Grain Brain by David Perlmutter discusses the negative effects that grain causes on our bodies and our minds.
The results have been somewhat controversial when generalized to the whole population.
- Too many carbs can cause brain damage
- Carbs cause inflammation
- Too many people are oblivious to the dangers of carbs and gluten
Inflammation is the consequence of our body fighting a stressful occurrence.
It might be a sprained ankle, or a bug bite, for example. Our body responds by defending itself from something it perceives as harmful and dangerous.
Inflammation and sometimes swelling or pain, is the consequence of our body’s fight.
The bad news is that our body produces toxic chemicals to fight the irritants, and if the inflammation persists the chemicals can keep circulating in our blood stream, damaging otherwise healthy cells.
If the inflammation is persistent it can lead to chronic diseases in both the body and the brain, such as for example arterial diseases, ADHD, anxiety, migrane and also Alzheimer -a process called oxidative stress-.
And while oxidative stress occurs naturally, people with inflammation have unnaturally high levels of it.
Consuming too much sugar leads to overproduction of insulin in the bloodstream, which becomes an irritant and causes inflammation (more on it below).
Sugar and Diabetes
When we introduce too much sugar in our body our cells become desensitized to it. Our body produces even more insulin just to get the sugar into the cells, which in turns leads to even more desensitization.
This is exactly the type of vicious cycles that culminates in type 2 diabetes.
And it all starts with consuming too much carbohydrates, especially sugar.
Carbs contain gluten, which make some people allergic (celiac disease).
However, says David Perlmutter, it’s not just people with celiac diseases who are sensitive to gluten. From a neurological point of view, we all might be.
To begin with, gluten is addictive.
Gluten connects to the same receptors that connect with opioids and other sedative drugs.
You feel great when you eat a muffin or a donut and later on you will probably want more and salivate at the thought of it.
Gluten is the tobacco of our generation: everyone consumes too much of it without being aware of what it really does.
But what about whole-grain and other “healthy” wheat options? Even those can have negative effects on the body and brain.
No Carbs, Yes Fats
We can live quite well without carbs, but we can’t live without fats. Fats are essential to the well functioning of our metabolism.
My Note: I’m very not convinced by an argument saying that “we can live without”. We can live without a million things, but the question should always be: can we live better without it.
The author says that our body actually fundamentally needs a low-carb and high fat diet.
A study published in 2012 discovered that elderly people who regularly ate carbs were four times more likely to develop cognitive impairment -often considered a precursor to Alzheimer-. While those who regularly consumed healthy fats were 42% less like to develop those same cognitive impairment.
Cholesterol Isn’t Bad
Cholesterol also isn’t as bad as most us think it is.
It’s not true indeed that there is a correlation between high cholesterol and cardiac disorders, and high cholesterol foods don’t have an impact on our actual cholesterol levels.
Indeed when you artificially restrict cholesterol our body starts producing our own cholesterol to make up for the shortage.
And even then, a study examining 724 elderly people over a period of ten years found that those with high cholesterol were less likely to die from cancer and infections.
Fating is the latest craze in the self development world.
And it’s for good reasons, implies Perlmutter: fasting indeed boosts energy production and improves brain functioning.
Fasting also promotes weight loss. It encourages your body to burn fat -rather than gluclose- for fuel. And it usually burns ketones, a type of fat that’s critical for the brain and helps to make it function better. The process takes the name of ketogenesis.
You can also get similar effects by eating ketogenic fats, such as coconut oil.
Grain Brain Diet
- Healthy fat
- extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, almond milk, avocados, coconuts, olives, nuts & seeds, cheese (but no blue cheeses), and seeds
- whole eggs;
- wild fish (salmon, black cod, grouper,herring, trout, sardines);
- shellfish & molluscs (shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, clams, oysters);
- grass-fed meat, such poultry, fowl, pork, beef, lamb
- wild game
- lettuces, spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut, artichoke, green beans, celery, radishes, watercress, asparagus, garlic, parsley, leafy greens
- Low-sugar Fruit:
- avocado, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant, lemons
- Herbs & Condiments: as much as you want as long as you read the labels. But no ketchup
Avoid or reduce:
- Non-gluten grains:
- amaranth buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum
- beans, lentils, peas (but yes hummus)
- Whole fruits
- berries (the best) but little apricots, mangos, melons, papaya, pineapple and prunes
- Milk and cream:
- Cottage cheese, yogurt, and kefir
- Wine: no more than one glass a day, preferably red.
Grain Brain Criticism
Grain Brain has received quite some criticism by fellow scientists, nutritionists or health conscious individuals.
- Alex Ruani, scientist and UCL doctoral researcher
Ruani says Grain Brain generalizes too much.
For examples, it does not differentiate low-glycaemic carbohydrates and high-glycaemic ones. And it’s not a small difference: low glycaemic carbs such as spinach will not raise your blood level sugars and insulin.
Also, Perlmutter seems to write on the basis that most people are somewhat intolerant to gluten. This is not good science (only 13% are gluten-sensitive) and gluten-free diet also have adverse effects which can sometimes cause increases in inflammation, not decreases.
Levinovitz is not a doctor or researcher himself, so he focuses more on the personality.
That piece goes deep on the Perlmutter’s as a person. His past, his credentials, his claims, his connections and his marketing efforts -and is everything but complimentary-.
He says we don’t have reason to believe that gluten is bad for most post people.
And the diets who have most often shown to have good long term health outcomes do include whole grains and fruits.
And not nearly as many fats as Grain Brain proposes.
Less Drugs, Better Nutrition
I particularly liked of Grain Brain the idea of relying less on drugs and pills and more on taking care of our diet.
Less gluten for example can cure anxiety and ADHD in those people who are highly gluten-sensitive.
There is no disagreement on this: exercise is good for you.
Get all the sleep you need
Tenuous Connection Between Sugar & Cognitive Functions
I found the link between sugar and cognitive functions to be tenuous and strained. I agree sugar is not good overall, but the author says that the size of the hippocampus was inversely correlated to the size of the waist.
And that higher memory functions was associated with less calories intake in a study. Then he says most calories we consume come from sugar, so you should consume less sugar.
But that’s not science: inductive reasoning provide no proof and has no place in science.
Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the author was talking about gluten or carbohydrates
Resorts at times to what I call the “caveman myth”, such as that because we evolved with something or because we used to do something, then it must be good.
Focus on Health
I was growing a bit exasperated by the focus of most nutrition books on diet and weight loss. Grain Brain focuses on health instead, nice.
Many People Feel Better on Less Wheat
Many people proclaim of feeling good on less wheat, so it can have positive effects on some.
Similar to Wheat Belly, Grain Brain is another popular and yet highly controversial book.
I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not fully bought into the arguments and I believe many of the criticisms listed above are valid -including the generalization on gluten, the zero mention to its possibly positive effects and, finally, the bumbling together of different types of carbs such as whole grain, low GI and high GI carbs-.
That being said, I did reduce, majorly, my sugar consumption. And I strongly reduced my refined wheat consumption as well.