Ever taken a trip to the grocery store only to forget why you went there in the first place? Or perhaps you have difficulty concentrating on something you usually enjoy, like reading a book. In either of these cases, you usually don’t feel as if your brain is working normally.
• Maybe you’ve lost confidence in your mental abilities.
• Maybe your doctor has dismissed your brain fog as a consequence of aging.
• Maybe you’ve struggled with chronic migraines or cluster headaches for what feels like forever.
• Maybe you’re apprehensive regarding a future that involves living with neurodegenerative disease.
Sound familiar? Well, I’m here to tell you not to lose hope. There are ways in which conventional Western medicine is letting us all down. The idea of losing cognitive functions, your memory becoming poorer, or even not being able to recognize the faces of your family, is all pretty scary. Every 65 seconds a patient in the US develops Alzheimer’s disease and there’s no magic pill that cures it. Fortunately, there’s another way. By adopting the ketogenic diet for neurodegenerative diseases, you can change your life and turn back the clock. There are a number of ways in which following a ketogenic diet can protect your brain and even reverse neurodegenerative disease.
By severely restricting your carbohydrate intake, reducing protein, exercising regularly, and increasing your consumption of good fats, you encourage your body to look for an alternative energy source to sugars and carbohydrates. If you eat to a calorie deficit, your body begins breaking down fat stores and inducing a state known as ketosis. The brain prefers ketones to glucose as they cross the blood-brain barrier much easier since they don’t rely on transport proteins. They also produce less in the way of free radicals or oxidative damage, the key biochemical process underlying most forms of chronic disease including neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. However, if you’re eating to maintain your existing weight, the fat is supplied purely through your diet.
Most of your body can use the fat stores or dietary fat to power your cells. However, your brain and the central nervous system can’t access this energy in the same way. As a result, your liver breaks down the fatty acids and a by-product of this chemical process are ketones. These are your body’s alternative energy source.
Ketones are made up of acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate. Ketone bodies are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and are the only source of energy the brain can use that can replace glucose made from carbohydrates. As such, ketones can fuel up to 75% of the energy needed by your brain. The other 25% or more of your energy continues to be fueled by glucose, but it’s glucose that’s made by your body from the few carbs that you do eat and also by your protein sources. Ketones are an amazing form of energy for your body and have a host of benefits for your metabolism and health.
PLENTY OF VEGGIES AND FRUIT
Although an outsider may think the mainstream version of the ketogenic diet is mostly made up of bacon, the focus is actually on plant-based foods to promote the diet’s neuroprotective benefits. While it’s true that many vegetables contain high amounts of carbohydrates, these are usually tempered by fiber and the resistant starches that are found in complex carbohydrates. Your body has a harder time breaking down complex carbohydrates, so they don’t raise your glycemic index so sharply. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are sugars or carbohydrates that break down easily into glucose. Here’s a guide to vegetables and fruit on a neuroprotective ketogenic food plan:
EAT THESE FOODS FREQUENTLY
The majority of the diet should consist of organic, non-GMO, seasonal, local, colorful, deeply pigmented non-starchy vegetables with a limited amount of starchy vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables – These contain sulfur, an important building block for production of amino acids, especially glutathione, which is the main brain antioxidant. These types of vegetables are ideally consumed after being lightly sautéed at medium heat or lightly steamed.
• Alliums (onion family -shallots, garlic, leeks)
• Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower)
Leafy green vegetables – These are at the top of the list for the ketogenic diet. They contain high levels of nutrients beneficial to your brain health, such as vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, carotenoids.
• Organic arugula & spinach (caution if sensitive to histamines)
• Kale (green, purple, lacinato, baby kale)
• Lettuce (butterleaf, red leaf, romaine, frisee)
Mushrooms – These contain sulfur and beta-D-glucan, which may help the reversal of cognitive decline through immune enhancing effects. There are many varieties, including Portobello, shitake, reishi, oyster, and white button mushrooms. Add them to sauces, stews, and for flavour when cooking other vegetables.
