Carbohydrates – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

In a previous article, Carbohydrates & Your Brain, we shared that consuming more fat and vegetables, and less carbohydrate is an important way to fuel your brain. But what exactly does this look like in action?

First, a review:

Carbohydrates are found in grains and anything made with grain flour, starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, beans, lentils, and sugar. Carbohydrates are digested into glucose and move into the bloodstream, triggering a rise in insulin levels. Elevated glucose and insulin levels are both risk factors for cognitive decline.

Now for the guidelines:

1. The more processed a carbohydrate is, the more it will increase your glucose and insulin levels. So, choose minimally processed carbohydrates, to minimize glucose and insulin elevations. Choose carbohydrates with the least amount of processing possible – fresh fruit, sweet potatos, rice, or quinoa – instead of their processed counterparts, such as fruit juice, bread, pasta, or other baked goods. Even something like whole wheat bread or rice cakes are highly processed and will not be kind to your blood sugar levels.
2. The larger the portion size of your carbohydrate, the more it will increase your glucose and insulin levels. Aim to limit carbohydrate servings to no more that ½-1 cup per meal or snack.
3. Consume your carbohydrates with a good source of fat or protein to minimize glucose and insulin elevations. Good options include: olive oil, nuts, nut butter, avocado, eggs, and fish.
4. Consume as little added sugar as possible. Sugar has the strongest effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, so try to avoid soda and other sweetened beverages and limit the sugar you consume from desserts, candy, ice cream, etc. If you are looking to add a little sweetness to a dish, choose small amounts of honey, maple syrup, or stevia.

What are the best carbohydrates to eat?

• Fruit, especially berries, is a lower-carbohydrate and brain-healthy choice. Enjoy organic berries in the summer and frozen organic berries the rest of the year. Other good low-carbohydrate options include: apples, pears, citrus, and stone fruits. Limit high sugar fruits like grapes, bananas, and tropical fruits
• Starchy vegetables, especially darker pigmented options like sweet potatoes or purple potatoes, have more nutrients than lighter varieties. Starchy vegetables feed your healthy gut bacteria and don’t raise your blood glucose levels as much as some other carbohydrates
• Choose “single ingredient” whole grains, like quinoa, rice, or oats. These options have more fiber and protein than processed grain products like bread, crackers, or pasta and will keep you satisfied for longer.

For more information on how diet and other lifestyle factors affect cognitive health, visit

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