Will Eating Carbs Lead to Alzheimer’s?

Do Carbs Cause Alzheimer's

There’s a seemingly endless stream of advice on what to eat or NOT to eat to be healthy. Whose advice should we follow? And when it comes to brain health, what should we be eating? There are some interesting new perspectives on this. As usual, they’re controversial but well worth exploring.

Why Carbs Are Dangerous

The groundbreaking new book The Grain Brain  by esteemed neuroscientist, Dr. David Perlmutter MD, has shattered some previous notions about what we’ve long perceived as ‘healthy’ foods. Whole grains, specifically, are just as bad for us as white bread. As we know, foods that are high in carbs cause our blood sugar to spike.  This spike causes inflammation in the body. And inflammation is our enemy.

As Dr. Oz asserts – in no uncertain terms – on his October 21st  show featuring Dr. Perlmutter, it’s ‘what causes us to die from heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.’

The bottom line is that carbohydrates cause this dangerous inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the body causes disease. Dr. Perlmutter’s solution: By not eating carbohydrates, we can protect our brains.

But what about the damage that’s already been done? Most of us have been eating whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other complex carbs our whole lives. According to Dr. Perlmutter, the damage can actually be reversed. Just like a New England Journal of Medicine study from earlier this year concluded: a smoker who decides to quit by age 40 reduces the risk of death associated with continued smoking by about 90%; there’s good news for our brains, too.

According to Perlmutter and Oz, we are in control of this damage. But how?

Always Feed Your Brain First

The brain has plasticity which means it can heal itself. This is a very good thing. In order to feed our brains, we must think of it first.

We say that the foods we consume nourish our bodies — and they do. But our first, most important, consideration really needs to be our brain. We need to be asking ‘Will this food benefit my brain? Will this food hurt my brain?’ If we pause and ask this about every item we put into our bodies, we will eat better. We will eat more consciously. And we will eat smarter.

According to Perlmutter’s assertion, the brain absolutely requires fats such as butter, olive oil and coconut butter. Not unlike the ketogenic or Atkins diets, Perlmutter bases his solution around what works to keep inflammation and, therefore, disease, at bay.

It’s no mistake that obesity and diabetes are at an all time high today. The foods we are consuming are causing us to be sick. Perlmutter’s answer: avoid carbs and eat healthy fats that return our brains and bodies to where they need to be.

What brain-healthy foods will you be eating today? Will you make sure to ask “Is this good for my brain?” before you eat it? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

More Articles:

Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • julie pearson

    the more I eat organic vegetables, good oils, and fruit the less I want carbs…

    • HLTGRP

      Try eating like that and actually going to the gym 3 times a week. By midway through the first workout you’ll be so depleted of strength and energy that you’ll want to go home. Forget lifting weights or running for 30 minutes.

      • NW

        That’s really not true. I eat very few carbohydrates and still manage to maintain a healthy active lifestyle (gym multiple times a week, consistent gains in strength/endurance etc.) Carbohydrates are not the only good source of energy.

      • grayman9

        i spent 18 years on the cattle ranch and 20+ years in a tier 1 unit in the military … both working my butt of (ranching) and in the military ( also in the gym everyday), and then another few years after military retirement working manual labor jobs … all while continuing to work out in the weight room and running a minimum of 3 miles a day, often a 10 mile run on friday (in 60 minutes).
        and i ate a high fat/protein diet the entire time.
        i am currently close to 60 years old and have no medical problems … none.
        and that is after breaking my pelvis in 4 places in a helicopter wreck while in the military in 1985. (and continues military for 14 more years)

      • SarahMorrow

        HLTGRP – If you feel that way, it’s likely because you’re running on glucose and glucogen. So when you run out of glucogen you feel exhausted. If you eat a ketogenic diet and switch over to running your body and brain on ketones, you’ll find that you don’t miss carbs.

  • Planet_Zero

    What’s healthy today is poison tomorrow. I don’t think the medical field has nutrition down to a science just yet. Surely we have been eating wheat and oats for a long, long time. Now we’re supposed to eat fats and whole grain is bad? I think I’ll just try and not eat too much junk food.

