Our brain is constantly working to help us make decisions, speak, read, and perform many other important functions. It’s also responsible for several involuntary processes, including breathing, regulating body temperature, and secreting hormones. The brain needs a consistent supply of energy in order to perform these essential functions. It mainly uses glucose as fuel for energy, however, does the brain really need glucose from carbohydrates to function properly?
What Happens When You Don’t Eat Carbohydrates?
According to healthcare professionals, the brain needs between 110 to 145 grams of glucose per day to function properly. Most people who follow a high-carb diet provide their brains with an abundant supply of glucose. However, what happens when you eat less than 110 grams of carbohydrates per day or even no carbs at all? Does your brain starve? Absolutely not! Our muscles and liver store glucose in the form of glycogen, a polysaccharide of glucose.
When you don’t eat carbs, glycogen in the liver is broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream to prevent low blood glucose levels. While more glycogen is stored in the muscles than in the liver, it stays in the muscles to meet their demand for energy and it can’t be broken down and released into the bloodstream to prevent low blood glucose levels. After about 24 to 48 hours without eating carbohydrates, glycogen in the liver is depleted and insulin decreases.
The liver will then produce ketones, water-soluble compounds produced by the breakdown of fatty acids. Ketones are produced from the fats you eat or the movement of stored body fat. Ketones can penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and enter the bloodstream in order to reach the brain and provide additional energy. This ultimately means that ketones can also be used as fuel for energy when our body is running low on glucose from carbohydrates.
Can Your Brain Use Ketones Alone for Energy?
Our brain always needs some glucose for energy. However, healthcare professionals have shown that for several people following a ketogenic diet, ketones can be used to meet up to 70 percent of the brain’s energy needs. As for the rest of the brain’s energy needs, your liver can produce the glucose it needs through a process known as gluconeogenesis. Thus, the liver can meet the brain’s energy needs through stored glucose, the production of ketones, or gluconeogenesis.
Glucose Alone vs Glucose and Ketones for Energy
If you follow a moderate-carb to a high-carb diet, your brain may not be properly adapted to use ketones as fuel for energy. Therefore, glucose will be the main source of energy for your brain. However, when your body has adapted to following a low-carb or carb-free diet, the brain can easily use ketones to meet the brain’s energy needs and the liver can make as much glucose as it needs to meet the rest of the brain’s energy needs in order to function properly.
What are the Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diet?
While there is a lot of similarities between the low-carb and ketogenic diet, there are also several important differences. The differences between the low-carb and the ketogenic diet may include but are not limited to the following:
- Carbohydrates are limited to 50 grams or less per day.
- Protein is generally limited or restricted.
- The main goal is to increase the production of ketones.
- Carbohydrates can vary from 25 to 150 grams per day.
- Protein is typically not limited or restricted.
- Production of etones may or may not increase.
In conclusion, eating carbohydrates to use as fuel for the brain’s energy needs is an option, not a requirement. It’s true that the brain can’t depend on ketones alone as it always needs some glucose as well. It’s important to understand that your brain isn’t in any danger if you follow a low-carb or a ketogenic diet. However, before following any particular diet, always make sure to talk to a healthcare professional to determine if these nutritional guidelines are right for you.
For information regarding the effects of carbohydrates on the brain, please review the following article:
Our brain is constantly working to perform many important functions. The brain needs a consistent supply of energy in order to perform these essential functions and while it mainly uses glucose as fuel for energy, the brain doesn’t really need glucose from carbohydrates to function properly. Glycogen in the liver is broken down into glucose. The liver will then produce ketones, water-soluble compounds produced by the breakdown of fatty acids. Ketones are produced from the fats you eat or the movement of stored body fat. Ketones can penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and provide additional energy for the brain. However, our brain always needs some glucose for energy. Your liver can also produce the glucose it needs through a process known as gluconeogenesis. Thus, the liver can meet the brain’s energy needs through stored glucose, the production of ketones, or gluconeogenesis. A low-carb or a ketogenic diet can provide a variety of benefits. Always make sure to talk to a healthcare professional to determine if these nutritional guidelines are right for you. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
Zesty Beet Juice
Cook time: 5-10 minutes
• 1 grapefruit, peeled and sliced
• 1 apple, washed and sliced
• 1 whole beet, and leaves if you have them, washed and sliced
• 1-inch knob of ginger, rinsed, peeled and chopped
Juice all ingredients in a high-quality juicer. Best served immediately.
Just one carrot gives you all of your daily vitamin A intake
Yes, eating just one boiled 80g (2¾oz) carrot gives you enough beta carotene for your body to produce 1,480 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A (necessary for skin cell renewal). That’s more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin A in the United States, which is about 900mcg. It’s best to eat carrots cooked, as this softens the cell walls allowing more beta carotene to be absorbed. Adding healthier foods into your diet is a great way to improve your overall health.
The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation as to how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900. The provider(s) Licensed in Texas*& New Mexico*
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T.
- Spritzler, Franziska. “Food for Thought: Does the Brain Need Carbs?” Diet Doctor, Diet Doctor Media, 17 Jan. 2019, http://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/does-the-brain-need-carbs.
- Spritzler, Franziska. “How Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets Boost Brain Health.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 26 Mar. 2016, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-ketogenic-diet-brain#section1.
- Dowden, Angela. “Coffee Is a Fruit and Other Unbelievably True Food Facts.” MSN Lifestyle, 4 June 2020, http://www.msn.com/en-us/foodanddrink/did-you-know/coffee-is-a-fruit-and-other-unbelievably-true-food-facts/ss-BB152Q5q?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=mailsignout#image=24.