Resistant starches – The good bacteria in your gut microbiome can feast on resistant starches and fibre and they excrete short-chain fatty acids crucial for your wellbeing.
• Sweet potatoes
• Green bananas
Herbs and spices – These contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties and are an essential part of a ketogenic diet. This extensive list includes ginger, turmeric, basil, bay leave, chives, cilantro cinnamon, coriander, cumin, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme and more. Herbs and spices have been widely studied to determine their medicinal properties.
Nuts and Seeds – These are rich in vital brain protective nutrients and contain excellent sources of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. These should be raw, fresh, organic, and soaked if possible, thus reducing lectins and phytates. Use dry, roasted nuts where possible if you’re unable to roast them yourself. Roast at low temperatures (77-104 degrees C) while frequently turning the nuts during the process. Nuts that have already been roasted in added oils are usually rancid and oxidized, increasing the risk of inflammation. All nuts and seeds should be stored in the freezer or refrigerator to retain maximum freshness.
Fruits – Small berries contain polyphenol compounds that can play a role in reducing cognitive decline.
• Wild berries such as blueberries have been extensively studied for their antioxidant effects on brain health
• Avocado is high in fibre, nutrients and beneficial fats
• Lemons and limes (caution if high histaminic)
Oily fish – These are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 and both are excellent for brain health. Farmed fish or shrimp should be avoided. The least contaminated fish, which are smaller and don’t live as long, are known as the SMASH fish.
• Salmon – The least contaminated are wild Alaskan and sock-eye
• Mackerel – Fish from the United States and Canada is low in mercury, whereas King and Spanish mackerel are high in mercury
• Sardines – Canned sardines are high in histamine and Pacific sardines are the best.
Pasture raised eggs – These are full of protein and good fats, especially choline, which is a key nutrient for acetylcholine, the main neurotransmitter for memory. However, eggs can trigger a histamine response so caution may be warranted.
• Grass-fed beef – This is an acceptable food but it’s incredibly easy to go over your protein allowance with a good steak.
• Pasture raised chicken
GOOD FATS VERSUS. BAD
Although the ketogenic diet is high in fat, not all fats are created equally. Developing an awareness of the different varieties of fat and what foods are good sources of fat ensures that you’ll find it easier to maintain the neuroprotective ketogenic diet in the long term.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MFUA)
• Avocados, avocado oil
• Olives, extra virgin olive oil
• Nuts and seeds, although be careful of walnuts, pecans and peanuts if high histaminic. Many nuts are also moldy
• Walnuts have been associated with brain health but must be eaten raw. Macadamias are similarly highly desirable for maintaining brain health
Unadulterated, cold pressed, organic polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that include Omega-3 and Omega-6.
• Seed oils such as BodyBio Balance oil, walnut oil, macadamia oil, black cumin seed oil, or cold pressed sesame oil
• Bodybio Co2 extracted fish oil
• Chia seeds
• Fish, nuts, and seeds
Saturated fatty acids (SFA)
• Grass fed and finished animal fats
• Coconut oil
• MCT oil
• Ethically sourced palm oil
Cocoa butter and nuts
• The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, stearic and palmitic acids, which are forms of saturated fat.
• They also contain flavanols and have four times the antioxidant properties of dark chocolate.
• Dark chocolate (over 86%), also has brain health properties.
You’ll discover that following the ketogenic diet is extremely rewarding because you’ll begin to feel some benefits within weeks. However, it may take at least six months to begin to feel the full advantages when attempting to reverse cognitive decline. The ketogenic diet tweaked to improve neuroprotection is a powerful tool in your quest for optimal health. Too often we treat the symptoms of disease when we could have headed off the condition years or decades earlier. Your body is amazing and can reverse the impact of poor diet, stress, and sometimes even genetics if you make the necessary changes.
I hope you all enjoy nourishing your trillions of cells while simultaneously protecting your brain.
Article written by: Justine Stenger
All information and tools presented and written within this article are for educational and Informational purposes only. Any nutrition, lifestyle and product recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before starting any new supplements, diet and exercise program please check with your doctor or practitioner.