    • dave

      ” I think I’ll just try and not eat too much junk food.” GOOD – remember when they talk about fat, they mean good vegetable fat, olive oil avocado, and fish oil — small portions

    • Roy Walker

      Planet_zero, we have been eating meat and fat as long as we have been human, it is only since the 1950’s that fat and meat has been scorned.sugar in all its forms + fat is a new way of eating, especially in the quantities we are eating them, and that is a sure way to cause illness, type 2 diabetes is the new rampant illness, when I was young it was called sugar diabetes. Eat a medium amount of protein, 1 gram for every 1LB of lean body weight, eat starchy vegetables, up to 130 grams max, eat 65-80% of your daily calories, as mono, and saturated fats, with some omega 3 fish oils or oily fish, steer clear of seed oils, high in omega 6. Good oils are virgin olive, and avocado oils, all animal fats, and virgin coconut oil. Cheers. This is my WOE, and I am 68 years young, I am hardly ever ill, have good bloods, and am strong and fit. I am the only one left of my family of 6, who all died of cancer and 1 of heart disease, they all ate a mixed diet. Cheers.

      • Don

        Roy, you’re on the right track but Avocado oil is very high in Omega 6 as are poultry fats.

  • IslandGal52

    If you read “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis you’ll see how they genetically re-engineered the wheat we eat today without testing long term effects. So what used to be good, is now causing gastrointestinal problems like never before. Highly recommend the book.

    • Michael Gaines

      The proof comes from scientific studies of patients studied suffering from heart, brain, and endocrine disease & obesity. These conditions make a body at the cellular level inflamed. Science can see the damage of the inflammation in our blood vessels & other organs. Patients under study are interviewed & can be analyzed to find common denominators or contributions from diet that have between found cause inflammation. Sugars raw or in form of carbohydrates are know initiators especially those lacking high levels of fiber. The closer the food has 50/50 balance in fiber to sugar the safer the food option is. So if a food has 10 grand of carbs it would benefit you best to pick a food that has at least 5 grams of fiber or more. Most dark green veggies achieve this. Processed foods are normally not only high in carbs & low in fiber but they have been so processed that once they hit your tongue you immediately see a sharp spike in glucose which are always followed by huge spikes of insulin to regulate your sugar level… This battle between eating high carbs leads to inflammation, and over time we can ask see and witness this cycle in friends, family & neighbors… Clearly the evidence here is now over whelming…

      • HLTGRP

        You cant lump wheats in with potatoes and every other type of carb. This isn’t about just sugar when you bring up wheats. Wheat proteins and gluten have been proven to cause inflammation of the gut, and cause inflammatory reactions through the whole body, including the brain. The immune system. And more. Wheat is a whole other animal when it comes to inflammation, and this is why I avoid all wheat products and gluten. I do not however avoid every single carb on earth. White skinned potatoes or sweet potatoes are not the same as downing a loaf of brown bread.

        • Apoorva Juneja

          Thanks HLTGRP, your advice is absolutely solid. I have been highly suspicious of engineered wheat products following my research, and I absolutely agree with you. Engineered wheat and gluten are the cause of this inflammation, but they cannot be lumped together with all carbs.

          Organic potatoes and rice are healthier options. The food industry is attempting to blame all carbs for the effects of engineered wheat, but human consumption of complex carbs are essential through the history of our evolution. It is why carbs are a “comfort food,” and our bodies have evolved around their consumption.

          Engineered wheat and gluten are the underlying source of our broken diet in America, and I have never witnessed as much brain damage in rice-based diets from other cultures, such as Japan and India.

          • Lygeia

            Actually, rice is high in arsenic. It isn’t good either.

  • GW

    Where is the scientific proof – the studies that demonstrate that good carbs are bad. Just because you’ve written a book doesn’t prove anything. It is a hypothesis. We know how many ideas get shot down all the time. And -Dr Oz is a huckster. Check out his testimony before Congress.

  • mike

    I’d like to know HOW carbs damage the brain, what is the science behind the doctor’s theory? But frankly, I’m too lazy to read the whole book.

    • HLTGRP

      Well we know that excess sugar causes all this damage. So they’re taking it a step further and saying that anything that *converts* to sugar in the body does the same damage to the body and brain. What’s left out of this equation is the fact that the brain, muscles, nerves, and organs NEED sugar to operate. A more rational approach would be to intake only the amount you need based on how active your lifestyle is. Obviously you’re not downing ice cream. But I fail to see the harm in skinned white or sweet potatoes. Even rice, if you are a very active person. Just my opinion.

