A typical breakfast for Alexander Cisneros is a two-egg omelette with spinach sauteed in coconut oil and full-fat cheese.
And for lunch or dinner his mother, Gladys Cisneros, prepares four ounces of fish, chicken or beef with a half a cup of bell peppers, asparagus or broccoli sauteed in real butter and smothered in cheddar cheese.
For dessert it’s jello made with heavy whipped cream or a fat bomb, whipped cream mixed with Stevia, a natural sweetener made from the Stevia leaf.
Not exactly what many people would consider a healthy diet.
But for Alexander, his mother and his sister Jacqueline, it works.
“There’s three of us on the diet for three different purposes,” Cisneros said. “He is on it because he has multiple disabilities, one of them being epilepsy so he is on it to address the epileptic seizures. My daughter is on it because she’s a competitive swimmer with WETT. I do it because it helps to balance my hormones. Being middle aged, it affects my body. Plus it helps my energy level.”
The Cisneros family is on the ketogenic diet, a very low-carb diet which turns the body into a fat-burning machine.
“Half the time, you can’t even finish your meal because it’s so rich and so good,” Cisneros said. “Alexander has three meals a day, plus I’ll send him a snack like pork rinds.”
Studies have found that this very low-carb, high-fat diet is effective for weight loss, diabetes and epilepsy. There’s also early evidence to show that it may be beneficial for certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases, too.
“It’s a high fat, low carbohydrate, adequate protein diet where we restrict the carbohydrates,” said Franco Lopez, a licensed dietitian with the Hospitals of Providence. “It’s called the modified ketogenic diet which is a little more liberal than the classic ketogenic diet. The classic ketogenic diet has to be measured with grams with a scale so it was very strict. This one is more liberal where you can eat more vegetables.”
A ketogenic diet is similar to other strict low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet or LCHF (low carb, high fat). A ketogenic diet typically limits carbs to 20–50 grams per day.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the ketogenic diet is one of the oldest treatments for epilepsy. It is intended to maintain the starvation or fasting metabolism over a long time. When the body is in a fasting state, it creates ketones, a by-product of fat-burning metabolism. It has been established that seizures often lessen or disappear during periods of fasting in some individuals with epilepsy.
“A lot of people are afraid of the amount of fat consumed in this diet,” Lopez acknowledged. “But there’s a big misconception that fat is harmful when in reality it’s the carbohydrates that are causing the harm. Unfortunately what is being promoted is low fat, high carbohydrates so my role is to do seminars and educate people and have kids not only with epilepsy but who have elevated cholesterol in their diet, kids with diabetes, people with a brain tumors; I have a patient with a brain tumor which has been shrinking.”
Lopez sees patients Monday through Friday at the Specialty Clinic at The Hospital of Providence Children’s Hospital.
“I have about 40 to 50 patients on the ketogenic diet,” he said. “The diet works on 50 to 70 percent of my patients. Any very good medication, at the most, will have a 30 percent effectiveness. This diet surpasses that.”
Lopez, who is on the diet, said his triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood the body uses for energy, has improved and he has lost weight.
“The diet requires preparation, it requires committeemen, dedication and creativity,” he said. “I encourage the entire family to adopt the diet that way everybody can eat the same food at the dinner table. Everyone benefits from the diet.”
He has a patient who is a football player who experiences seizures.
“He is 6-4 and weights about 240 pounds,” Lopez said. “His caloric intake is about 5,000 calories so his mom prepares a half dozen eggs and half a package of bacon. She cooks the eggs in the fat of the bacon juice so he can get enough fat into his diet.”
Alexander’s intake is about 1,620 calories.
“We haven’t seen a complete elimination of seizures but they’ve gone from one to two a day to maybe two a week so there has been a drastic drop in the frequency, the duration and the intensity of the seizures,” Alexander’s mother said. “Once upon a time when he would have a seizure, he would sleep for three hours. Now when he has a seizure, nine times out of 10 he doesn’t fall sleep at all. He’s a little droggy but he doesn’t sleep so his recovery rate is a lot better.”
Cisneros and her daughter have also seen the benefits.
“For my daughter, her endurance is so much better,” she said. “When she would compete, she was so exhausted. Now she feels like she can swim longer. She told me that that she is studying less but retaining more. Her energy level and her endurance are both up. Also her muscle tone has gotten more defined.
“For me, my energy levels were dropping and my menstrual cycle was off because I was very hormonal,” she said. “I had to take a 2 o’clock nap almost every day. All of that changed. I no longer have to take a nap, my energy levels are high now, everything is different.”
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at 546-6128; firstname.lastname@example.org; @vrmart on Twitter.
The Fat Plan
What: The ketogenic diet, a high fat, low carbohydrate diet which turns the body into a fat-burning machine. Studies have found that the diet is effective for weight loss, diabetes and epilepsy.
Who: Franco Lopez, a licensed dietitian with the Hospitals of Providence, sees patients Monday through Friday at the Specialty Clinic at The Hospital of Providence Children’s Hospital.