While there are (and always will be) a never-ending slew of fad diets making a spectrum of claims, there are recent ones that suggest carbohydrates cause of cognitive problems and may even lead to various types of dementia. Most studies debunk these unfounded claims and actually support a link between diet and brain function.
For example, low-carbohydrate diet plans typically translate to a diet high in saturated fats (from butter or red meats, for example), which has been associated with increased risk for developing coronary heart disease. Some foods that are documented as heart-healthy foods like tomatoes, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grain foods may be cut out of these diet plans. Besides promoting heart health, these foods have also been shown to be part of healthy diets that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias (1-5.) Therefore, evidence shows carbohydrate foods can contribute to a heart healthy diet that also prevents cognitive decline.
Additional proof comes from studies conducted around the globe that have assessed measures of diet quality. These studies indicate diets containing all of the food groups, including carbohydrate-rich breads and cereals, are associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment, cognitive decline and dementia or AD.
Food patterns used throughout the world associated with reduced risk of cognitive impairment include the Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Healthy Eating Index Diet (US), Canadian Healthy Eating Index Diet, the French National Nutrition and Health Programe Diet and the Recommended Food Score Diet used in Australia and New Zealand [6-10].
These high-quality diets such as the Mediterranean diet are rich in fruits and vegetables, use olive oil, and include fish, legumes and limited amounts of meat. It is built on a foundation of carbohydrate staples including breads, pastas and risotto. It also includes a great mix of enriched and whole grains like farro and bulgur. Likewise, the DASH diet has been studied in the US for more than 20 years and has been shown to reduce the risk of all chronic diseases. Like the Mediterranean diet, DASH recommends 8-13 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, uses a mix of whole and enriched grains, three daily servings of low-fat dairy, as well as legumes, fish and poultry and judicious servings of meat. The Healthy Eating Diets from a variety of countries also show that the right balance of food groups in the right portions provide the most protection against cognitive diseases. These diets all emphasize a mix of whole and enriched grains as a basis for the diet and have 40-60 percent of the calories coming from carbohydrates.
This research underscores the net takeaway, which is that carbohydrate foods are important dietary components, especially if the diet contains a proper mix of micronutrients. By consuming a variety of foods from all the food groups, these nutrients can all work together to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cognitive decline.
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