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.
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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Dr. Oz asks “are you addicted to wheat?”on his December 3 show. Oz invites William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly, to share his opinion on how modern wheat is destructive to human health.
“Nobody, no human, nobody in this audience should be eating this modern creation of genetics research,” says Davis, a cardiologist, on the show. He posits that the wheat today, which is genetically modified, has negative implications that were never anticipated when scientists started producing sturdier, mass-produced crops.
In Wheat Belly, Davis also writes that not only is wheat unhealthy, it is poisonous and addictive. Wheat is poisonous, he says, because it has so many adverse effects on humans. “There’s not an organ system or condition that has not been related to consumption of modern wheat,” Davis tells Oz.
Davis links wheat to stimulating brain receptors into wanting more refined carbohydrates, much in the same way heroin and opium produce cravings. He says that this adds around 440 calories per day to wheat eaters, a number that soon adds up and packs on belly fat.
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I cheated on my gluten-free diet (again). Now I can share with my clients in my adoption nutrition class the symptoms of gluten sensitivity from experience, not just research. I chose to be gluten and wheat free based on research upon hearing that all wheat in the United States was genetically modified. I prefer to avoid genetically modified foods. When I read Wheat Belly, it was clear that gluten certainly had other impacts on the brain and body, and some people’s behavioral and mental health diagnoses could be a result a gluten sensitivity of which they were unaware.
After giving up wheat and gluten for several months but not being very cautious, I had been much more strict in the last several weeks. If I do not naturally have a tendency toward gluten sensitivity, I had now created a situation in which my body would be sensitive to this new item in the diet. It is said to determine if you have a sensitivity or allergy to any food you should eliminate it from your diet for at least three weeks and then cautiously introduce it back into your diet to notice any symptoms.
Sunday night, I cheated on the gluten-free diet. My dreams were a bit chaotic, but Monday morning I noticed plenty of energy. After my run, I noticed a bit of a rash on my neck but I assumed it was just heat. I also noticed some very minor asthmatic symptoms which I thought were odd since I had finished the run and usually breath better after running. When I realized the rash had not gone away even after I had cooled down several hours later, I consulted my friend and allergy advisor Heather who was gracious enough not to say “I told you so,” even after my rash had spread on Tuesday.
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Sometimes the best way to analyze how the stages of change work is to look at a real life example. In this example, I will tell you a bit about my journey from using whole wheat flour several times per week to a diet that is mostly wheat and gluten-free.
Pre-contemplation is generally easy to understand. I had never considered giving up wheat or going gluten-free. Like most people I thought that using whole wheat flour was much healthier than using white flour.
Right before the Super Bowl I transitioned into the Contemplation stage as I learned more about wheat and gluten from two respected friends. Michelle had shared an article from which I learned that all wheat in the United States is genetically modified. I paid attention as Hazel ordered and asked questions of my friends about the ins and outs of a wheat-free/gluten-free diet. I slowly started making more wheat-free/gluten-free choices as I transitioned into the next stage. This could also include pinning new wheat-free/gluten-free recipes and maybe even trying a few.
I knew I had reached the Preparation stage, when I made a special trip to a new store. On my first visit, I spent a lot of time comparison shopping and reviewing suggestions from friends, but I primarily only purchased a general baking mix. As I have delved deeper into a wheat-free/gluten-free diet, I have left that store with several ingredients, some of which I had to ask for help finding. Determination is not always a separate stage from Preparation, but in this case Determination was evidenced as I slowly started telling people that I was trying not to ingest wheat products. By speaking it out loud, I was admitting my commitment to this change, as wells increasing my commitment.
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A few weeks ago my friend Michelle McNally tweeted a link to this interview with Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly. I was impressed with Dr. Davis, so I put it on my hold list at the library and started discussing it with people I respect. Michelle had already made several dietary changes for her family after her daughter was diagnosed with multiple (17) food sensitivities, but she changed her own diet even when her daughter was not around after reading this interview. Beyond wheat free, Michelle’s daughter is also sensitive to yeast, which eliminates some wheat-free choices in addition.
Hazel Walker is an author, speaker, and personal mentor. She states, “at age 55 I am looking closely at the cause and effect that some foods are having on MY Body. I had already given thought to wheat being an issue, this just confirmed what I thought.” Hazel has committed to 31 days wheat free. She taught me that gluten free, does not always mean wheat-free.
What really caught my attention was the quote from Dr. Davis, “what you are being sold called “wheat” is really not wheat at all, at least nothing like the wheat of 1950 that our mothers and grandmothers had. Modern wheat is the product of extensive genetics experiments conducted during the 1960s and 1970s to increase yield.” Eliminating partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup were my first steps to purifying my diet, and I have made every effort to avoid genetically modified foods. The thought that there may not be non-genetically modified wheat available in the United States any longer is frightening to me. I normally promote a balanced diet, avoiding processed foods but not any foods in particular. Cutting out wheat sounds very drastic, but as Dr. Davis says, “I don’t think that modern wheat should even be considered food…Modern wheat is not a creation of nature. It is the creation of geneticists.”
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