It is important that people with epilepsy follow a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are important in obtaining optimal seizure control. However, no special diet is prescribed for epilepsy itself.
To avoid nutrient deficiencies and ensure proper intake of vitamins and minerals, it’s best to follow as varied a diet as possible. Be sure to get enough folate/folic acid (found in leafy green vegetables, legumes and whole grains), calcium (found in dairy products), magnesium (found in nuts and seeds), Vitamin B12 (found in animal products such as meat and fish) and Vitamin K (found in leafy green vegetables). Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health and is often deficient in people taking anti-epileptic drugs, so it could be helpful to discuss Vitamin D supplementation with your doctor. Vitamin D is found in fish oils and is added to milk, but it is also made by the body in response to sun exposure on the skin. Canada’s Food Guide is a great resource for understanding nutrition, and provides a simple framework to follow to ensure a healthy diet.
If you have another condition in addition to epilepsy that requires a special diet (diabetes, for example), it is important you follow that specific diet.
Can caffeine, alcohol or smoking cause problems?
These substances are best considered drugs rather than part of the diet. Like other drugs they can do harm, particularly if taken too often or in large amounts. Alcohol is of special concern. When used frequently or in large amounts, alcohol may interfere with anticonvulsant medications and may lower seizure threshold. Having a seizure while smoking could lead to fire.
What is the “Ketogenic Diet”?
This special, high-fat diet approximates the metabolic circumstances of starvation. The ketogenic diet causes the body to produce chemicals called ketones, and it can control seizures when anticonvulsants prove ineffective. It is commonly prescribed for children but can be effective in adults as well. Those following the diet must get the majority of their calories from fatty foods. A medically directed ketogenic diet is quite unpalatable and difficult to maintain and may cause loss of bone minerals if not done correctly. Three versions of the diet are used: the Classic Ketogenic Diet, the Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Diet and the Modified-Atkins Diet.
Is it important to eat regularly?
Yes – some individuals are sensitive to missing meals. If meals are missed or delayed, seizure frequency may increase. Therefore, regular meals and a balanced diet are recommended.
Who should I speak to about nutrition and epilepsy?
You and your physician are most familiar with your particular condition. Please consult them for more advice on epilepsy and diet, or to be referred to a dietitian.
For the answers to more frequently asked questions about diet and nutrition, please download our Epilepsy & Nutrition Fact Sheet.