Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers
David Permutter, MD
Published: Jan 20, 2014
Category: Health and Fitness
I came close to not graduating from high school because I was a total idiot in Science. At college, to satisfy the Science requirement, I took Evolution because it was said to be even easier than “Rocks for Jocks.” It wasn’t.
Can I evaluate a book on diet? No way. I am a huge fan of Nina Planck’s Real Food because it doesn’t make one-size-fits-all claims and then blind the reader with Science — it reads like common sense. David Permutter’s “Grain Brain” is beyond me. It’s full of technical writing. Very well written writing, but well beyond me.
I have read a long analysis of Dr. Perlmutter’s book and his theories by James Hamblin in The Atlantic. It’s not an outright condemnation. It’s not a kiss on the lips. It’s a 30,000-foot look at a book that, Hamblin says, starts with a hypothesis and fills its pages with proof.
The hypothesis is not complicated — run screaming from gluten and you’ll not only feel better, you’ll be doing your brain a favor — and that, perhaps, is why “Grain Brain” is a mammoth bestseller. Published in September, 2013, it immediately appeared on the Times “Advice, how-to and Miscellaneous” bestseller list and moved quickly to #1. It’s out in 15 countries. It’s in its ninth printing. A cookbook is soon to follow. [To buy “Grain Brain” from Amazon, click here. To buy the Kindle edition, click here.]
Dr. Perlmutter has great credentials. He also has great media presence. Watch:
The question: Is Dr. Perlmutter on to something? Or is he to diet what Malcolm Gladwell is to packaging academic research into reader-friendly servings of trends? In this case, does one size fit all? I can’t tell. So… we talked.
JK: Atkins. Pritikin. South Beach. Then Michael Pollan said: “We are corn walking” — and high fructose corn syrup was Satan. Then Paleo. Now Grain Brain. As in self-help books, we have “diet fatigue” — and we start to suspect that the primary benefit is to the author’s bank account. Please explain why your approach to health is, as you say, “a game-changer.”
DP: Two reasons. One is that this “revolutionary new dietary plan” has only been around for 2 million years. The big diet experiment is what goes on now: low fat, high carb. Second, when the AMA Journal did diet comparisons, it recognized that high fat, low carb is the best diet for everything from brain health to heart health.
JK: Your book is full of surprises. “Having diabetes doubles your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
DP: Correct. When your blood sugar is elevated, it increases inflammation in your brain — and that is the cornerstone for advancing Alzheimer’s.
JK: The brain has no pain receptors. If it did, what would it tell us?
DP: It would respond to inflammation. And inflammation is the trigger for Alzheimer’s.
JK: You write that Advil and Aleve are associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Prednisone and other steroids aren’t.
DP: Steroids are directly toxic to the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. They are absolutely to be avoided.
JK: Cholesterol isn’t bad?
DP:: It’s the raw material from which your body makes estrogen and Vitamin D. The war on cholesterol is unfounded. It is fundamentally important for every cell in your body — every cell in your body makes it. If you argue cholesterol is bad for you, are you saying that God or nature is wrong?
JK: I take Lipitor. Sometimes I remember that it may cause short-term memory loss… but I had no idea that, as you write, “Statins may lessen brain function and increase risk for heart disease.”
DP: Keep in mind that in early 2012, the FDA mandated that the manufacturers of statin cholesterol-lowering drugs include patient information indicating that these drugs can lead to cognitive problems — including memory loss.
JK: What is the worst of these four choices: A slice of whole wheat bread. A Snickers bar. A tablespoon of white sugar. A banana.
DP: The wheat bread –– it increases blood sugar more than table sugar. What you want to look at here is the glycemic index: how high blood sugar elevates and for how long. That’s why these products are so devastating.
JK: How hard is it for you to watch all the advertising that exalts whole grains?
DP: People are down on what they’re not up on. I have no vested interest. Humans never ate grain for 99.5% of the time we’ve been on earth. Diets have traditionally been focused on fat and protein.
JK: I think of my 97-year-old mother. She asks, ‘Why do you spend so much money on organic food?’ I say, ‘I’m buying the food you grew up on.’
DP: Right. This is the first time in history that we’ve flipped our diet priorities — and it’s the first time in history our children are not expected to live longer than their parents.
JK: How does a smoothie become as sugar-intense as a soda?
DP: It depends on what you put in. A smoothie with kale, broccoli and apple — no problem. The trouble comes when people think of sugar and carbs based only on foods, not drinks — 12 ounces of orange juice contain 9 full teaspoons of sugar.
JK: You write about the antioxidant “hoax.”
DP: Every week there is a latest and greatest health fix. The bottom line: the antioxidant potential of these juices is nothing compared to the antioxidents made in your body by your DNA. There are foods that will amp up your DNA: turmeric, green tea, coffee.
JK: What are the 3 most important things we can do for better health?
DP: Cut the carbs. Increase consumption of dietary fat. Avoid gluten. And give me 4: continue aerobic exercise.
JK: What did you have for breakfast?
DP: A 3-egg omelet (whole eggs) with mushrooms and spinach. Coffee with whole milk.
JK: As for you, what medications do you take?
DP: I’m 59. And I take nothing.