Low-carb diets may improve mental focus

January 8, 2009 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Low-carb diets may improve mental focus

If you've ever tried a low-carb diet for weight loss, you may have noticed that your short-term memory was a little foggy. However, new research has found that your ability to focus and pay attention may be strengthened by cutting down on carbohydrates.

In this new study looking at how low-carb diets might impact thinking and mood, researchers from Tufts University asked 19 women to choose either a low-calorie, balanced diet, or a low-carb diet in which they completely cut out carbs for a week then gradually reintroduced them back into diets.

The women completed several tests of mood and cognitive function prior to starting their diets. These tests were repeated at two days, one week, two weeks and three weeks after starting their chosen diets.

Compared with those on the low-calorie, balanced diet, the women who chose the low-carb diet fared worse on tests of their memory during the first week of the diet, when no carbohydrates were allowed.

However, once they started eating carbs again the memory differences between the two groups disappeared.

Given this observation, low carbohydrate diets are okay but eating no carbohydrates is not, says one nutrition researcher.

No-carb diets impair cognitive function because the brain uses glucose (sugar) as its primary fuel. The body breaks carbohydrates down into smaller components, including glucose, which the brain gets from the bloodstream. Once the carbohydrate stores are gone, the brain starts to starve.

Low-carb diets, some of which go as low as five to eight grams of carbs per day, can provide enough glucose for the brain to maintain normal cognitive function.

The daily recommended intake of carbohydrates for people who aren't trying to lose weight is 130 grams.

Carbohydrate-rich foods include desserts, breads, pasta, crackers, potatoes and fruit juice. One slice of bread contains about 16 grams of carbohydrate.  

For personalized advice on how you can go on a healthy low-carb diet, check out nutrition counselling with Leslie Beck, RD.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.