This research piece led by Prof Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi at Stony Brook University, caught my attention today. I welcome any kind of distraction as I prepare for my Ketogenic Nutrition exam in less than a week. Yikes!  

Are calories created equal? It depends on what we’re talking about.

If I say, calories from different food source SHOULD NOT be viewed the same. It depends on the CONTEXT. I think children; teens and most adults in their 20s and early 30s (if you’re lucky ) tend to have a normal glucose metabolism. This means that when you consume a high sugar, high carb diet, your insulin is able to respond efficiently; normalise your blood sugar quickly and use glucose effectively as energy. At the ages suggested above, you feel almost “invincible”, you can eat whatever you want and still feel and look the same. 

However, this changes as we get into our late 30s and 40s and certainly in the subgroup of people with neurodegenerative conditions:

  • The brain becomes less efficient in using glucose as energy or fuel. 
  • In addition, our insulin tends to be more dysregulated (hyperinsulinemia). This could lead to other health problems. 

“The bad news is that we see the first signs of brain aging much earlier than was previously thought. However, the good news is that we may be able to prevent or reverse these effects with diet, mitigating the impact of encroaching hypometabolism by exchanging glucose for ketones as fuel for neurons.”

Prof Mujica-Parodi, Stony Brook University

This is where a low carb, moderate protein and high fat diet (aka ketogenic diet or modified Atkin diet) maybe useful. By the way, low carb means less than 50g of total carbs. Again context is really important. If you’re an athlete, you might be able to tolerate more carbs. But that’s another discussion for another time. 

When you eat this way, your body will start to make and use ketones as fuel source. Of course at no stage that your body doesn’t use glucose. You’re dual fuelled, you’ve “trained” your body to use ketones. 

This is why when people (me included) go on a ketogenic diet or taking ketone supplements, they often report having a better mental clarity…because brain is getting ketones as fuel. 

“Additional findings from the study included the following: Effects of brain aging emerged at age 47, with most rapid degeneration occurring at age 60. Even in younger adults, under age 50, dietary ketosis (whether achieved after one week of dietary change or 30 minutes after drinking ketones) increased overall brain activity and stabilized functional networks. This is thought to be due to the fact that ketones provide greater energy to cells than glucose, even when the fuels are calorically matched.”

Prof Mujica-Parodi, Stony Brook University