Monday, September 20, 2010

A Desperate Diet

Note that the following post does not constitute a recommended medical treatment for brain tumors.  We are posting this for informational purposes, and as always, anyone looking to follow this diet should perform all research and obtain advice from your medical professional.

About a month ago, we started Isabella on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet known as a “Modified Atkins Diet” or MAD.  This diet stems from a diet known as a Ketogenic Diet which was first developed to treat epilepsy, but has been found to have positive effects on brain tumors anecdotally.  Typically, our bodies convert the carbohydrates that we eat into glucose, which is then sent to feed all parts of our bodies, including the brain.  When there is very little carbs in the diet, the liver coverts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies.  The ketone bodies are then transported to the brain and replace glucose as an energy source.  It has been seen in laboratory experiments that cancer cells are not able to use these ketone bodies for energy and die or at least stop proliferating, while normal brain cells are able to use ketones and continue to function.

In a normal diet, half of the caloric intake is made up of carbs, while 30 percent is fat and 20 percent protein.  So for a child that requires 1200 calories per day, this translates to roughly 150 grams of carbs per day.  On the MAD, we are limiting Isabella to only 20-25 grams of carbs per day!  To put this in perspective, here is a listing of some common foods and how many grams of carbs they have.

FoodCarbs (grams)
Ketchup (1 tbsp)4
Popcorn (1 cup)6
Watermelon (1 cup)11
Potato Chips (1 small bag)14
Bowl of cereal and milk28
Chocolate Cake35
Spaghetti (1 cup)43
Rice (1 cup)44
Kraft Mac and Cheese (1 cup)54

As you can see, many foods are not even an option anymore, and with many more, we need to strictly control portions in order to not go over 20 grams.  For example, Isabella loves watermelon, so we give that to her as a treat, but we could never use up 11 grams of carbs at once, so we only give her a quarter cup of watermelon.  If you have time (and a watermelon), dice up a watermelon and measure a quarter cup and you’ll see just how small an amount that is.

Because of that, we’ve scoured the Internet for recipes used by other parents and some are truly innovative in mimicking “normal” food with a low carb counterpart.  I’ve listed a few of these below. 
  • Roasted crumbled cauliflower to substitute for popcorn
  • Shirataki Tofu noodles as a substitute for spaghetti pasta (1 gram of carbs as opposed to 43 grams – and Isabella loves them!)
  • Microwave a slice of full fat American cheese and it magically turns into a tasty cheez-it cracker
  • Chicken breading made of crushed up pork rinds (Julianne’s dad actually ran out in the middle of the night to a gas station to pick up a couple bags of pork rinds!)
  • French toast made of crushed up pork rinds (these weren’t so popular, but as you can see, pork rinds are now a staple at our house)
  • Pizza crust made of riced cauliflower, egg and cheese
  • Bread made of flax seed and almond meal
  • Waffles made with ricotta cheese instead of flour
  • Mock tortilla crackers made of fried cheese (delicious with taco meat)
Honestly, we don’t even know if the diet is working and whether we may be torturing her unnecessarily.  But Julianne and I agreed that if at any point Isabella insisted on eating the high carb stuff or lost too much weight, we would just let her eat what she wanted.  At this point, though, Isabella has been on the diet for about a month now and we believe that she’s adapted extremely well to it so far.  She has been able to maintain her weight and has been steadily increasing her total caloric input. Sometimes, she’ll ask for something that she can’t have, but we’ll offer her an alternative and she’ll eat that instead, and usually happily.  The hardest part is being out and having the “bad food” everywhere, such as all the free samples at Costco or the Ice Cream truck passing by the house (and not to mention Halloween coming up – yikes!).  If this diet ends up controlling the tumor growth and buying time, it’ll all end up being worth it.

Isabella has her special low-carb cheesecake while everyone else had the regular cheesecake.  The crust is made of crushed macadamia nuts.P1030106
That popsicle has zero carbs.  Nathaniel wants to make sure.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Always love to hear what Isabella is up to! Your family is amazing. Keep strong and know we are praying for Isabella.

  2. Concur with your pal, ahead of time, how you are going to help and bolster one another. weight loss method chaktty


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