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Low carbohydrate, healthy fat diet and other important nutrients for brain health

Posted On: November 5, 2020 By Amanda Kotze
5 Nov

Low carbohydrate, healthy fat diet and other important nutrients for brain health


The size of our brain in comparison to the rest of our body is an important feature distinguishing us from other mammals. Our brain makes up 1/40 of our total body weight. The human brain also consumes gram for gram a huge amount of energy. It represents 2.5 percent of our total body weight and consumes 22 percent of our body’s energy expenditure at rest [1]. 

Research concerning brain health tends to focus on neurogenesis (forming of new neurons) and inflammation, and the role thereof in brain and memory decline with age.
Nutrition and the role that nutrients can play on the health, renewal, and sustaining of the brain is therefore an important aspect of health and lifestyle. 


A diet low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats stimulate the brain to turn to fat for fuel in the form of ketones (a similar reaction that the brain has to fasting) [2]. 

Eating carbohydrates stimulates insulin production, which leads to fat production, fat retention, and a reduced ability to burn fat. As we consume carbohydrates, we stimulate an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that tends to drive fats into the cells [3]. 

Healthy brain cells thrive when fueled by ketones and have positive effects on memory, visual attention, and task switching. The mechanisms of how the ketones can be helpful for the brain include reduced inflammation, more efficient energy production, and increased production of antioxidants [4]. Lower intake of carbohydrates also prevents insulin resistance in the brain which leads to inflammation in the brain. 

Other nutrients and brain foods: 

B Vitamins: 

The B vitamins, notably Vitamin B12, Folate, and B6, play an important role in controlling the body’s homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a type of amino acid which the body naturally makes. High levels of homocysteine are responsible for damage to the artery linings and therefor affect the health of the brain. This may raise your risk for coronary artery disease, heart attacks, blood clots, and strokes. 

Vitamin D: 

Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin but a fat-soluble steroid hormone. Concerning the brain, it has the function of protecting neurons from the damaging effects of free radicals and reduces inflammation. Low vitamin D levels increase your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Low vitamin D levels can also contribute to depression.[5] 

Omega 3 fatty acids: 

These fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are vital for the maintenance of normal brain function throughout life. They are abundant in the cell membranes of brain cells, preserving cell membrane health and facilitating communication between brain cells.[6] 

Coconut oil or MCT oils: 

MCT oils are a superfood for the brain with the added benefits of reducing inflammation.
When you’re on a low carb/ketogenic diet, MCTs can also be converted into ketones in the liver providing the benefits of ketones for the brain. 


Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and the seasoning that gives curry powder its yellow colour. Studies have shown that people who take in turmeric scored better on tests designed to measure cognitive function.[7] 


Foods rich in probiotics- live microorganisms that support our intestinal bacteria- can influence brain behavior and help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. By supporting your gut microbiome with food such as yogurt, kefir, fermented foods, or a probiotic supplement, you support not only your gut but also the health of your brain. 


You can make lifestyle changes today to keep your brain healthy, vibrant, and sharp while substantially reducing your risk of brain function decline and disease in the future. Following a low carbohydrate and healthy fat meal plan will support your brain and vascular health. 


  1. Perlmutter D. Grain brain. 2019. p201. 
  2. Cahill GF, Veech Jr. Ketoacids? Good Medicine? Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association.2003; 114:149-61. 
  3. Ferreira LD, Pulawa LK, Jensen DR, Eckel RH. Over expressing human lipoprotein lipase in mouse skeletal muscle is associated with insulin resistance. "Diabetes.2001;50(5):1064. 
  4. M. Ota, et al., Effect of a ketogenic meal on cognitive function in elderly adults: Potential for cognitive enhancement, Psychopharmacology (Berlin)2016. 233(21-22):3797-802. 
  5. Littlejohns T.J., et al. Vitamin D and risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. Neurology.2014. 83(10):920-8. 
  6. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2015. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052 
  7. Ng TP, et al. Curry consumption and Cognitive function in the elderly. American Journal of Epidemiology.2006 Nov;164(9):898-906.
Amanda Kotze
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