Whole Grains and Healthy Brains
A new book called Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter, is slated to hit the streets next week, claiming that we should all avoid grains – and basically all carbohydrates – because, as the author says, "modern grains are silently destroying your brain."
From our review of an advance copy sent to us by the publisher, we’ve found that Grain Brain is a misleading and sensationalist title for a book that distorts current science and contributes, sadly, to public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are real and serious issues. People with celiac disease (1-2% of the population) or non-celiac gluten intolerance (estimated at about 6% of the population) can indeed have medical issues not only with their digestive systems but with other organs including the brain, and these people will benefit from removing the four gluten grains – wheat, barley, rye and triticale – from their diets.
Even the 7-10% of people with a reaction to gluten, however, can continue to enjoy all the non-gluten grains: amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats (if certified as non-contaminated), quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, and wild rice. The rest of the population can enjoy these ten grains along with the four gluten grains. Leading medical researchers in the area of gluten intolerance and celiac disease attest that there is no need for 90 percent or more of our population to avoid any grains.
Put simply, there is no evidence for the idea we should all avoid all grains. Perlmutter must realize this himself, since Grain Brain contradicts its main premise that all grains are injurious to brain health, and recommends eating, in moderation, “amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white [sic], wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff and [gluten-free] oats.”
In fact, evidence for the health benefits of whole grains is well-documented – and was touted by Grain Brain’s author in his earlier book The Better Brain which included foods like whole grain couscous, oatmeal, spelt pasta, and quinoa-stuffed peppers throughout its menu plans. In an interview promoting The Better Brain on CBN-TV, for instance, Perlmutter advocated replacing junk food with “real food such as unprocessed whole grains and fruits and vegetables.” He does not acknowledge or explain his flip-flop in Grain Brain, giving us no clue why he has now turned against what he previously acknowledged to be sound science.
While Grain Brain goes off the deep end in imagining that the very real health problems of the 7-10% of the population with gluten intolerance or celiac disease somehow extend to all of us, the book rightfully details many important components of good health that Oldways and the Whole Grains Council have long supported. These include the key roles of physical activity and sleep; the essential contribution of good fats; the value of the Mediterranean Diet (which Perlmutter cites as “very similar to my dietary protocol”); and the importance of avoiding inflammation and choosing carbohydrates with a low glycemic impact.
Our advice? Don’t let Grain Brain scare you away from appropriate-size portions of healthy forms of whole grains (yes, a whole grain cookie is still a cookie!). Enjoy a balanced diet including a delicious variety of real, whole foods, an approach followed in traditional diets backed up by proven science, like those championed by Oldways. (Cynthia)