A low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet is linked to staying mentally fit, new research suggests.
Mice given this unrestricted diet showed improvements in memory and learning as well as overall brain health.
Restricted diets have long shown promise in human longevity, but they are difficult for people to maintain.
This is one of the first studies to show that a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet could be beneficial.
Mr Devin Wahl, the study’s lead author, said:
“We have close to 100 years of quality research extolling the benefits of calorie restriction as the most powerful diet to improve brain health and delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease in rodents.
However, the majority of people have a hard time restricting calories, especially in Western societies where food is so freely available.
It shows a lot of promise that we have been able to replicate the same kind of gene changes in the part of the brain responsible for memory that we also see when we severely restrict calories.”
Low protein, high-carbohydrate diets are not new.
They have been practiced for many centuries around the world.
Professor David Le Couteur, study co-author, said:
“The traditional diet of Okinawa is around nine percent protein, which is similar to our study, with sources including lean fish, soy and plants, with very little beef.
Interestingly, one of their main sources of carbohydrate is sweet potato.”
For the study, mice were fed complex carbs such as those found in cheese and milk.
The results showed that the diet was beneficial to the hippocampus, a structure in the brain critical for learning and memory.
Professor Le Couteur said:
“The hippocampus is usually the first part of the brain to deteriorate with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
However, the low-protein high-carbohydrate diet appeared to promote hippocampus health and biology in the mice, on some measures to an even greater degree than those on the low-calorie diet.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports (Wahl et al., 2018).