What is the best diet for your brain? This discussion about diet is not about weight loss, but about improving your brain function. However, you might find that your weight will stabilize or you could even lose weight with a correct and healthy diet. This is not to say that your current diet is bad. If you’re here, you are probably mindful of eating healthy. I simply want to point out what is shown to help heal the brain the best if you’re having signs or symptoms that you want to improve on. Or just to function better!
I’m going to go over the features of some popular diets out there right now. We’ll briefly discuss how those might affect your brain function. And then, we’ll talk about the Optimal Diet for your brain. 🙂
If you have any health issues or haven’t had a checkup in a while, consult with your doctor before making significant changes in your diet.
The Paleo Diet follows the way early humans gathered and hunted for their food. The benefits are not eating processed foods. The downfall is it frowns on eating whole grains, dairy, potatoes, and some legumes, meaning losing out on some proper nutrition and energy sources. There is no reason to go Paleo in 2019. We have access to a lot of healthy foods. Why limit ourselves to what humans were limited to 2.6 million years ago?
Okay, we can get by without the dairy. Approve. However, legumes and whole grains give some needed phytonutrients. They are complex carbs that give your brain glucose for energy. Paleo is not my first choice in a diet for the brain. If however, we lived like the early humans, less sedentary, few carbs, no processed foods, it might be not a bad diet (Brederson, 2017).
Ketogenic Diet is super intriguing. It’s a very high-fat, low to no-carb diet that forces the body into ketosis, burning fat instead of sugar for energy. For meat lovers, this is a dream diet. It was developed initially for hard-to-control epilepsy in children (Wikipedia, retrieved 09/08/2019). The Keto diet actually isn’t a terrible diet for the brain but the downfall is not getting much in the way of complex carbs. It is suitable for seizures and epilepsy but dangerous for people with diabetes.
A risk is not getting enough carbs for the brain to function properly. We do need some energy from a bit of carbs to fuel our brains. While the brain can use ketones for fuel, it’s not the most well-rounded diet for the brain. According to Wikipedia, excess calcium in the blood on the Keto diet causes a risk of kidney stones.
This is an extreme diet intended as a medical treatment for epilepsy. There might be some brain benefit from this diet (in the increased fat for energy for the brain), but there are more risks than benefits. I don’t recommend Keto as a diet for brain health.
Vegetarian and Vegan
On the other extreme, we have vegetarian and vegan diets. In case you didn’t know, vegetarians don’t eat meat, while vegans use No animal products whatsoever. Nada. Vegetarians and vegans have a harder time getting complete proteins. Nine essential amino acids form a complete protein. Various protein sources can be combined to make a complete protein. Wheat, Rice, oats, peas, beans, potato, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, quinoa and buckwheat. By combining foods like these, it’s possible to get enough protein, but it takes a lot of planning and monitoring.
Vegans and vegetarians should supplement with vitamins and good fats like MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) Oil and DHA to help the brain function. The bottom line, these are life choice diets. These are not the optimal diets for the brain, but with supplementation, can be very healthy.
See related article: DHA for the Brain
Gluten-Free and Low Carb Diet for the Brain – aka Modified Keto Diet
Okay. This is it. This is the key to keeping the brain healthy or getting it healthy. As you might tell from some previous articles of mine, I follow Dale Bredesen, M.D., Dave Asprey’s books, and Dr David Perlmutter, a renowned neurologist, and research on Alzheimer’s and brain health. All of these experts call for a low carb diet, and feel gluten provokes an inflammatory response in our gut and brains. They also all think that MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), which fuel the brain, keep us feeling satisfied so we don’t crave the carbs.
Gluten-free diets are becoming more popular these days. Wheat, rye, and barley all contain gluten. Lowered or no gluten is good for the brain, as research has found.
Some people have gluten sensitivity, which can have similar symptoms as celiac disease. It’s officially called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” In this case, there might be intestinal inflammation leading to abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, joint pain, fatigue, tingling in hands or feet, and more (similar to celiac disease).
