Health & Wellbeing

Not all carbs are bad: Study shows high-carb diets can promote healthy brain aging

Not all carbs are bad: Study s...
Less meat and more complex carbohydrates may help healthy brain aging as well, or in some cases better, than simple caloric restriction
Less meat and more complex carbohydrates may help healthy brain aging as well, or in some cases better, than simple caloric restriction
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Less meat and more complex carbohydrates may help healthy brain aging as well, or in some cases better, than simple caloric restriction
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Less meat and more complex carbohydrates may help healthy brain aging as well, or in some cases better, than simple caloric restriction

Carbohydrates have been developing a rather bad reputation as the 21st century has progressed. From low-carb/high-fat diets to more restrictive ketogenic regimes, it seems the growing consensus has simply become "carbs are bad." However, a new study from the University of Sydney suggests a low-protein/high-carb diet can promote healthy aging and improve brain health, perhaps even slowing the onset of dementia.

The research was spawned by the observation that, while we have a large volume of evidence pointing to the many benefits of caloric restriction, it may not be the most sustainable dietary recommendation for many people in the modern world.

"We have close to 100 years of quality research extolling the benefits of calorie restriction as the most powerful diet to improve brain health and delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease in rodents," says Devin Wahl, lead author on the new study. "However, the majority of people have a hard time restricting calories, especially in Western societies where food is so freely available."

The new study, conducted in mice, compared the effects of four different diets that varied in protein and carbohydrate content against a standard 20 percent caloric restriction diet. The results found that a diet low in protein but high in complex carbohydrates resulted in comparable brain aging benefits to caloric restriction.

The research examined behavioral and cognitive differences between each diet using spatial awareness and memory tests, but only modest improvements were observed. The most dramatic effects the researchers found came when they studied the changes in gene expression, particularly in the hippocampus.

"The hippocampus is usually the first part of the brain to deteriorate with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's," explains senior author on the study, David Le Couteur. "However, the low-protein high-carbohydrate diet appeared to promote hippocampus health and biology in the mice, on some measures to an even greater degree than those on the low-calorie diet."

The results follow on from several prior studies from the University of Study revealing low-protein/high carbohydrate diets to be comparable to low-calorie diets in promoting cardiovascular health and extending lifespan. The correlation between healthy brain aging and a small volume of carbohydrate consumption is also one echoed by other research, particularly a study from 2008 finding that low-carb diets can impair cognition.

The research also compellingly mirrors a huge amount of study affirming the health benefits of diets rich in complex carbohydrates and low in protein, such as those seen in the Mediterranean and some parts of Japan.

"The traditional diet of Okinawa is around nine percent protein, which is similar to our study, with sources including lean fish, soy and plants, with very little beef," says Le Couteur. "Interestingly, one of their main sources of carbohydrate is sweet potato."

So while this study isn't suggesting all carbohydrates are good and we should go crazy on the bread and pasta, it is a reminder that healthy eating isn't as simple as just saying fat is good and carbs are bad. Instead, a well-rounded and healthy diet is a little more complicated, much to the chagrin of those looking for a straightforward and easy diet plan.

The new research was published in the journal Cell Reports.

Source: University of Sydney

9 comments
Brian M
"Carbohydrates have been developing a rather bad reputation"
Probably only amongst the uninformed and the gullible I think! Confusion between refined simple carbohydrates (sugar) and complex ones (starches) like potatoes is probably to blame for this.
Add to that most of the complex carbohydrates have a good fibre content essential for gut health.
Complex carbohydrates might also help in a calorie reduced (or least a sensible calorie intake) diet as it takes a while to break down into sugars so the body gets a more gradual sugar hit holding off hunger for longer.
So a useful piece of research further backing up the observations of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet - which is also rather tasty!

Aross
To me all of these costly studies do only one thing and that is to confirm what my grandmother told me may years ago. That "anything with too in front of it was not good". Too much or too little of any food was harmful. I've lived by that and a few other tidbits of wisdom she imparted to us as kids and am health and happy.
Grunchy
Some people read a story like this and come away assuming they need to manage and control their diet, and potentially develop some serious psychological conditions. I take my diet cues from my dog, who eats whatever scraps he can find & does "just fine" no matter what any dietologist thinks or says. If you're concerned about your personal health you can be way more effective focusing on exerting some physical effort from time to time (just a personal opinion). Today for lunchtime I'm off to jog a couple km and perform 50 burpees, amongst other things, then I'm eating up my leftover pizza from last night.
Miner Bob
I was a big carb eater and when I weighted 310 pounds, I tried to starve myself back to a lower weight. Then I found REAL Doctors with decades of REAL experience CURING people of Type II Diabetes and all they did was show me how to STOP eating sugars and carbs that turn into sugars.
Now I'm ½ way to 200 pounds, I have energy and a clear mind and I'm NEVER hungry and you could not FORCE me to eat a sugar or a carb.
ljaques
So it's settled, then.
Food Good , Diets Bad
And remember, use everything in moderation, including moderation.
Martin Winlow
Interesting that this article should be placed next to the one about the looming insulin shortage...
Catweazle
If in doubt, acquire a blood glucose tester from your pharmacist or off the Internet (usually cheaper) and check your reaction to carbohydrates for yourself.
The results are very interesting, for example my wife are both Type II diabetics and show large differences in our response to various forms of carbohydrate, some I can eat with little effect that push her levels up, some others vice versa.
Everybody is different!
susan21
I have a difficult time with low carb diets. I get incredibly tired and lose all my energy. My boyfriend said " all of your ancestors are Italian, what makes you think you can go without carbs?" That did seem to make a lot of sense. For me, the answer is moderation.
rajeev
Carbohydrates directly cause diabetes, dementia, cancer, heart disease obesity and obesity