Food and Brain Health
Whether low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, sugar-free, or even the infamous grapefruit diet, we’ve all tried different food regimens to improve our weight and health. But did you know that your diet might also have negative effects on your brain?
Before jumping into things, let’s just make it clear that there isn’t too much scientific consensus out there of which diet is perfect for your brain. So instead of simply prescribing which diet we think is best, we’ve provided a detailed description of a few of the most well-known suggestions and after further research you can decide which diet you think is best for you.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low-carbohydrate diet, where carbohydrates generally constitute 5% of total caloric intake. All your other calories come from fats (70%) and proteins (25%). Acceptable foods on a ketogenic diet include high-fat dairy, all kinds of meat, olive oil, leafy greens, and mushrooms. While this diet may sound rather extreme, there are fans out there that claim this diet is the only true way for humans to function at their best. Now, when you begin to notice a difference with the ketogenic diet, depends on timing. Remember, our brains are hungry beasts, utilising 250 to 300 calories of the food we consume every day. Our brain tends to use glucose to fuel neuron firing, and glucose is most easily produced by carbohydrates. And when people first go on a ketogenic diet, they often struggle with impaired reaction time and reduced short-term memory retention. Yet scientists have shown that after a week or so of being on a ketogenic diet, your brain begins to get 70% of its energy from ketones, which are most easily provided by protein. When your brain runs on mostly ketones, glutamate, which is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter, decreases. This means that the neurons in your brain may have a better chance of functioning without disruption.
Now if the Ketogenic diet sounds like a bit too much for you, there is another diet that might just work. Instead of viewing brain function through a glucose or ketones lense, Paleo diet advocates believe your brain functions best when your body has low levels of inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, but recently studies have shown that inflammation may also lead to impaired cognition and depression. So as opposed to the Ketogenic diet, which allows only extremely low levels of carbohydrates, the Paleo diet allows a low to moderate amount of carbs, but only carbs that are nutrient-rich and anti-inflammatory. Also, the Paleo diet focuses on high-quality fats, not just any fat is acceptable. An example of Paleo diet foods includes all kinds of meat, most vegetables, nuts and seeds, moderate to low amounts of starchy vegetables such was sweet potatoes, and certain fruits. Again, this diet is a bit restrictive, so it might be hard to pull-off, but ease into it slowly and see where it takes you!
Now, this diet is currently being geared for the elderly, but it’s still brand spankin’ new, so it may actually have benefits for the young as well! In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s and dementia, a group of scientists claimed that a new diet called the MIND diet reduced the risk for a group of people aged 58 to 98 of developing Alzheimer’s in a 4.5 year span by 53%! What’s even more amazing is that even those that only followed the diet moderately well, reduced their chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 1/3rd! The MIND diet stresses leafy vegetables, but all other vegetables are great also, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and one glass of wine a day. On the naughty list are red meats, butter, cheese, pastries, and fried food. Now this diet sounds a bit more reasonable, right?