Grain Brain is a book all about our grain diet, and how eating lots of grains is a bad idea for us, as human beings. Dr David Perlmutter clearly knows his stuff in the book, as he is a doctor and nutritionist. He also explains the issues well, in clear prose that includes interesting details and a good balance between the science and the practical consequences.
In brief, Dr Perlmutter explains that we are not built to consume grains. This is hardly surprising, since the practice of growing large amounts of grain to feed a human population is only a very recent development, at least in terms of the human species. Before that time, around 4,000 BC, human beings existed on a hunter-gatherer diet, which would have consisted of very fresh meat, fresh fish, nuts, leafy greens and seasonal berries. Our ancestors would have eaten carbohydrates, in the form of tubers, but we would have eaten hardly any grasses, including wheat, rye, barley and rice. Our digestive systems have therefore evolved to digest this diet. The sudden influx of large amounts of starch into our diet, which is quickly broken down into sugars in the gut, as well as actual sugars, especially in the form of concentrated fruit sugars, has been a shock to our digestive system.
Our body has a Hell of a time dealing with carbohydrates and sugars. Because meals heavy with these foods causes a rapid increase in the amount of sugar in our blood, our body has to work hard to remove the sugars from our blood system. It does this by pumping out insulin, which shepherds the sugar into our cells. But our cells can only take in so much sugar, and they soon begin to close the gates to more sugar coming in. As a result, even though our pancreas has pumped out lots of insulin, the sugar hasn't left our blood system, which is bad for our body as sugar is a toxin. As a result, not only can we get diabetes, we can also get blood pressure problems, heart problems, circulation problems etc etc.
Many people already know about sugar's effect on the body, but Dr Perlmutter also points out that high carbohydrate and sugar levels can cause inflammation in the brain, which in turn can cause long-term cognitive damage. In addition, gluten, present in wheat and other grains, can break down in the gut to form peptides that have a strong effect on our brains too. These peptides can give us a warm, fuzzy feeling, because they bind to opiate-type receptors in our brain. In this way, eating a pizza can give us a high, but it can also rot our neutrons.
I found Dr Perlmutter's book to be a fascinating and sobering read. I've taken on board his recommendations and tried to switch to his recommended diet. I'm already finding that I'm not drowsy after meals, and that I don't get peckish anything like as easily as I did before. I've also found that when I do have carbohydrates, such as pasta or potatoes, I get a headache shortly afterwards, which persists for several hours. I may be noticing this now because my head's been clearer without the starchs.
For anyone that worries that they might gain weight with a diet high in fats, Dr Perlmutter explains in great detail that people don't get fat on a fat and protein diet, they get fat on a sugar and carbohydrates diet, because their body has to turn the sugars into fats and store them to get them out of the bloodstream. By comparison, once you're on a fat and protein diet, the body burns the fats in its cells naturally and sends your signals that you're full and okay for ages. This is known as ketosis, or a ketosis diet, and it is also recommended to prevent certain cancers, since cancer cells can't burn fats, they can only burn sugars.
Here's my summary of Dr Perlmutter's recommended diet. Check his book for confirmation, extra details and recipes:
These boost the body’s own antioxidant system, leading to better body and brain health.
Turmeric (350mg twice daily), Green tea extract, Milk Thistle, DHA (often from fish oils: 1g daily), Broccoli, Ashwagandha, Coffee, Vitamin D.
Coconut oil (1tsp daily), Olive oil, olives, sesame oil, almond milk, avocados, nuts and nut butters (remembering that peanut is a ‘groundnut’ or tuber), cheese, pasture fed butter, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds.
Peppers, cucumber, courgette, leafy greens and lettuces, spinach, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, sprouts, artichokes, green beans, celery, bok choi, watercress, asparagus, garlic, leek, spring onions, ginger, parsley, water chestnuts.
Healthy proteins (for a piscetarian):
Eggs, wild fish (salmon, black cod, herring, trout, sardines), shellfish and mollusks (shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, oysters), hummus.
Foods to have in moderation (once in a while):
Cottage cheese, cow’s milk, beans, lentils, peas, rice, pure oats, very dark chocolate, berries.
Foods to have very sparingly:
Melons, apricots, papayas, mangos, prunes, pineapple.
One more point to add; it's true that the food industry has been persuading people that diets high in fats are dangerous, and also that high cholesterol is dangerous. Dr Perlmutter explains in great detail that cholesterol is actually a vital component of our body and is needed to transfer fats into our brains, which are mostly fat. As reported in his book, studies have shown that people with low cholesterol, including those taking statins, have a much higher risk of Alzheimers and other cognitive degeneration illnesses. Damaged cholesterol, oxidised by sugar and free radicals, is dangerous to the body but the fault lies with the carbohydrate diet, not the cholesterol itself.
Overall, I definitely recommend Dr Perlmutter's book.
In the last few weeks, I've been writing about climate change and how human beings are going to survive on our planet in the future. The recent disasters in Queensland, Australia, where cattle farmers, after years of drought, have suffered livestock-destroying floods, show that farming outdoors will become increasingly difficult and eventually impossible in a climate-changed Earth. Australia has become one of the main countries that is suffering the first impacts of serious climate change. It has been suffering records temperatures, temperatures so high that its fish are dying in its rivers and its bats and marsupials are falling dead from its trees.
If we follow the current, accelerating temperature changes, in fifty years time, no one will be able to survive outdoors in Australia for any significant length of time and the vast majority of its agriculture will be gone.
’Forks over Knives’ is an American documentary that explores the effect of reducing the animal protein in a person’s diet and the health benefits that can give. On the face of it, you might think it would be a polemic pushing an ethical eating agenda but, in fact, it has a very different message. Although the contributors to the documentary do discuss animal welfare, the message they impart is about human health. The documentary explains that there is extensive scientific research that shows that a diet that contains more than 10% animal protein carries a large increased risk in cancer. I checked for supporting scientific evidence for such a bold claim and found that there is a lot of evidence supporting that view. Here’s a useful link at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Read More...