have seen improvement in their seizure activity, they have more energy during the day, and they have seen the benefits of weight loss.

Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences is hosting its first ketogenic diet therapies conference on Friday, April 14, at the Prince Conference Center, open to the public.

This course will deliver a practical review of the ketogenic diet, its use for epilepsy and its different applications for other neurologic conditions. The open house will offer the opportunity for patients and families to learn more about the diet and its variations, sample keto foods and attend cooking demonstrations. To register for this conference, please visit

Ketogenic Recipes

Breakfast: Egg and bacon cups with arugula salad


  • 4 eggs
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 1oz cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup arugula
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • ¼ lemon, juiced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook bacon on stovetop
  2. Allow bacon to cool. Crack a single egg into cup of a muffin tin
  3. Chop bacon and add 1/2 strip of bacon to each egg cup
  4. Add cheddar cheese to each cup
  5. With a fork, mix together ingredients in muffin tin
  6. Bake egg cups for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees
  7. Mix arugula, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parmesan

Lunch: Loaded chicken salad


  • 2 cups chicken breast, shredded or cubed
  • ¼ cup EVOO mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ¼ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • ½ cup bacon crumbles
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place the chicken, celery, onions, bacon, and cheese in a large bowl and top with the mayonnaise and sour cream
  2. Mix well until everything is evenly coated and distributed throughout
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  4. Serve in a lettuce wrap or with ketogenic friendly crackers

Dinner: Ketogenic tacos


  • 1 lb. Ground Beef or turkey
  • ½ packet Taco seasoning
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Toppings for taco: sour cream, avocado, cheese, lettuce, olives.


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat place 2-3oz piles of cheese 2 inches apart. Press the cheese down lightly so it makes one layer.
  3. Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes or until the edges of the cheese are brown.
  4. Let the cheese cool for 2-3 minutes then lift it up and place it over the handle of a spoon or other utensil that is balanced on two cups.
  5. Let cheese cool completely then remove.
  6. While you continue to bake your cheese taco shells place the ground beef or turkey in a skillet over medium high heat cooking until it is completely cooked through.
  7. Drain the grease from the meat and then add a half of a packet of taco seasoning.
  8. Simmer for 5 minutes then salt to taste.
  9. Add meat to taco shells and top with your favorite taco toppings.

Dessert: Keto chocolate mousse


  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 3 oz heavy whipping cream, whipped
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp stevia, or to taste


  1. Soften butter and combine with sweetener, stirring until completely blended.
  2. Add cream cheese; blend until smooth.
  3. Add cocoa powder and blend completely.
  4. Whip heavy cream and gradually add to the mixture.
  5. Spoon into small glasses and refrigerate for 30 minutes.


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