      • Roy Walker

        HLTGRP, The body is able to make the amount of glucose needed for the brain from fats and protein, whilst the rest of the body can operate on ketones, once your body adapts to burning ketones. ketones burn cleaner than glucose by the way.
        This brain glucose need is the main reason that registered dietitians insist on keeping alive the myth that carbohydrates are essential nutrients (meaning we have to eat them or we will die). This is incorrect, biochemically speaking. RDs teaching that carbs are essential neglect to take into account that the brain can use ketones for over half of its fuel requirements once carbohydrate intake is lowered and ketone production ramps up to full production. The process of gluconeogenesis can make all the glucose the brain needs, once the body is keto-adapted (good at burning ketones for fuel). So although glucose is essential for the brain, eating carbohydrates to make glucose is NOT essential, especially if you are in ketosis.

    • dave

      I read the book. I think I did. Not sure I remember, where’s that sandwich?


    How are you supposed to live life without eating carbs? I love all these articles that say to stop eating carbs, but dont address the fact that your body will literally waste away into a weak, frail mess if you follow that advice. And forget exercise, one of the most important elements for disease prevention. Because you won’t have an ounce of energy to do it. Something is missing from this equation and I have yet to hear someone with a rational approach address it. And no – eating lots of veggies or healthy fats doesn’t provide the amount nor type of carbs your body needs for an active lifestyle. Sorry. That is complete nonsense.

  • Donna

    As a wellness coach, I have studied how processed foods affect the body. Processed foods in any form should not play a role in our daily diet. Sticking to a whole foods diet will not only give you clarity of mind but will help with the waist as well. Personally I don’t think that any whole food should be eliminated from our diet, we should eat all in moderation. I also recommend reading “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis. Great information

  • Cee

    The nutritional debate goes on and on. Often the food choices offered by the manufactures, consists of ingredients that are bad for our health, yet, out of habit and acquired taste, we continue to consume them. Even if you are a label reader and only buy quality foods for home, you can be sure that your favorite restaurants are serving hormone laden, antibiotic grain fed meats, and chemically grown vegetables, prepared with unhealthy oils. You won’t be seeing organic anything on their menus. Yes, the cards are stacked against healthy eating. Maybe, we need to focus not so much on studies, but common sense and only consume whole foods, organic as much as possible, that includes dairy products, eggs, grass-fed meats and fresh vegetables. The goal is to eliminate contaminated, chemical laden, factory foods from our diet. The accompanying food chart with this article regarding foods that may induce memory loss applies not just to Alzheimer disease, but to all disease.

  • Robert Goidel

    Interesting, that for over 5,000 years, man has cultivated wheat and converted it into flour for bread making. Now, with GMO wheat, I guess the possibility of negative side effects may exist. Can buying only Genuine ORGANIC bread can avert this possibility of damage to the brain?

  • Bill Cenne

    my mom used lard to cook, had real butter on everything, used mayo all the time, used cream and drank whole milk, ate un-cured bacon called side pork or fat-back, and rounded out her diet with fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. And she finished off every meal with a cigarette or two for over 60 years.

    She died form Alzheimers at 84 years old.

  • MrReally

    The whole health/medical industry never tires of telling us that we are unhealthy, while constantly telling us what we need to do about it and simultaneously saying why those solutions won’t work. It also appears that those who evangelise the most about the over-weight are the ones who have no weight problems themselves.

  • dave

    My mother had a theory about what she used to call “starches” (bread, potatoes, pasta, rice). Her theory was “Don’t eat too much”

  • Oola

    People in various Blue Zones, where many members live to 90 or older without degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s tend NOT to eat the saturated fats Perlmutter recommends and DO eat grain, potatoes, and such and very little beef. And the MIND diet recommends against beef more than four times a week, butter just once a week, the same with cheese, and whole grains EVERY DAY. Unfortunately, the stakes are pretty high. I wonder who’s right?

    • Valerie

      I think the trouble is the way we analyse dietary factors. For example, if someone eats a lot of beef (say) and has health problems the blame goes on the “saturated fat” element rather than any other aspect of the beef (or the accompanying diet). Recent research suggests that saturated fat per se is not the problem. Salmon, for example, is high in saturated fat but you rarely hear anyone say “don’t eat salmon, it’s got saturated fat in it.

