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high carb diet brain health

New Study: Low-Protein, High-Carb Diet Good for Brain Health (What!?)

It’s no mystery that people want to live longer. Ponce De León sought the Fountain of Youth. King Arthur sought the Holy Grail. And today researchers seek to make us live longer through science.

But living longer isn’t glorious if your brain quits working before you die. Life expectancy for humans is longer than ever. Yet we still experience dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The race is on to find a cure for brain diseases. Until we do find an actual cure, the focus has to be on preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Today we’re going to examine one study that suggests diet could be the key.

1. What Causes Brain Degeneration?

We’re good at talking about heart health. We label heart-healthy foods. We talk about cholesterol. But we rarely talk about brain health.

And if you’re merely looking at what kills us, this approach makes sense. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, after all.

Some in the health field feel it’s not enough just to focus on death. While still not popular to talk about, quality of life is gaining traction as an area of health study. And we’re finding out some interesting things about brain degeneration that might enhance quality of life.

Each time you learn something new, you break your DNA. But don’t worry, your body knows how to repair the damage.

Neurons in the brain must break their own DNA to initiate the transcriptional program that allows learning and memory function. The cells quickly repair the damage and keep functioning.

The problem comes when our bodies age and slow down. The process of repairing DNA slows down as well. Eventually, our bodies can’t keep up the repairs and we accumulate damage over time.

Since this damage is in the neurons that process memory and enable learning, we see symptoms like memory loss, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers still don’t fully understand what causes the body to slow down its repair mechanisms. But they have found that diet is one way to reduce the damage we see in the brain during aging.

*Related: Is Nutrisystem really healthy?

2. Low-Calorie Diets Aid in Mice Longevity

Recent studies show that, at least in mice, a severe calorie restriction aids in longevity.  There is improvement in learning and memory in old rodents.

How much did they reduce the diet of mice? 10-50%. They also tried extended periods of fasting.

Scientists then used various common tests including the Morris water maze, Barnes maze, and object recognition. The tests determine how well the mice are learning and retaining information.

They found that mice who experienced the severe calorie restriction did better at the various mazes. Their times improved as well as their ability to learn easier pathways through the maze.

They’re going to take over the world.

They tested these mice for one year and found that the best calorie restriction percentage was 40% (they found decent results at 20%). If you translate that to a common diet of 2500 calories and you’re looking at only 1500 calories a day.

For most people, such calorie restriction won’t be tenable, especially in developed countries where food is so bountiful. So scientists are looking for other ways to get the same diet effects without severely restricting calories.

3. The Opposite of Keto (Low Protein + High Carbs!) 

The keto diet, eliminating carbohydrates and increasing protein and fat sources, is a popular and often misunderstood diet. Many claim it’s changed their lives for the better. Just about all of the popular diets including Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem subscribe to the high protein / lower carb

But as it turns out, the opposite of the keto diet is what might reverse brain degeneration in humans.

When researching how calorie restriction might negate the effects of brain degeneration, scientists looked at five areas: Cardiometabolic health, hippocampus RNA expression, nutrient sensing pathways, dendritic spine density, and cognitive function during aging.

They found a diet that improves all of those areas at once without severely restricting calories. It’s a diet of low-protein and high carbohydrates.

So, runners rejoice! Your pre-race carb-loading pasta-fest is also protecting your brain health.

How Did They Figure it Out?

For a long time, we’ve known that this diet increased longevity. In fact, in many “blue zones” such as Okinawa where more people live to see 100 than any other place on the planet people eat a low-protein, high-carb diet.  Until the calorie restriction studies, scientists hadn’t considered turning to a low-protein, high-calorie diet for improved brain health.

In the study, they used pure starch-derived complex carbohydrates like what you find in whole grain rice. And they used casein protein, which is in dairy.

To make sure they could see the results of calorie restriction first hand for comparison, they restricted another set of mice to 20% reduced calorie diet. They then studied the hippocampus or the area of the brain related to memories. Specifically, they looked at RNA expressions in mice brain cells.

They used the same maze and memory tests of the previous calorie restrictions studies.

What Did They See?

The hippocampus is where we see the brain deteriorate first with diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. But the low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet seemed to improve hippocampus health. In fact, some areas showed greater improvement than the calorie restriction diet.

This could be yet another reason to question diets like keto that drastically cut carbs. (especially good carbs like veggies!) 

The Best We Have Now

There are no pharmacological treatments for dementia. We can cure various cancers or fix a heart, but we can’t medically cure dementia.

Diet and lifestyle seem to be our only tools right now to combat this ugly side of aging. Other lifestyle changes could help with dementia as well.

