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Grain Brain Take 2: Another look at how wheat, carbs, and sugar affect your brain

This morning I read a nutrition article that was popping up all over my Facebook feed. The story, This is Your Brain on Gluten, which appeared in The Atlantic, covered the science behind a new book called Grain Brain. From the sound of things, the author of the article, James Hamblin, who is a medical doctor, had been hesitant to cover the book—he wasn’t sure what to make of the general hypothesis, which is that eating all grains ultimately causes mental deterioration such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But because it’s been a best-seller since its release he finally gave it a read.

grains in handTo say Hamblin remained skeptical after reading the book—and speaking with the author of Brain Grain, David Perlmutter, MD, as well as a handful of other notable researchers and physicians, including David Katz, MD—would be an understatement. He pokes holes in some of the claims and reminds readers that much of the “science” that the diet is based on is either not widely accepted or is simply speculation—a connecting of dots that can’t actually be proven.

Hamblin’s overview of the book and the scientific basis for following or eschewing this type of diet seemed spot-on, but it also felt familiar. After a quick search on DietsInReview I realized why: Our resident dietitian Mary Hartley, RD, wrote a similarly cautionary article on Grain Brain back in October!


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Take Grain Brain’s Villainization of Carbs with a Grain of Salt

Grain Brain is the catchy title of a new self-help diet book on the New York Times Advice and How-to Best Sellers lists. The author, neurologist David Perlmutter, makes the case for a slow death to brain cells caused by wheat, “carbs,” and sugar. Those foods, he says, are behind most of the common but incurable neurologic diseases including Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, anxiety, depression, and others. To prevent and treat those conditions, he recommends a diet of fish, seeds, nuts, and olive oil, sans the “carbs” from grains, milk, fruit, and sugary sweets. Grain Brain is in the same vein as Wheat Belly and other best-selling Paleo-type diet books.

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David Perlmutter and his co-author, writer Kristin Loberg, followed the diet book formula: reel in the lay audience with indisputable scientific facts and then lead them to ungrounded conclusions because they all sound good. With technical expertise, Dr. Perlmutter explains the workings of the brain and central nervous system. He is up on the hot nutrition topics and buzzwords of the day: inflammation, free radicals, bacteria in the gut, and metabolic fuels.

Sure, we agree that neurological diseases are scary and seem to be everywhere, but are gluten and carbohydrates the cause? Not so fast. David Perlmutter is often called “cutting edge,” which means research verification is needed.  
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Paleo Diet vs. Atkins Diet: Whose Carbs Can You Live Without?

Paleo DietThe Paleo Diet will now challenge The Atkins Diet for the title of “Ultimate Low-Carb Diet.” The Atkins Diet was released to the public in 1958, and continues to be popular amongst dieters thanks to the New Atkins for a New You, an update to the weight loss plan released in 2010. The Paleo Diet is even older—about 2.5 million years older—but is enjoying a modern-day renaissance with seemingly unmatched popularity. 

The lack of carbs is where these two diets stop sharing similarities. Atkins is relatively liberal in food selection, allowing for bacon, cheese, seafood, meat, butter, olive oil and cream. Paleo, on the other hand, is extremely restrictive, with dieters limited to the types of foods only our nomadic ancestors would eat. Red meat, chicken, eggs, fish, fruit and vegetables, and nuts—albeit not peanuts or cashews— are allowed, but grains, beans, dairy, sugar, salt, and flour are all off limits.

Price

You can pick up the Paleo Diet for $14.95 on Amazon, while the newest Atkins book will set you back a bit more, at $16.99. Both have companion cookbooks which you can buy at your discretion, and they’re each $19.99. The Atkins website features a carb-counting tool, scientific evidence, and a recipe guide, not to mention many other tools and features. Paleo’s site has detailed nutritional analysis, published research, and a breakdown of why it’s good to eat like a neanderthal. And of course, both diets feature helpful mobile apps.

Phases

The weight loss plans in each of the books are presented quite differently. The Atkins Diet is more structured, with four phases to conquer individually—Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss, Pre-Maintenance and Lifetime Maintenance—while the Paleo Diet spells out what you can and cannot eat, offers a meal plan, and reads more like a history book.
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Atkins Diet to Resurface with a New Approach to the Same Low Carb Plan

When you hear Atkins, you probably immediately think “low-carb diet.” Most of us recall that name being synonymous with the fad of high-protein diets in the early 2000s. Now, the Atkins brand is resurfacing with a refreshed image and an attempt to break free of its previously held stereotypes.

A recent article in Advertising Age discussed the shifts in power at the diet food company and spoke with the current Chief Marketing Officer, Scott Parker. In addition to offering free online tools and selling Atkins brand foods in the grocery stores, Atkins is working to rework their image. Parker told Advertising Age that the company went off track several years ago and many lost sight of what the plan was really about.

atkins

“The diet fundamentally teaches you to eat a balanced menu, it never did tell you to eat nothing but bacon and eggs,” he said. “But that is what word-of-mouth became and people literally were doing their own makeshift diet and they didn’t have a very good experience because they didn’t do it correctly.”

They’ll be working hard to get their name out there, as the report stated Atkins Nutritionals, which did not return comment in time for publication, will be increasing their spending by 50 percent this year. This rebranding will take place as many similar diets have really hit the mainstream and one can assume Atkins wants to get a piece of that consumer pie.
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Teacher Chris Gomez Cut the Fat and Lost 140 Pounds

This summer, Chris Gomez is taking his students to Six Flags and the first thing he’s going to do is ride a roller coaster. In fact, the kids may have a hard time getting him to do anything else. For Chris, a special education teacher from New York, being able to fit in to a coaster car again means another triumph on his weight loss journey.

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At age 34, Chris admits to being slightly overweight most of his life with a few periods of weight loss in between, but due to emotional eating, late-night snacking and lack of portion control (eating multiple desserts), he could never keep the extra pounds off for very long. As a die-hard Mets fan and sports enthusiast, Chris knew as his weight continued to climb, his energy plummeted and his ability to participate in the activities he once enjoyed like softball, were beginning to decline.

Chris describes his a-ha weight loss moment, saying, “I was sitting at a friends’ house and ordered 20 chicken wings for lunch and half way through I realized that I couldn’t continue to do this to myself. One day a doctor would tell me that I was running myself into the ground and I would have nothing to do about it. So I decided enough was enough.”


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