There is this myth circulating that our brain only works on glucose, the sugar molecule in our blood.
Many times, when I discuss low carbohydrate/ketogenic diets with people one of the first arguments that come up is “but the brain needs sugar”. Is this true?
There are a couple of areas in the brain that can only run on sugar, they need approximately 30 grams of glucose daily. An amount that your liver easily can deliver by making glucose from mostly protein and to a smaller degree from fat, even without eating a single carbohydrate.
The other parts of the brain runs perfectly fine on ketones, the energy containing molecules that the liver makes from fat and protein when glucose isn’t available. In fact, the brain runs better on ketones than on sugar! Getting the energy out of a ketone body is a little less “dirty” than burning a glucose molecule. In this case free radicals are the “smoke”, and they react with surrounding molecules in a process called oxidation which gives rise to an inflammatory response. Making energy out of the food we eat will always create these molecules.
The body uses anti-oxidants like vitamin E and C, CoQ10, glutathione, that react with the free radical and neutralize it. Some of them, like glutathione can be recycled in various processes to be used again and others, the vitamins, need to be replenished through diet.
The less oxidative stress you put on your body and especially the brain, the better and smoother your cells will work.
Not only does glucose “smoke” more than ketones, it also has direct negative effects on how well the nerve cells work. Glucose have a tendency to react with proteins, a process called glycosylation. This changes the structure of the protein which many times rendering it non-working and the cells won’t recognize them.
One example is when glucose reacts with the tag protein on the LDL molecule, the transport molecule for fats and cholesterol, which makes it unrecognizable for the receptors on the cells, and they stay in the blood stream and can trigger an inflammatory response. Upregulated and dysregulated inflammation is the culprit in most of our modern diseases, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, SLE and other degenerative diseases and it has a part in the development of cancer. Keeping inflammation to the minimum and only used when necessary to fight of infections and healing wounds, should be everyone’s highest priority. At least if you want to rank up your odds for a long, healthy, intelligent and also happy life.
It’s not just the brain that reap the benefits of a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet, the heart and the muscles also run perfectly fine on the ketones and also enjoy the lessened oxidative stress. So, there’s nothing to loose on going low sugar!