Focus On Health Column with Dr. Janie Unruh, PhD

Carbohydrates and the Brain

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the main sources of nutrients for our body, but carbohydrates are the most preferred source and easily converted into energy for our everyday activities.

Carbohydrates are found in the form of sugar, starch and fiber. Sweets and other empty calorie carbs may give us a boost, but the boosts are not healthfully sustained. However, complex carbohydrates are very good for the brain and body supplying the needed vital nutrients and slow-release, sustaining fuel power we need.

Studies show that empty calorie carbohydrates create a sharp rise then drop in blood sugar, which takes 45-75 minutes for normal brain function to return to normal, after the blood sugars return to normal. The brain has a metabolic rate 7.5 times greater than the average body tissue. It makes up 2% of our body mass but accounts for 15% of our total metabolism. Chess players in competition can use thousands of calories though they have moved little.

The brain is very sensitive to changes in glucose and needs a steady, even supply of blood for its nourishment since it doesn’t have much room to store nutrients. It can store only a two-minute supply of glucose in the form of glycogen.

Unlike unrefined carbs, sugary and refined carbs do not give the brain the steady, even supply it needs for optimal performance, rather it’s very sporadic. Studies have shown that a large amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars in the diet impairs our concentration, memory, attention span, moods and other frontal lobe functions, and even more so in children.

Unprocessed, complex carbohydrate, whole foods therefore should constitute the bulk of our diet consisting of 65-75% of the daily total caloric intake. These types of foods are packed with generous amounts of natural fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for preventing and reversing a good share of diseases, right thinking, and provide a steady release of extended energy. Let food be thy medicine.

Examples of such wholesome brain foods are whole grain rice, quinoa, millet, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and cooked beans or legumes. With each meal, we either help or hinder our body’s natural response to disease.