Eat Yourself Smarter with The Ketoflex 12:3 Diet
A quick Google search of “foods for boosting brain health” will bring up dozens of articles, such as this one, listing specific foods with brain-boosting potential based on their nutrient including fatty fish, berries, broccoli, turmeric, dark chocolate, eggs and coffee (this list is far from exhaustive). But does the simple incorporation of these foods into your diet guarantee good results? Not necessarily, unless you actually follow certain nutritional principles that would ensure your physiology is moving in a certain (healthy) direction, instead of taking the high way to chronic disease and neurodegeneration.
While these principles apply to pretty much every health condition you may encounter, their relevance for brain health couldn’t be over-emphasised. Based on the latest brain research, we now know what makes the brain function at its highest capability (clue: it’s the same diet that prevents cognitive decline).
In this third instalment of our running series on Brain Health (you might want to check out the first and second article before), we introduce the principles of the “Ketoflex 12/3”. This is the diet that Dr Dale Bredesen, an internationally recognised expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, used to improve the brain health of his patients who had been recently diagnosed with various types of neurodegeneration. You shouldn’t wait for a diagnosis however: the ultimate goal of medicine is to prevent disease conditions and this diet works wonders in this respect, as well as enhancing overall cognition, creativity, productivity and all other functions the brain is responsible for. So, if you think you’re smart already, watch yourself becoming smarter and smarter and be in awe at the amazing capacity of the brain to regenerate.
Without further ado, here are the core principles of a brain-boosting diet:
This is what the first part of the Ketoflex 12/3 refers to. Ketosis is a normal process that happens when, instead of using carbs for fuel, your body turns to burning fat, a process in which your liver makes substances called ketones (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone) and uses these as its primary source of fuel instead of glucose.
Study after study shows that mild ketosis is optimal for cognitive function: beta-hydroxybutyrate increases production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a very important molecule that supports neuron and synapse-formation, among other effects.
To achieve mild ketosis, you need to combine a low-carb diet with fasting for at least 12 hours a day (the “12” in Ketoflex 12/3 refers to this 12h overnight fast) and moderate exercise (at least 150 min per week of brisk walking or something more vigorous such as High Intensity Interval Training).
Going back to the dietary principles, a low-carb diet implies the elimination of simple carbs, (e.g. sugars, breads, white potatoes, white rice, soft drinks, alcohol, candy, cakes and processed foods) and the incorporation of MCT oil (medium-chain triglyceride oil, such as the main oil in coconut butter), monounsaturated oils such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. This should be enough to switch your metabolism from carbohydrate-burning and insulin-resistant, which promotes brain degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease, to fat-burning and insulin-sensitive, which helps prevent it and keeps your brain in tip-top condition.
This what the “flex” in Ketoflex 12/3 refers to. This is a largely plant-based diet with an emphasis on vegetables, especially non-starchy ones. A combination of uncooked (fresh salads) and cooked vegetables would be ideal, with a focus on including as many colours as possible, from deep-green to bright yellow and orange. This is not to satisfy a certain aesthetic sense but in order to take in a whole array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals – natural chemicals that help protect plants from germs, bugs, the sun’s harmful rays, and other threats. These have enormous healing powers and since each color is caused by specific phytonutrients (each color indicates an abundance of specific nutrients), it makes sense to include all of them.
On this diet, a medium amount of protein from wild-caught fish, free-range poultry and grass-fed meat is fine, but meat is actually treated as a condiment, not a main course. This means you should limit your consumption of meat to 50-70g per day, depending on your weight and digestive and absorptive capacity (one rule of thumb is to consume 1g of protein for each kg of your weight. 100g of fish contains about 16-20g of protein.) If we eat more than the recommended amount, there will be some conversion to carbohydrates, which may rise blood glucose and insulin levels and contribute to insulin resistance — the very process we are trying to reverse.
Quality is equally not even more important: no conventionally-raised meets or farmed fish on this diet due to the high amount of toxins (endocrine-disruptors such as traces of hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals) these contain.
This is what the “12” part in Ketoflex 12/3 refers to. Fasting for 12 hours (up to 16 hours) promotes autophagy, a key cellular mechanism by which cells (every body cell, including neurons) destroy their own damaged proteins and mitochondria and recycle them. This mechanism is essential to renewal, regeneration and healing. At the same time fasting induces ketosis by depleting the liver’s stores of glycogen (a storage form of glucose). This in turn improves insulin sensitivity and enhances cognition.
Individuals with the ApoE4 genotype should aim for a 14-16h overnight fast, which may sound more unfeasible than it is: if you finish dinner at 8pm, you should simply hold breakfast until at least 10am the following day.
As part of the fasting routine, the “3” in Ketoflex 12/3 is there to remind you to leave a minimum of 3 hours between the end of dinner and bedtime. This will keep your insulin level from spiking before bedtime, since this will run counter to the goal of achieving greater insulin sensitivity and it will also inhibit melatonin and growth hormone, which aid in inducing sleep, enhancing immune function, enabling repair, etc (growth hormone is your body’s main anti-ageing molecule).
The Ketoflex 12/3 diet will also help prevent gut permeability and optimise your microbiome, another two key areas that need addressing for optimal brain health. A leaky gut will eventually lead to a “leaky brain” — which is a state where food molecules that shouldn’t be allow to pass the blood-brain barrier actually seep in and trigger a lot of inflammation in the brain, activating the glia cells and giving you the nasty symptoms of brain fog. This is why most people should avoid gluten, dairy and other foods which they know they are sensitive and may contribute to leaky gut. Once the gut is healed, probiotic and prebiotic foods can be introduced to balance the microbiome and increase microbial diversity – one of the key features of a healthy gut, which in turn is one of the key requirements for a healthy brain.