  • Nancy

    I’ve found this information very helpful as all three of the people I’ve been close to who have/had some form of dementia ate far more than the normal amounts of sugar/sweets. For example, my grandmother would eat sugar out of the bowl if there was nothing else available.

  • Tammy Rouse

    It his is all good in theory but it takes carbs to help us heal from wounds and injuries I know this for a fact from massive research when my mother in law had open heart surgery and the cut where they opened her up would not heal due to her diabetes so they did a skin flap it looked like an abrasion at first within a few months she had a hole there large enough to put a professional football inside it so I did research and told her she needed carbs she tried my advice the hole kept getting smaller and smaller it took 6 months but it is nothing more than scar tissue now so maybe we need to cut down on carbs that is definitely a good idea but NOT CUT THEM OUT ALL TOGE

  • Mimi

    I give up. I really do. I’m so tired of this shit. I just want true answers. How am I supposed to eat? High protein low carb? High carb low protein. WTF I’m so annoyed right now.

    • Don

      I’ve read hundreds of good double blind scientific studies at this point and I’m convinced that most people will do very, very well by eliminating all the high Omega 6 oils (almost every vegetable oil) and high fructose corn syrup.
      All the diets (medeterainian, high fat/low carb etc) that are succesful lifestyle diets have this in common.

    • Mimi, stick with drFuhrman.com I know one wants to throw up their hands in desperation at the apparently conflicting advice but he is solid, careful and conservative. Scientific studies only, no hype. And if his advice ever so slighty changes here and there (as it does) it is because of new findings. It is also tasty, simple to follow and has completely turned my wellbeing around. I am an athlete, lift weights more energy than ever.

  • Rich

    Are there any peer reviewed studies supporting the idea that carbs can damage the brain?

  • J D

    David Perlmutter is hardly an esteemed scientist worth referring to. Grain Brain is one of many books capitalizing on peoples’ lack of nutrition education. You should know something is up when he asserts that whole grains will lead to Alzheimer’s disease and that you should be eating more highly saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. This website does a disservice to its readers by trying to give his fringe views merit.

  • Laurie conrad
    • Laurie conrad

      Perlmutter is a quack.

  • Muni_Corp_Citizen

    Don’t forget animal fats. Properly sourced (i.e. non-factory/non-processed) animal fats are beneficial to the human diet. (Cavities can be cured naturally by restricting grains and sugar). It is very difficult to restrict carbohydrates if they are not replaced with fat and there’s only so much coconut, olive oil and avocados oil to be had. There are three macro-nutrients, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Protein cannot be the macro-nutrient to replace carbohydrates.

  • Donald Morgan

    I stumbled onto the Atkin’s Diet in the late 90’s and used it off and on without reading the book. Because of not paying attention I ended up with a heart attack in 2001 and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010. Staying the last 5 years with a strict low carb high fat diet I have managed to lose over 70 lbs and kept it off . I’ve shed 13 different medications, my A1C has gone from 12.4 to 5.4, blood glucose from 499 to 84. The results of my recent blood tests showed 92 LDL, 34 Triglycerides, and 52 HDL all without any medications. The ketogenic diet is the way we are suppose to eat. when you are born you’re in ketosis and when you die you should go out that way. Leave the grains to the geese and the banana’s to the monkey’s. We are now finally starting to realize that since the early 50’s when the low fat diet was first introduced, that it’s the main cause of our healthcare catastrophe in this country. For the very first time the American Diabetes Association has acknowledged the ketogenic diet and actually admitted the low fat diet doe’s not work in fact the said it actually contributed to keeping American’s sick!

    • Sam

      You are correct. I’m 64 years old and have been low-carb for a few years, with excellent results. It could be several more years before the medical establishment abandons the low-fat BS.

  • Donald Morgan

    Good job Sam, spread the word!

  • Tom

    I realize this is a few years old, but what a poor article. His thesis is wrong because he advocates the consumption of saturated fat? You realize that is what our ancestors always ate, right? We’ve only been eating grain for around .5% of our existence as a species. One is much, much, much more likely to be safer than the other.

  • bgreen2266

    Refined Carbs not the incidental carbs associated with consumption of leafy green vegetables

About The Author

Profile photo of Jessica Gwinn