Carbohydrates have been villainized lately. Many carbs are important for long-term health and brain function. Carbs are composed of sugars (saccharides), starches or cellulose and are a food source of energy.
Most people do not associate plant foods as being carbohydrates; but in fact they are, and provide plentiful and nutritional healthy dietary choices, which include:
These plant carbohydrates contain slowly released (complex) sugars that prevent sudden surges in blood sugar, which cause an immediate and undesirable insulin rush. They contain fiber, which helps normalize our digestive system, and all the vitamins (except B12) and minerals our body needs (usually in insufficient amounts) Plants also contain phytonutrients which are colorful compounds that protect the plants and humans from effects of oxidants and toxins (which leads to aging, obesity, brain disorders etc.)
refers to simple sugars and refined, over-processed "white foods" (doughnuts, bread, bagels, muffins, colas, juices and most junk food). Many of them contain SoFAS, which stands for "solid fat and added sugar" aka "empty calories". Health experts recommend that SoFAS account for no more than about 5 to 15 percent of our daily calories. Yet the dietary guidelines point out that most Americans of all ages and both sexes get closer to 35 percent of their daily calories from SoFAS. These include:
- high fructose corn syrup (fructose in general)
- high sugar foods - cookies, cakes, candy, cereals, pastries - also honey, molasses and maple syrup
- all flour products - breads, bagels, rolls, wraps, pastas
- liquid sugars - processed fruit juices, sodas (any kind of sweetener, including artificial and Stevia)
- sugar alcohols - mannitol, sorbitol, malitol, xytlitol etc (cause gas and bloating)
We live in a culture that makes it difficult to make healthy food choices, although health conscious trends are now evolving. A number of food industry and political factors keep us sick and fat. There are now 3,900 calories a day available to every person in America – an increase of 700 calories since 1980. In supermarkets 25% of the square footage is devoted to selling sugar.
Simple Sugars and the Brain
High sugar (glucose) intake has been shown in many studies to be
extremely harmful to every cell and organ in the body.
Simple sugars are carbohydrates that are quickly absorbed by the body to produce energy. They increase free radical and lipid peroxidation generation and produce chemical reactions called advanced glycation end products (AGE), which play a major role in all of the degenerative brain disorders. AGE products are the reason why diabetics have such high instances of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, brain aging, blindness, and kidney disease. Refined simple sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, table sugar, dextrose, malt syrup and molasses. Simple sugars are so inflammatory they can be considered toxic.
Some recent studies reported that people with the highest intake of sugar
have a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia.
When combined with high fat intake, the risk goes up to 230 percent.
Keeping blood sugar in check is not just a key to preventing diabetes, it also helps to keep the brain sharp into old age. Those are the findings of a 2008 study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. They found that maintaining normal blood sugar levels as we age may be key to preserving memory and mental function. While abnormal regulation of blood glucose levels are normally associated with diabetes, these recent findings further suggest that normal regulation of blood sugar is also critical for brain health.
High sugar diets are associated with violent criminal behavior, poor learning and memory, anxiety attacks, depression, suicidal tendencies, homicides and other anti-social acts. Disruptive behavior in children is common with high sugar diets.
Insulin and Diabetes
No discussion of carbohydrates can be complete without discussing diabetes and insulin, which are critical not only in general health but also for dementia and AD.
Insulin is the hormone that regulates sugar, or glucose, metabolism and is of critical importance in many disease states. Insulin lowers blood sugar by helping glucose get into cells where energy is made, which is vital to fueling the body. Insulin is produced mostly in the pancreas. Excess insulin promotes fat deposition. Excess ingestion of high sugar load foods causes the pancreas to wear down trying to produce enough insulin, thereby not producing as much as is needed (particularly in response to a sudden sugar loads and resultant increases in blood sugar). This is called insulin resistance. Repeated and chronic episodes can lead to type 2 diabetes, the most common and rapidly increasing type of diabetes in society. Type 2 used to be called "adult onset" as it came on later in life. With today's too often sedentary lifestyle, and consumption of unhealthy sugar and fat laden foods, it is now becoming more common in children. Predictions are now that 50% of Americans will develop diabetes.