This discussion is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of gluten and intolerance or sensitivity, but if you are having symptoms, you might want to test for food sensitivities. You can read the full article on Gluten here.
- Test for Food Sensitivities. Eating foods that you don’t tolerate very well can cause inflammation in your intestinal tract and a myriad of health problems.
Related Article: What Is the Gut and Brain Connection?
The low-carb diet is a high (good) fat diet. Believe it or not, you can lose weight on this diet because you’re going into partial ketosis, burning fat instead of sugars. You just don’t want full ketosis.
Fat reduces our resistance to insulin, so our blood sugar levels stabilize. In addition, Ghee is another healthful fat (clarified butter) that you can add to your vegetables to make it more enjoyable (and healthy). Make sure to get ghee made of the milk or cream from grass-fed animals.
But Asprey says that we do need some carbs, we don’t need processed foods, sugar and other simple carbohydrates. You can still eat white rice and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, and pumpkins. He suggests only getting 5% of your diet from starches though. Getting no carbs means you don’t have enough energy for basic physiologic processes, so do eat some. There are plenty of vegetables that are low carb you can eat a lot of and with the MCTs, feel completely satisfied.
Dr. Perlmutter concurs. He’s also written a book called, “Grain Brain”. It’s an excellent read. I’ll include a link to the ebooks below.
Protein – Medium amounts of protein. Both authors call for grass-fed meats Only. Cows and sheep have bacteria in their guts that help to break down phytates, a good and bad antioxidant. We get plenty of it from other food sources, but Dave says we should try to avoid too much. Cooking meat with phytates (grain-fed livestock) makes the phytates irritating to the gut. So grass-fed it is. It just sounds better, right?
I’ve cut down on carbs and have been using Brain Octane Oil. Consequently, I feel sharper when I do. If I do have a higher carb day, I can tell my brain is foggier and not working as well for a couple of days after.
For more on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet, check out his books here.
For more on Dr. Bredesen’s book and guide, check out his book here.
For more on Dr Perlmutter’s books, check out his books here.
I hope this article sheds some light on the various diets in the media these days and brain health. I welcome your thoughts, questions, and experience on any of these diets in the Comments section below. I’ll be sure to respond promptly.
Krill Oil actually has the most bioavailable Omega 3s of any oil.
I wanted to let you know that after 45 days on the low carb diet (and I’m not strict with it), I went for my annual checkup yesterday, and I’ve lost 7 pounds! Without even trying! I wasn’t overweight but now I’m closer to my 40’s weight.
I’ve added Brain Octane Oil, just a bit in my morning coffee, Omega 3’s and just started using Ghee in my vegetables and coffee in the morning. I don’t use a lot of the fats just a teaspoon or tablespoon in the mornings and one capsule of DHA/EPA per day. But these are the good fats. When you lower your carb intake, your body will start burning fat for energy instead of carbs. 🙂 I love my carbs so I still eat some here and there. My diet is just not based on carbs. Opt for the non-gluten foods. They really are excellent tasting and better for you.
The Krill Oil supplement, above, is also an excellent source of Omega 3’s.
In addition, I do some semi light exercise daily. Bands or yoga and walk a little midday. Mixed in here and there is the mini-tramp for aerobic exercise. I put on some dance music and have fun. You can check out the Exercise for your Brain page here.
I’m recently certified as a Life and Health coach if you’d like a more custom diet plan for you, according to your goals.
Link to a friend’s site about growing your own herbs.
Asprey, D. (2018) The Bulletproof Diet. Book. Link above.
Bredersen, D. (2017). The End of Alzheimer’s. Book. Link above.
Gluten Intolerance Group. (2019). https://gluten.org/resources/getting-started/could-gluten-be-causing-your-health-problems/
Wikipedia. Ketogenic diet. (2019). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketogenic_diet