Ketosis 101: Can Your Brain Perform Without Carbs?

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Conveniently download this 62-page Science Report. Contains links to extra reading materials and scientific references.

Intellectual activities, like reading and learning, call for your concentration and your brain-processing power, so you can decode sentences, recall previously-learned concepts, build new associations, make sense of things, and store freshly-learnt data.

All of this requires the use of your brain’s complex neural networks. In fact, the speed and sharpness of your neural circuitry is highly dependent on your blood’s glucose supply.

But, with so many of us trying to minimise refined sugar as much as we can (or even cutting out carbohydrates completely!), might our intellectual performance, our focus, and our brain-processing speed suffer as a result?

No carbs, no glucose, no brain power?

Or can we actually get all our energy needs from fat alone?

Might ketosis affect how your brain works in the absence of carbs?

And, is there any evidence that ketogenic diets are bad for your brain?

In this report, we bring you the latest science on ketosis, and ketogenic diets, to find out!

Grab “Ketosis 101: Can Your Brain Perform Without Carbs?”  below:


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Conveniently download this 62-page Science Report. Contains links to extra reading materials and scientific references.

Topics covered in this report:

  1. No glucose, no intellectual power?
  2. The Keto-craze
  3. Keto-good or Keto-bad?
  4. What are ketones?
  5. Room for thought, not fuel
  6. A hungry glucose eater
  7. Ketones to the rescue!
  8. Figure: Process of Ketogenesis
  9. Going low-carb
  10. The target: Ketosis
  11. Other keto-uses
  12. Do brains really need carbs?
  13. A more efficient fuel
  14. Mitochondrial efficiency
  15. Enzymes and energy
  16. Are there other benefits?
  17. A history of therapy
  18. Treating epilepsy
  19. The role of metabolic mechanisms
  20. Ketones = brain therapy?
  21. Figure: Therapeutic Research
  22. It’s all about energy production
  23. Ketosis and neuro-protection
  24. Is it safe for everyone?
  25. Ketosis and glucose intolerance
  26. The jury is still out
  27. What about learning and memory?
  28. Comparing calories and diets
  29. Did they spot any difference?
  30. Ketosis on cognitive performance
  31. Are animal studies representative?
  32. There are some human studies too
  33. Figure: Brain Development Research
  34. Open to interpretation
  35. Higher-order mental processes
  36. Short-term or long-term?
  37. It’s good news for keto-fans!
  38. Do keto-diets make you moody?
  39. Study design
  40. Mood states, confusion and lucidity
  41. What about mental concentration?
  42. A multitude of influences
  43. Your key takeaways
  44. Learn more
  45. References and resources


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Alex Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. She is a Harvard-trained scientific researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups every other Thursday.
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  • Philip Watling

    Reply Reply December 24, 2015

    Yes of course we need carbs. We need fat and we need protein too. The other food groups: vitamins, minerals – and water – we also need all of those. How much though? Modern, ‘processed’, man has been here for a few hundred years. Before that we mainly ate the ‘caveman diet’. For tens of thousands of years we ate a diet based on simple food: unadulterated meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and water. For much of this time there was no real alcohol and until 3,000 years ago we didn’t even have bread – the first ‘processed’ food. Bread in those days was nothing like it is today either, with all the goodness striped out of it and pumped full of chemicals to make it last longer!

    Then, in the last 100 or so years someone decided fat was bad: took it out and replaced it with sugar (carbs). Sugar is good, sugar is healthy, we like sugar – of course we do… Sugar gives our brains a sugar hit (the sugar rush), as it is full of energy and our brains crave energy. Of course in ‘the wild’ there isn’t much sugar. Your caveman got it from bees and they can kill! The lengths we would go to get it, until came farming and we could grow sugar. Now it is everywhere and we eat much more than we should and what does the body do with excess sugar? It converts it to fat and stores it for the lean times, which now never happen. When it can store no more? It swills around in the blood giving off free radicals that destroy cells and eventually causing diabetes.

    Then comes Dr Atkins and his understanding of ketosis and yes, it works. Cut out all carbs and the body will use the stored fat as a fuel source rather than carbs in the diet. I think it’s one of the few diets that does work, but it’s all or nothing. After the carb purge and before the final stage when small amounts of carbs can be re-introduced, when waiting for ketosis to kick in, the dieter is one bun away from destroying all that hard work and having to start the diet again from stage one.

    Yes, the Atkin’s diet does work, but it in non-sustainable. We need carbs just as much as we need any other food group. Moderation is the key and eat lots of fruit and vegetables (both are carbs!). I’m a fine one to talk though: I eat too many pretzels, but Mr Pretzel does keep giving them to me free! However, I do try and go for the savoury pretzels rather than the cinnamon and sugar.

    • Emmie H.

      Reply Reply December 31, 2015

      You summed it up well, Mr. Pretzel. I enjoyed reading your comment!

  • Philip Watling

    Reply Reply January 6, 2016

    Well I am an author, Emmie, and love playing with words :)

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