Research shows that prolonged exposure to elevated levels of insulin also causes:
* high triglycerides
* high "bad" LDL cholesterol
* low "good" HDL cholesterol
* high blood pressure
* insulin resistance
* increased appetite
High sugar levels also causes brain insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) to work overtime in removing insulin. IDE also removes plaques, tangles and beta amyloid, the very pathology of AD. Having to remove excess insulin diverts IDE from its beneficial anti AD activity.
Types of Diabetes
Those who have diabetes are at 2-3X higher risk
for eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Diabetes type 1 and type 2 derive from the decline of insulin produced within the pancreas to the point where there is little to no insulin produced. In recent years, scientists have found that insulin is also produced within the brain (the hippocampus). This has led to the recognition of what is now called diabetes type 3 in 2005.
Diabetes type 3 is when the brain stops or reduces the acceptance of the brain's secreted insulin within the brain's cell receptors. Although Diabetes Type 3 is not completely understood, it's thought insulin's primary purpose in the brain is to form memories at synapses (the spaces where cells in the brain communicate). Thus brain insulin is necessary for the survival of brain cells; the brain requires insulin to be secreted in order to ensure that the brain's cells survive. Diabetes 3 means that the brain is no longer secreting enough insulin - therefore the brain's cells cannot utilize glucose and will deteriorate. As the brain cells stop working, the brain's receptors also decline in function. Some researchers and clinicians believe that Alzheimer's is diabetes type 3. Other clinical descriptions is called cerebral glucose hypometabolism.
Interestingly, while low insulin levels in the body are associated with improved health,
the opposite appears to be true when it comes to brain insulin. A drop in insulin production in the brain contributes to the degeneration of brain cells; studies have found that people with lower levels of insulin and insulin receptors in their brain often have Alzheimer’s disease
Diabetes type 3 is a relatively new discovery (2005). Human diagnostic testing and treatments are not yet publicly available to everyone on the medical market. Scientists
and researchers are currently looking into possible ways that this discovery can be used to help the millions of Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers today. Intranasal insulin administration has been shown to improve memory performance in humans as research studies continue
Glycemic Index (GI)
The "bad" carbohydrates are considered such because what is called the Glycemic Index (GI), which measures how much your blood glucose increases in the two or three hours after eating. The higher the index the more quickly a food is converted to sugar molecules which raises blood sugar. These carbs are to be avoided or at least limited. Many of the glycemic index results have been surprises; e.g. - baked potatoes have a glycemic index considerably higher than that of table sugar. Thus many “white” foods such as potatoes, pasta and refined flour products all into this category and for all practical purposes can be considered sugar-like.
Glycemic Load (GL)
Just as important as the Glycemic Index is the Glycemic Load. Eating foods with a low GI may seem healthy, but how much of it you eat (your “load”) is also important. Eating too much of low glycemic foods in a short period of time can cause an unhealthy rise in blood sugar.
Controlling blood sugar is usually associated with diabetes, but it may also be key in keeping the mind healthy. Numerous studies over the past four years have shown increasing evidence that high blood sugar levels contribute to memory loss.
GI and GL calculators are available as apps on devices.
Fats (fatty acids)
Our brains are composed mostly of fats.
Fats are vital ingredients in our diet, especially for brain functioning. Fats are basically oils. They are a major source of energy. They help us absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves. They are essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. The fats in our brains are especially vulnerable to free radical attack. Like good and bad carbs, there are good and bad fats. Any given fatty acid can have a positive or negative effect on health.
•nuts and seeds •fruits and vegetables •fish •dairy products •animal proteins
Good and Bad Fats
•Monounsaturated - Oils: olive, canola, high oleic safflower or sunflower and avocado
•Polyunsaturated - Oils: fish, flax seed, corn, safflower, sunflower, canola, walnut, sesame, grape seed, borage, primrose and soybean.
Both of these fats are liquid. Monos may turn to a cloudy liquid when refrigerated.
Polys may contain the omega fatty acids and are clear liquids.
Good fats include:
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
The Omegas - Polyunsaturated EFAs
The field of evolutionary nutrition explains that a balanced diet of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) have been consumed by human beings and their ancestors for millions of years. The two main types of polyunsaturated EFAs are omega 3 and omega 6. EFAs
are not manufactured in our bodies; they must be ingested in our diets.
