The human brain is the most powerful and most valuable organ in your body. Hence, any diet you adopt should be good for your gut and your brain. Some may think that since the keto diet is a low carbohydrate diet, it robs your body of its greatest energy source. That begs the question, does your brain need carbs? Well, it does get a lot of its energy from glucose molecules. Hence, a logical conclusion is, it’s not great for brain health.
However, the ketogenic diet is great for the brain. Let’s explore why.
Does Your Brain Need Carbs?
The 130g Carbs Myth
You may have heard that your brain requires 130 grams of glucose every day to function properly. This is a myth. It was debunked by a 2005 report from the National Academy of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board.
According to the report, the lower limit of carbs in your body is zero. The difference is made up with protein and fat consumption. While a zero carb diet is not recommended since it eliminates a lot of healthy nutrients, you can eat less than 130 grams of glucose per day.
The Low-Carb Diet Keto Routine Can Boost Brain Health
The main process by which the brain gets its energy is through gluconeogenesis, which synthesizes glucose. Some parts of the brain may make do with ketones, but others require glucose for fuel no matter what. On low carb diets, it’s hard to get that glucose.
However, you can still stimulate gluconeogenesis by a good fat and protein intake. How? Well the liver can synthesize glucose using amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Also, the liver can make do with glycerol. That’s the backbone which links fatty acids and tryglycerides together.
In the keto diet, the main way your body supplies itself with energy is using ketogenesis. Instead of using carbohydrates, the body stimulates the liver to create ketones when blood glucose levels fall. These are made using fatty acids.
Ketones are produced regularly in your body when you go to sleep for several hours without eating. However, that same production is increased during the keto diet. When your carb intake falls below 50 grams of glucose a day, like during fasting, ketone production goes into overdrive.
Ketones can even provide up to 75% of the energy needed for your brain cells.
Combining the Mediterranean and Ketogenic Diet for Brain Health
One of the most famous diets correlated with improved cognition in seniors is the Mediterranean diet. For those over 65, this diet can help regulate brain function and improve basic cognitive skills. The diet focuses on one’s intake of nutrient rich foods. However, like the keto diet, it also avoids refined sugar and foods high in carbohydrates.
Perhaps, combining the Mediterranean diet with the Keto diet is your best bet for brain health.
The Mediterranean diet combines nutrients found in animals including zinc and choline and mega-3 fatty acids. The keto diet also emphasizes eating a high amount of protein compared to carbs. Hence, combining both diets can perhaps be the best version of the diet that benefits your brain health.
Fasting is a Benefit for Brain Health
Fasting is usually a companion process to the keto diet. In fact, it puts the body into ketosis. The most healthy and adaptive way of doing this is to use intermittent fasting or time restricted eating.
When you combine this with a low-carb, medium protein and high fat diet, it can be very beneficial for your health. In fact, it’ll help keep your brain healthy. If you ask whether your brain needs carbs in this situation, the answer is still no. You can still stay on the keto diet. However, you can have certain carbs like strawberries, raspberries, and avocados if you so choose.
How Fasting Puts the Brain into Ketosis
When you fast, your body receives no fresh calories for a period of time. During this, the body burns stored calories in the body in the form of fats. This produces molecules called ketones. This is ketosis.
Benefits to the Mitochondria
Ketosis actually benefits brain function by increasing the number of mitochondria and the performance of these powerhouses. The ketones produced during ketosis are more efficient than glucose when it comes to producing ATP, the fuel for the mitochondria. In contrast to burning glucose, fats actually produce less reactive oxygen species or ROS in the brain. These species are harmful for the brain, and hence ketosis causes a reduction in their numbers.
A Greater Production of BDNF
The ketogenic diet combined with fasting also generates a lot of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This is a vital chemical which is responsible for the maintenance of neural connections in the brain. It helps your brain to adapt and learn.
Fasting and the Keto Diet Can Reduce Anxiety
When it comes to mental health, fasting and the keto diet can actually regulate your mood. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression by virtue of decreasing inflammation in the brain.
Foods to Eat During Keto for Brain Health
Here are 4 foods you can add to your keto diet to act as a source of energy for your brain. These aren’t all complete foods in their own right, but they’re great additions to your overall diet.
Salmon naturally contains a fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It’s an omega-3 fatty acid which is found in the cerebral cortex and the retina, and the skin. However, the body isn’t capable of producing it on its own.
Hence, it needs to be replenished, otherwise its concentration wanes more noticeably overtime. This is more noticeable in older people. Lower concentrations of DHA have been linked with memory loss, mood disorders, general decline in cognitive skills, and even Alzheimer’s.
Salmon can help keep your brain healthy, and it’s a great source of protein as well.
Eggs contain an essential nutrient called choline. It was recognized as such by researchers not 2 decades ago. Choline not only helps with brain development and function, but it also contains a micronutrient which helps the body produce a neurotransmitted. Called acetylcholine, this helps the body regulate both memory and mood.
Egg yolks are a very rich source of this nutrient, and can benefit your brain health. Choline also regulates liver function and helps the body maintain the nervous system and metabolism.
MCT oil is found in coconut oil and is a rich source of triglycerides. It is known for how quickly it’s absorbed in the body without any breakdown required. Some studies have shown that it improves memory and staves off brain impairment. The same research has suggested that MCT oil’s addition to the keto diet can reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s and even epilepsy.
Turmeric can be a fine addition to your keto plan. It’s low in carbohydrates and tastes great. It contains an ingredient called curcumin, which stimulates your body to produce BDNF (read above). It can stave off depression and anxiety this way. In some studies, it’s even been discovered that BDNF improves memory.
For further references to what you can eat on a keto diet, check out our post “10 Best Things You Can Eat on a Keto Diet“.
You don’t need a lot of carbs to maintain brain activity. In fact, your cognitive function can be maintained just fine if you stick to the keto diet. Your primary source of energy for the brain may change, but that doesn’t mean your mental health will decline.
Don’t fret about grams per day, or the right number of glucose molecules. All you should focus on is getting the right amount of fats and proteins and cutting down on your dietary carbohydrates.