Low-carb Diet: Intellectual Performance And Emotions

Low-carb diets are very popular, but do your research before you start. Among other things, it is important to know the effects of this form of nutrition on intellectual performance and emotions. Find out more on this topic in today’s article. 

Low carb diet: intellectual performance and emotions

The advantages of the low-carb diet  (diet with few carbohydrates) are particularly used by people who want to lose weight. However, the effects on cognitive performance and emotions should also be considered. Is this type of nutrition really recommended in the long term?

It is true that the organism can get glucose from all macronutrients: from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But if carbohydrates are not available as a source of energy, it is nowhere near as effective and this could have negative effects on brain performance. 

Low carb diet

A low-carb diet is a form of nutrition in which the carbohydrate content is less than 30 percent of the total energy consumption. In recent years , these diets have become the most popular strategies for losing weight. 

The reason for this is that  carbohydrates play an important role in storing body fat. But there are also other solutions that do not prohibit carbohydrates, but only reduce them slightly and adjust the glycemic index.

Low carb diet and intellectual performance

The human brain comprises only 2 percent of the total body weight, but uses 20 to 30 percent of the energy consumed daily. So we are talking about a very  demanding organ that mainly uses carbohydrates as fuel for an efficient energy supply. 

Low carb diet and brain

Various studies have shown that  diets with very few carbohydrates have a negative effect on cognitive performance. For example, they influence the ability to learn, attention and memory.

However, this only seems to be the case for a short time,  taking into account that few people follow a low-carb diet over a long period of time. 

If no carbohydrates are consumed in the long term and the low-carb diet becomes a lifestyle, the organism seems to adapt and produce energy more efficiently from amino acids (basic building blocks of proteins) and fatty acids. Most long-term studies did not find any deterioration in cognitive functions. 

When we talk about people with cognitive decline, the low-carb diet might  even have benefits. This is because Alzheimer’s patients’ brains lose the ability to use glucose as a source of energy. As a result, the cognitive decline continues.

But at least during the first phases of the disease  , the organism of Alzheimer’s patients is able to use ketone bodies (organic compounds that are formed in the liver during the oxidation of fatty acids) as a source of energy. 

So the conclusion is that  low-carb diets could improve intellectual performance in patients with mild cognitive decline. This emerges from the results of a preliminary study published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease in April 2019. So it’s a shame that it’s so difficult to actually stick to this type of diet over the long term.

And how does it look on an emotional level?

In this case the situation is different: In contrast to the cognitive effects that a low-carb diet can achieve,  this type of diet does not seem to have negative effects on the emotional state in the short term, but in the long term. This is due to the fact that low-carb diets lower the levels of serotonin in the brain.

Low Carb Diet and Effects on the Brain

Adherence to a low-carb diet

Low-carb diets usually achieve very little adherence. This means that only a few people are able to implement this form of nutrition in the long term. There are several reasons for that:

  1. Refraining from carbohydrates does not correspond to the socially established pattern. In western culture, cereals, tubers, fruits and legumes form the basis of nutrition. Not doing this means a very big change and strict sacrifices that make sticking to the diet very difficult. Diet also has a social function that low-carb diets cannot fulfill.
  2. Restricting foods with carbohydrates greatly reduces the possibilities. As a result, the diet is often monotonous and unsustainable.
  3. As mentioned earlier,  a low-carbohydrate diet has a negative impact on the state of mind. We often use our diet to improve our mood and this is not possible on a low carb diet.

With the exception of a few exceptional cases and regardless of the theoretical advantages for the body  , the low-carb diet does not seem to be a good nutritional alternative: It can reduce cognitive performance in the short term and also has a negative effect on the state of mind. In addition, adherence is rarely achieved with it.

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