Omega 3 - The (Quint)Essential Fatty Acid
Approximately 8% of the brain's weight is composed of omega 3s - the building block for 100 billion neurons. The 2 main types of Omega-3s are EPA and DHA (the brain is 60% DHA fat) - they protect neurons from oxidative damage, inflammation, and from other destructive chronic insults. They also protect glial cells, brain cells that support neurons. N.B. - A recent widely published study concluded that use of "omega 3" does not improve the course of AD progression nor cognitive functions. It should be noted that this single study used only DHA omega 3 and did not include the EPA form. It also did not include any antioxidant, which the authors concluded could be an important factor for the omega 3 to affect AD. Other studies have concluded that the combination of EPA with DHA not only improves AD management but increases brain volume. In any case it is important to note that omega 3s are vital for daily living and good general health and well-being
There is also an ALA form of omega-3 that derives from vegetables. Humans cannot convert significant quantities of ALA to EPA and DHA so vegetarians beware!
Omega 3 sources are:
- Fish (cold water: wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, bluefish, herring, small halibut, sable and whitefish)
- Fish to avoid: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish. Limit tuna to 6oz./week
- Walnuts - just about any nut you choose to nibble on will be a boon to heart health. But walnuts are great because they tend to have more polyunsaturated fatty acids compared with other nuts -- especially heart-friendly alpha linolenic acid
- olive oil - extra virgin (do not use for frying or sautéing)
- canola oil (contains omegas 3 and 6)
- soybeans (caution - also contains omega 6 in higher amounts than omega 3)
Omega 6s are important for health but can also be inflammatory when consumed in excess amounts (demonstated in the graph below)
•Corn •soybeans •canola •safflower •cottonseed •nuts •seeds
Omega Ratios: a key to good health
Eating modern, processed foods as in a typical American diet results in ingesting much more omega 6 than omega 3 fats (a ratio of 14-20:1 vs. the ideal of 4:1), which causes
inflammation, the proposed cause of diseases and chronic conditions, including AD.
The illustration below indicates the desired omega6/omega 3 ratio of 4:1 (red column) vs. the typical and undesirable ratio of 15:1 (green column).
Diminished intake of omega 3 in relationship to excess intake of omega 6 is a major contributory factor in many chronic diseases including AD/dementia.
In our culture, the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid primarily comes from processed soybean oil. Eighty percent of fats consumed in the USA contain linoleic acid (not the alpha form), an omega 6 fat contained in soybean oils. One estimate is that 20% of all calories we eat is derived from soybean oils. For this reason consumption of most soy products should be avoided or very restricted.
Saturated fats – are thought to be highly inflammatory - consumption should not exceed 12 grams/day
•cream and all whole milk (not skimmed) •cheese •lard •butter, ice cream (made from cow milk fat) •meats •processed meats •palm seed oil •chicken fat •ghee (found in Indian food)
Recently, the bad effects of saturated oil are being reevaluated.
Coconut oil - a saturated fat once thought to be unhealthy, now
is recognized as beneficial in raising blood levels
of "good" (HDL) cholesterol and a possible treatment of AD.
Worse Bad Fats
Trans fats (trans-fatty acids) – mostly man made saturated fats created from unsaturated fats by process known as hydrogenation - developed by the food industry and pushed as consumer friendly processed foods in the early 1980s – are very inflammatory
- consumption should not exceed 2 grams/day
•stick margarine •salad dressings •deep fried fast food •commercial cookies •crackers •commercial desserts (cakes and pies) •sports drinks (if it has a “Z” factor)
composed of amino acids, are the other vital building blocks of our brain. Brain functioning depends on neurotransmitters (messenger molecules) which are composed of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The only function of DNA is to make proteins by assembling a sequence of amino acids. There are eight Essential Amino Acids and similar to EFAs, we can only get them from our diet.
Ideally, protein should be included with every meal. A normal yet active person needs only 3-4 oz/day (for a 160 lb. person). Preferred sources are vegetables and not meats. The heating of foods with proteins causes a loss of 50% of the nutritional value. Excessive protein intake, especially from red meats or protein shakes, can be injurious to our health - it can accelerate aging and damage the brain and other organs. Some experts recommend eating 30 grams of protein within an hour of awakening which will help control blood sugar.
Organically raised chicken, turkey, and pork are better choices than red meats.
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pecans)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia etc.)
- Organic, grass-fed, hormone, antibiotic and pesticide free poultry
- Organic, grass-fed, hormone, antibiotic and pesticide free beef or lamb (max. 4-6 oz. 2x/week)
- Greek yogurt (check for sugar content!)