Does Your Brain Require Dietary Carbs To Function?

When does a brain get afraid?
When it loses its nerve.

Think back to the time you first started eating a ketogenic diet. During the first few weeks, whether or not you were preaching the benefits to your friends, you were just bound to run into some stupid, uninformed comment from a rude ignoramus.


“eye bet ur artereez r sew clogged”

“all f00d iz helthy in mawderashun tehehehehe”

I am willing to bet that you have heard all these three comments. If you are not on the keto diet and never were, I can guarantee that if you start now, you WILL hear these exact comments. They will probably even be spelled the same way, as such ignorance and stupidity can only come from those with the lowest IQ scores.

When I started keto a year ago, it was phenomenal. I lost 25 pounds in two months by eating butter-fried eggs and pounds upon pounds of bacon. My skin was the clearest it had ever been, and according to various elderly women, I was “glowing”.

In addition to the various physical benefits of intermittent fasting and keto, I was also the recipient of a TREMENDOUS boost in energy levels. I was more motivated, productive, upbeat, friendly, and had a much more consistent energy level throughout the day. Within a few weeks, people were starting to take notice of the changes that were happening to me. One person in particular noticed these changes, and what followed was an exchange that I will remember for the rest of my life, simply because it was so stupid that it will remind you of the dumbest anti-keto critics you’ve ever heard.

What was so STRIKING about the conversation was that I couldn’t believe it was coming from the mouth of someone with a perceived “authority” on nutrition. My employer employs a dietitian. We had always been extremely cordial and polite with one another, so I wasn’t expecting this certain kind of spat to occur.

She mentioned I was looking healthy and it led me to ask “So what do you think of the keto diet?”

She glared at me like I asked her to kill her mother. Such a sudden, dejecting look of disappointment.

“I hate it. Dietitians hate the keto diet because the high amounts of fat you eat will clog your arteries and you’ll have a heart attack and die. Also, your brain requires dietary carbs to run, so if you don’t eat carbs you’ll lose brain function.”

I was obviously immediately taken aback by such a rude and condescending comment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly in the right social situation where I could correct her and start an argument, so I shrugged it off and changed the topic. Of course, when I got home that day, I had to hit up Mr. Google to gather some ammo for the next time we would cross paths.

As you can probably tell from my previous blog posts, scientific research is my jam. I wasn’t looking for opinions from soccer moms and hipsters, I wanted cold, hard evidence to back up my way of eating and lifestyle. So I found this interesting passage from a textbook that claims each organ has a unique metabolic profile.

So you’re telling me that the kidneys, liver, heart, brain, use very different fuels to meet their energy needs? I found that fascinating. I was also scared that Mrs. Dietitian Lady was right. According to this biochemistry textbook, the brain requires a constant supply of glucose to function; approximately 120g of it per day. The textbook also claims that in the process of starvation, ketone bodies created by the liver only partially replace glucose as fuel for the brain.

WTF? So according to this book, which was written by what I assume were fairly intelligent folks, I was STARVING myself by eating a low-carb, high-fat diet? That didn’t make any sense. I didn’t think that starvation was accompanied by higher levels of energy and a greater sense of well being. I kept reading.

Later on in that same section, the book made the statement: “The liver can produce glucose for release into the blood by breaking down its store of glycogen and by carrying out gluconeogenesis.” Interesting, but what is “gluconeogenesis”?

If you want to read the fancy-pants super-science lingo, this source is amazing: The Chemical Logic Behind Gluconeogenesis. But what essentially happens is that when your body is deprived of carbohydrates, your liver can actually generate glucose from the breakdown of PROTEINS (amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, etc.) and LIPIDS (such as triglycerides).

Say what? I can actually keep eating steak for every meal and not worry about my brain losing function? All these amino acids found in my steak can be converted into the glucose my brain needs? I don’t need to eat carbs to fend off the starvation of my organs?

Not so fast. What about the issue of the quality of the fuel? Will I suffer any consequences if perhaps ketone bodies are an inferior source of fuel for my brain?


Betahydroxybutrate, one of the common ketone bodies produced by the liver, is actually MORE efficient than glucose, as it can carry more energy per unit of oxygen used. Lots of studies are compiled in this excellent Scientific American article which detail how the ketogenic diet is protective of various types of brain ailments. Eat that, Mrs. Dietitian Lady!

Learning this information was vital in my understanding that certain titles and authority people have often mean precisely jack shit. Once you start doing your own research, you learn to be skeptical of everyone who tries to tell you the proper way to eat. Remember, vegetables can also cause cancer, as well as digestive issues like Crohn’s disease and IBS.

Everything we’ve been taught about healthy eating is wrong, and we’re just now revealing the truth after being blinded for so long!

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