Yes you heard me right! Does a low carbohydrate diet play a role in stabilizing mood disorders including depression? Or maybe I should phrase it like this; do ketones play a role in our brain-energy profile?
What are ketones?
Let me explain the above sentence a bit further. When we eat carbohydrates our bodies break it down into glucose. This passes the blood brain barrier and fuels our brain. Our bodies always opt to use glucose as an energy source before they use another source of fuel.
When we cut out carbohydrates from our diets we cannot use glucose as a fuel source. So our bodies start to process the protein and fat that we eat instead. It processes these proteins and fats into ketones.
These ketones can also be used as fuel and can also pass the blood brain barrier. And this different type of fuel to the brain appears to alter it.
Why are ketones working?
One of the best known effects of a ketogenic diet is its remarkable effect on seizures in epileptic patients. Some people have actually become seizure free while others have a substantial reduction in their seizures. The effects of the ketogenic diet even remains after carbohydrates have been reintroduced.
There is talk that a ketogenic diet can benefit many mental disorders including depression, bipolar and Alzheimer’s. If this diet could only help a faction of the people that are burdened with these conditions, it would be revolutionary!
We are not entirely sure why and how these ketones affect the brain. But some theories suspect that this different fuel from ketones helps with global cerebral hypometabolism. It seems that the brain can use ketones more efficiently. It is also thought that ketosis decreases intracellular sodium concentrations, which is exactly what mood stabilizers do.
Not many human trials have to done to see the benefits of a ketogenic diet on mental disorders. But it is definitely warranted!
What exactly is a ketogenic diet?
OK great. So now that we know what ketones are and how they work. Let us have a look at what you would have to do to be on a ketogenic diet.
A ketogenic diet is a diet that really reduces carbohydrates to the minimum. The most accepted version of the ketogenic diet is to have fewer than 20g of carbohydrates a day.
But everybody is different and some people may still respond on higher amounts of carbohydrates a day.
Ketosis, so when we are producing ketones, can be checked through the use of keto-sticks.
Keeping to 20g a carbohydrates a day is quite a challenge, trust me.
Where do we find carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are found in an array of products and natural foods.
The most obvious place to find carbohydrates is in sugar. This includes sugar that has been added to beverages, food products, sweets, cake and chocolate.
We also find carbohydrates in our starches including rice, couscous, bread, oats and pasta. These are normally completely cut out in a ketogenic diet.
Fruit also contains fructose, which is a sugar, and will also increase your carbohydrate intake. Fruit intake is normally controlled quite strictly.
Other types of sugar, mainly lactose, are found in dairy products.
A ketogenic diet is not for the faint hearted!
So what can I eat?
As you can see a great many foods are cut out of the equation when we are on a ketogenic diet. What can be eaten in vast amounts are non-starchy vegetables, so vegetables which have very few carbohydrates. And then we can eat all of our meat, eggs and fish. These are normally cooked with unlimited amounts of fat.
It is not an easy diet to go on but once people feel the benefit of it, they say they will never go back. It is advisable to work with a supportive dietitian and doctor when attempting the ketogenic diet.