I'll take grains for my brain

by Kellie Dye

As long as I have been a dietitian it never ceases to amaze me that carbohydrates continue to receive a bad rap. First carbohydrates caused weight gain; then carbohydrates were blamed for causing diabetes.

Not too long ago carbohydrates containing gluten (wheat, rye and barley) were to blame for a host of various ailments. Only 1 percent of the population must avoid gluten due to Celiac Disease. Another very small percentage of the population is gluten intolerant.

Unfortunately a gluten-free diet has become a popular fad diet with many people adhering to it when they have no need to. The very latest anti-carbohydrate diet is based upon a theory that a diet containing grains (even healthy whole grains) can promote degeneration of the brain and lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Here we go again.

This is my attempt to set the record straight on a few carbohydrate myths and urban legends. Eating carbohydrates does not cause weight gain. Eating too many calories causes weight gain. Eating carbohydrates does not cause diabetes. Lifestyle factors that promote the onset of diabetes include overweight and obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. There have been multiple studies indicating that a diet containing whole grains can help to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

As for the health of your brain, there are dietary measures you can take to protect your brain as you age.

If you have diabetes, blood sugar control is the key to protecting your brain against dementia and risk of stroke. Both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) are bad for your brain.

Avoid added sugars and sweets. Too much sugar in the diet promotes inflammation, which is not good for your brain. A diet containing whole grains, however, is beneficial for preventing heart disease. Any dietary measure that protects against heart disease also protects your brain.

Berries also have brain protective qualities. Most studies have been done on blueberries, however all berries are good. Berries are carbohydrates! Eat them for your brain.

Omega-3 foods are essential for brain function. Aim for fish 2-3 times per week. Fish that contain the most omega-3 include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, halibut and albacore tuna.

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of vitamin E. Studies on vitamin E supplement pills have been shown to have NO protective health effects. Diets that contain foods high in vitamin E can help to prevent cognitive decline. Eat your vitamin E foods and avoid the supplements.

Beans can help to stabilize blood sugar. Beans such as black beans, pinto beans, lentils and many more are ideal brain food. Beans are carbohydrates — eat them! They are full of too many vitamins and minerals to even mention. They are also a great source of cholesterol lowering fiber.

Other foods that have been shown to protect your brain include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and curcumin, which is a substance of the spice turmeric found in many curry powders. 


Kellie Dye, a registered and licensed dietitian, is the wellness coordinator at the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center. Send your diet and nutrition questions to Kellie at [email protected]. Frequently asked and pertinent questions will be addressed in future articles in 501 LIFE.