The physical benefits of low carb diets, also known as low carb diets, are pretty well known to anyone interested in nutrition and weight loss. However, do you know how they affect you on a cognitive and emotional level? Are they sustainable in the long run?
The body can get glucose from all macronutrients : carbohydrates, fats and proteins. However, when it does not use carbohydrates, its efficiency is much lower. This can have negative consequences for brain function.
Low carb diets
“Low Carb Diets ” refers to a diet in which a person gets less than 30% of their total energy from foods rich in carbohydrates. In recent years, they have become the most widely used nutritional strategy for losing body fat. The reason for its frequent use against obesity lies in the importance of the role carbohydrates play in the accumulation of body fat. However, there are other solutions that focus on a moderate intake and an adjustment of the glycemic index instead of banning them.
Low carb diets and intellectual performance
Although the human brain represents only 2% of the body’s total weight, it uses 20-30% of the energy you consume daily. It is thus a very demanding organ that uses carbohydrates as its main source of energy due to its high energy efficiency.
Several studies have therefore concluded that low-carb diets have a negative effect on the performance of cognitive tasks related to learning, attention and memory. However, it seems that it only happens in the short term. Yet it is also true that not many can follow them for a long time.
When not eating carbohydrates becomes a lifestyle, it seems that more adaptations that make energy production from amino acids, the structural unit of proteins, and fatty acids more efficient in the long run occur. Thus, most studies that take place over a long period of time have not shown impaired cognitive functions.
On the other hand, when we talk about people with pre-existing cognitive impairment, it seems that low carb diets are beneficial. This is because the brains of Alzheimer’s patients lose the ability to use glucose as an energy source, which makes the cognitive impairment even greater.
However, the patient’s brain can use ketogens, substances derived from the mobilization and breakdown of fatty acids during the early stages of this disease, as an energy source.
Thus, it seems that low carb diets improve cognitive function in those with mild failure. The results of a preliminary clinical study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in April 2019 show this. However, these dietary guidelines are difficult to maintain over time.
What happens on an emotional level?
In this case, the opposite happens. Low carb diets do not adversely affect the emotional state in the short term, but they do in the long run. This results in reduced serotonin levels in the brain.
This means reduced energy levels, sugar cravings, a feeling of sadness and even depression.
Adherence to low carb diets
Finally, it is important to note that people find it difficult to adhere to low carb diets. This is due to several reasons:
- Not consuming carbohydrates goes against established social patterns. In Western culture, grains, root vegetables, fruits and vegetables are staple foods. It can therefore be difficult not to ingest them, which can cause the diet to fail. In humans, food has a social function that low-carb diets often cannot meet.
- Limiting carbohydrate intake also limits the amount of food available. These diets are so restrictive that they often lead people to end up in monotonous dietary guidelines that are not sustainable.
- As you have seen , low carb diets can affect your mood. Humans sometimes need food to regulate their emotions, and this is impossible with this type of diet.
Except in exceptional cases and regardless of theoretical physical benefits, it thus seems that low-carb diets are not a healthy alternative. They reduce intellectual performance in the short term, have a negative impact on our emotional state and are difficult to follow.
It is therefore a good idea to stay away from restrictive diets and eat healthy. Also remember that the best “diet” is one you can follow without any problems, no matter what benefits you get from it.