Wheat and gluten just can’t get a break. First there was the best-selling book Wheat Belly which blamed wheat for the American epidemic of obesity.
Soon an equally controversial and hard-hitting new book will be on the shelves — one that deals specifically with the effects of too many carbs, wheat, and gluten on the brain.
Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers is due to be released next month. But judging by the number of pre-orders, it almost certainly will also become a best seller. Publishers Weekly lists it as one of the “Top 10″ most anticipated lifestyle books of the fall.
The author of Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter, is uniquely qualified to speak about the effects of food on the brain. He is a neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He has an active practice at the Perlmutter Health Center in Naples, Florida where he uses a variety of complementary nutrition techniques to treat neurological problems including dementia, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Perlmutter is actively promoting his new book online. I recently listened to a one-hour teleseminar he did in conjunction with Advanced Brain Technologies. What follows are some of the highlights of that interview.
Looking at a Better Way
Dr. Perlmutter started looking at the role diet plays in brain health after he got tired of treating his patients’ symptoms with drugs, which at the time was the only tool in his arsenal. He describes it like trying to get rid of smoke while leaving the fire burning.
In the past decade he learned that the brain is exquisitely sensitive to the food we eat and that our diet plays a pivotal role in our brain health.
Too Many Carbs, Too Little Fat
As we’ve moved towards a low-fat diet high in grains, the kind recommended in the USDA food pyramid below, we’ve traded in eating fat for eating more carbs. We have never been exposed to this level of carbohydrate consumption before in human history and this experiment is not going very well.
High blood sugar levels correlate directly with brain shrinkage of the hippocampus, the seat of memory and the first target of Alzheimer’s. Perlmutter states quite emphatically that there is no treatment whatsoever for Alzheimer’s and that drugs flat-out don’t help.
If you begin to mentally lose it in your 60’s and 70’s, it becomes very hard to reverse the trend, so it is much wiser to take steps to prevent mental decline sooner than later. We agree!
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Perlmutter found in his practice that nothing is worse for your brain than a low-fat diet. It contains too many carbohydrates and too little brain-healthy fat. He promotes the same healthy fats we do — olive oil, coconut oil, butter, grass-fed meat, wild salmon, and eggs.
In his practice he puts patients on a diet that is 50-60% good fats. The brain is 70% fat by dry weight and he finds this much fat is ideal. Glucose is considered the main fuel for the brain, but our brains are quite happy to burn fat which he refers to as a “super fuel” for the brain.
One of the biggest ongoing debates in nutrition is what are the best ratios of fat, carbs, and protein. Perlmutter cites a JAMA study that followed two groups for 12 months. One group was on the diet popularized by Dr. Atkins — a low carb/high fat/high protein diet. The second group followed Dr. Ornish’s low fat/low protein/high carbohydrate diet. (This diet is identical to the ultra-low fat diet being promoted in the book Power Foods for the Brain which I’ve reviewed here.)
For those of us who have been brainwashed into believing that low-fat is good, it may come as a shock that the people who followed the Atkins diet did better on all health markers including triglycerides, good cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
Perlmutter reminds us to think of cholesterol as our brain’s friend. Low cholesterol levels increases the risk of suicide, depression, and dementia. The risk of dementia is reduced by 70% in those with high cholesterol. You read that right — high cholesterol reduces risk of dementia.
The Problem With Gluten
Perlmutter appreciates that the book Wheat Belly made the public aware of the profound modification of wheat itself.
In the past 50 years, wheat has been changed to contain up to 50 times more gluten than it did when our ancestors baked the first loaf of bread.
We are biologically unprepared to handle this big a change in such a short period of time. Remember that humans have been around for 2.6 million years yet started eating wheat and gluten in any form only 10,000 years ago. That is a mere blip in our entire existence! Or .004% to be more precise.
Gluten is most commonly associated with wheat but can also be found in other grains like rye, oats, and barley, prepared foods of all kinds, and even medications.
It’s been known for decades that gluten can cause a long list of neurological problems including dementia, headaches, seizures, tremors, depression, memory loss, and epilepsy in those who are gluten-sensitive.
But what hasn’t been realized until recently is how ubiquitous gluten sensitivity is. If eating gluten tears up your gut, you know you have a problem. But it turns out that most people have no obvious digestive upset from gluten, so this not a reliable indicator of gluten sensitivity.
Learn More Here
This book is about much more than blasting wheat. It makes a solid case for how eating more grains and carbohydrates of all kinds, and less goods fats, is taking a toll on our collective brain health. And it offers suggestions for what you can do about it.
The book is not available until September 17th. But you can learn more about Grain Brain or pre-order it from Amazon here.
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