Those with epilepsy are extremely sensitive to the world around them making lifestyle choices, especially diet, an integral part of treatment and well-being. Nutrition has been used to treat and prevent disease since biblical times and the present day is no different. This year, the New York University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and FACES brought on a Registered Dietitian as part of their treatment team. Courtney Schnabel joined the team in February 2012 and has been providing nutrition therapy in both the inpatient and outpatient settings for the Epilepsy team. In addition to receiving excellent medical care, practice patients can now receive excellent medical nutrition therapy as part of their treatment.

Courtney Schnabel, MS, RD, CDN

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial to functioning and feeling your best inside and out. Improving nutrition and diet quality starts with balanced meal planning, maintaining energy balance and drinking enough fluid. To maximize nutrient intake you need to make sure you are eating a variety of foods. I recommend you “eat the rainbow.” By this, I mean eating a variety of different colored fruits, vegetables and grains. Healthy meal planning guidelines emphasize lean protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains, and encourage at least 5 servings per day of fresh fruits and vegetables.


Here are five great tips to help you stay on track this summer:

  1. Make half your plate vegetables. With all the backyard BBQs and trips to the farmer’s market, this one should be a cinch. Focus on non-starchy, colorful vegetables that are easy to grill like eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and leafy greens.
  2. Cut back on foods with solid fats, added sugar and added salt. The best way to do this is to avoid over-processed packaged food. Stick with whole foods like grains, vegetables, fruits and lean protein and always check labels. Swap a high fat summer favorite food for a lower fat, higher nutrient version – check our Purple Spoon tab for recipes!
  3. Make half your grains whole. Try out some new grains like; quinoa, faro and wheat berries.
  4. Choose lean protein. Focus on lean poultry, beans, fish and low fat dairy and limit red meat.
  5. Try new foods. The more variety you have in your diet, the more likely you are to get essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Maintaining energy balance helps us maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important for well-being. Being underweight or overweight can adversely affect medical and outcomes and can affect the way you respond to certain treatments. As a dietitian it is my role to provide intervention for practice patients who wish to achieve a healthy weight. I have been working with many of the doctors and nurses to get nutrition education to those who wish to begin a diet plan. Whether it be medication related weight gain or weight loss, general weight loss or gain or just getting on the right path with your nutrition – we are providing it!

With the heat already blanketing the North East, it is important to make sure you and your family members are well hydrated. Dehydration can bring on seizures and other adverse health problems. Our bodies lose more water in the summertime because of sweat, so it is especially important to replace those losses with a low calorie or calorie free liquid. Steer clear of sugar sweetened beverages, which don’t hydrate as well and can be a non-nutritious source of calories. How much fluid is enough? Fluid recommendations are based on weight, but generally anywhere from 35-65 ounces per day are recommended. Ask your health care provider or dietitian for your individual fluid recommendation based on your weight.

In addition to general nutrition and weight management, there are other nutrition therapies for epilepsy which have proven very successful for us here at NYU as well as epilepsy centers across the world. We have been using both the ketogenic and modified atkins diets at NYU for quite some time, but with the addition of a full time dietitian we now have full time support. The ketogenic diet and modified atkins diets are proven medical therapies to help treat epilepsy. The diets are classically low carbohydrate, high fat and are precisely calculated. They involve working very closely with the dietitian to make meal plans and recipes.  Our results have been promising and have been similar to worldwide results with the diet. About half of the people who begin these specialized diet therapies will see a >50% improvement in seizures. We now have over 60 patients on a variety of these diet therapies and will continue to offer this as our cornerstone nutrition therapy for epilepsy, eventually tailoring the diet program to offer more support to parents and patients.