Continued education in later life seems to help with dementia. People with low blood pressure also are less likely to experience dementia. But diet seems to be top of the list when it comes to improving brain health.

mind diet weight loss alzheimers

MIND Diet: Weight Loss + Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention = Really Smart!

The MIND Diet: It’s something that none of us want to imagine. There’s nothing scarier than the thought of losing your memory. Waking up one day to find that your most precious moments have simply slipped from your mind is u completely terrifying thought. Sadly, though, that could one day be a reality for a large number of us.

Here in the US, more than five million people are living and struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and every 66 seconds someone new gets it, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. These are rather shockingly high stats, I’m certain you’ll agree.

The aging process is something with which we will all have to cope one day. The least we can hope, though, is that we can maintain both our physical and mental faculties well into our golden years.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that after the age of 65 your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease are heightened. Just 200,000 people in the US who suffer from the illness are actually under 65 – after that age bracket, the numbers seem to soar.

So, what can you do to try to reduce your risk of being afflicted by this terrible disease? Well, it may surprise you to learn that what you eat can actually have a striking effect on your mental well-being.

The MIND Diet & Alzheimer’s

If you’re hoping to beat the disease, there is a little something that you may want to try. A new dieting technique developed by the Rush University Medical Center seeks to decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s in both earlier and later life.

The so-called MIND Diet (that stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a unique combination of the well-known Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet. According to recent research, this nutrition regime can not only help you stay healthy and in shape, but it can also help you avoid the onset of the disease.

mind diet alzheimers

Here’s the science! – MIND Diet Study

Of course, it’s all well and good simply telling you that this diet works to keep your mind healthy, but where’s the science to back it all up? Well, the good people at Rush University Medical Center worked for more than 20 years on this particular study*.

The researchers used 923 volunteers who had not yet got the onset of Alzheimer’s disease from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP) in Chicago. Each volunteer was given two annual medical checkups and asked to keep a dietary log between 2004 and 2013.

After taking the time to painstakingly review the results of the food logs and medical records, the researchers were able to come forward with some very intriguing findings. Volunteers who rigorously followed the MIND Diet decreased their risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by a massive 53%. What’s more, those who loosely followed the guidelines of the diet decreased their risk by 35%.

So, how does the MIND Diet work?

us news dietsThe MIND Diet works by putting food types into different categories. There are five categories of ‘unhealthy’ food types and a whopping ten of ‘brain healthy’ food types.

The basic idea of the MIND Diet is that you should eat more food from the ‘brain healthy’ categories than you do from the ‘unhealthy’ ones. It’s just a matter of monitoring what you eat on a day to day basis and changing it according to the category system.

It all sounds surprisingly simple, right? Well, it is. In fact, this particular diet has been ranked as one of the easiest to follow, and #3 overall diet and #4 for Best Diabetes Diets according to a U.S. News & World Report. This just edges out Weight Watchers, (#4 overall) while making diets like Nutrisystem (#16 overall) and the Medifast diet (#29 overall) not look so “smart.”

With the MIND Diet, there’s no calorie-counting or cutting out entire food groups. Instead, it’s all about eating different food groups in moderation. At its heart, it’s essentially maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. What could be easier than that?

mind diet food list

The MIND Diet: Food Lists & guidelines

If you’re hoping to give the MIND Diet a go for yourself, it’s much easier than you may imagine. First of all, you need to know which food groups fall into the ‘brain healthy’ category. These are food which you should be eating on a regular basis – if only for the sake of your mental health! Some of them might even surprise you.

Here is the ‘brain healthy’ food list, and how often you should eat them:

  • Whole grains – three servings per day
  • Vegetables – one serving of leafy vegetables and one other per day
  • Nuts – eat as a snack most days
  • Poultry – two servings per week
  • Red wine – one glass per day (hurrah!)
  • Fish – one serving per week
  • Berries – two servings per week
  • Beans – one serving every other day

Following the guidelines here is sure to give you a decent chance of keeping your mind healthy well into your senior years. However, there are some ‘unhealthy’ foods that you need to avoid as much as possible.

Here is the ‘unhealthy’ food list. Avoid these foods as much as you can:

  • Pastries and candy
  • Fried food
  • Whole fat cheese
  • Red meat
  • Butter and margarine

Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect you to cut these food groups out of your life completely. However, it’s worth trying to cut back on this food list as much as you can. Only then, will you see some real benefits when following the MIND diet!

It’s important to remember that no diet is supposed to be super extreme. The MIND Diet, like many diets, is all about moderation. Good luck!

Post written by: Charlotte Grainger


*Morris, Martha Clare et al. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease Volume 11 , Issue 9 , 1007 – 1014 and Morris, Martha Clare et al. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging Volume 11 , Issue 9 , 1015 – 1022. photo credit: mightygourmet.comFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest