No-Carb Diets and Memory Loss: Is There a Link?

Few would argue the fact that no-carb diets work in the short run. What no-carb dieters may not realize are the effects on other parts of their body. A study conducted at Tufts University in Massachusetts found that diets that eliminate carbohydrates can have a negative effect on memory. Participants chose between low-carb diets and low-calorie diets. The results of the study showed that low-carb dieters displayed a gradual decrease in memory tasks, reaction time, and attention tasks in relationship to those on the low-calorie diet.

Although short term memory loss was experienced by those participating in the study, some questions about long term effects of no-carb diets have yet to be explored. Australian research scientist Grant D. Brinkworth, PhD believes that the cognitive effects of the diet "may just be the body readjusting to an unfamiliar diet."

Brain Food

Like it or not, carbohydrates fuel the brain. The body breaks carbohydrates into glucose which powers brain activity. Although glycogen--which is derived from proteins--also assists in brain function, glucose is more efficient. What's more, unlike fat that can store energy over a long period of time, the brain cannot store glucose. Therefore, in order to function optimally, the brain needs a constant supply. The trick is to substitute simple carbohydrates (white rice, Russet potatoes, and white bread) for complex (whole grains, brown rice, and sweet potatoes). This way, your body isn't deprived of all carbohydrates-just the ones that can be detrimental to your diet.

Diet and brain function has also been linked between diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Studies conducted at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in which mice were fed a diet high in fat and cholesterol displayed impaired brain activity. The study suggests that brain functionality can be preserved with a well balanced diet.

Eat for Memory

Follow these simple guidelines to improve both your diet and memory.

  1. Antioxidants. A diet high in antioxidants can help prevent the effect of free radicals on the brain. Foods highest in antioxidants are easy to spot-they have bright and bold colors. Taste the natural rainbow for an improved memory.
    Foods: Berries, plums, avocados, grapes, cherries, kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats in the brain are essential to nerve function. Seek out the seafood section in your local grocery store to find the foods that are highest in omega-3s
    Foods: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines
  3. B vitamins. B vitamins-especially B-12-are vital for proper brain function. Getting an adequate supply of B vitamins can keep your brain healthy and help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease as you age.
    Foods: Milk, nuts, seafood, eggs, whole grains, leafy greens, and broccoli