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'Misleading and sensationalist' Grain Brain book distorts science and confuses public with advice to avoid grains, say critics

47 commentsBy Hank Schultz , 18-Sep-2013
Last updated the 18-Sep-2013 at 17:56 GMT

Food industry experts labeled as nonsense the notion that avoiding carbohydrates is a magic bullet that could head off many cognitive impairment conditions at the pass.  

That assertion is put forth in a soon-to-be-published book by Dr David Perlmutter called Grain Brain that has earned an endorsement from public awareness needle mover Dr Mehmet Oz.

In the book Perlmutter, who has a neurology practice in Naples, FL and who has authored other books on diet as it relates to cognitive health, makes a multi-faceted argument that most neurological conditions are preventable and diet is the key.  The subtitle of the book is, “the surprising truth about wheat, carbs and sugar — your brain’s silent killers.”

“Although several factors play into genesis and progression of brain disorders, to a large extent numerous neurological conditions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and not enough healthy fats,” Perlmutter wrote.

What our ancestors ate

Perlmutter bases his dietary recommendations on what he says are the diets that our ancestors evolved on. He claims that ancient diets consisted of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. He contrasts that with the modern dietary recommendations, which work out to about 20% protein, 20% fat and 60% carbs.

Perlmutter claims that the dietary guidelines outlined in his book, which include eating no more than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day and the avoidance of most fruit, will positively affect a host of conditions including ADHD, migraines, epilepsy, mood disorders, Tourette’s syndrome “and much more.”

Grains of truth

“He has so many themes in there it’s hard to know what to talk about.  It’s like a field that has good plants, some you are not so sure of and weeds,” Julie Miller Jones, PhD, professor emerita of foods and nutrition at St. Catherine University told FoodNavigator-USA.

“There is sound nutrition advice (in there).  There are scintillas of truth,” Jones said.  Jones spoke with FoodNavigator-USA at the Food Evolution Summit in Phoenix where she was acting as chairperson.

Julie Miller Jones, PhD: Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and getting adequate exercise are the best ways to protect your brain, not avoiding grains

“He talks about the carbohydrates in grains and in fruit setting off the inflammatory pathways.  If it is a brain disorder, then diet is the problem.  He appeals to groups like older people who are afraid of losing it.  He appeals to young parents who are afraid their children might turn out to be autistic,” Jones said.

Misleading picture

Jones said Perlmutter uses bits and pieces of the effects of diet on cognitive outcomes—that obese people have a higher risk of cognitive impairment, for example—to construct an ultimately misleading picture of what people should eat for optimal cognitive and overall health.

“We have really good data about with the DASH diet. The first data on it came out in the 90s. Half of that cohort got rid of their blood pressure medication, and also showed a lower risk of dementia. We have good data on the Mediterranean Diet, which has a lot of carbohydrates.  It also shows a reduced risk of dementia,” she said.

Contributing to confusion

Whole Grains Council: Grain Brain book just contributes to public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet

The Whole Grains Council echoed Jones’ concerns about the book.

“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", the group said in a statement.

Perlmutter trades on legitimate concerns about conditions related to carbohydrates such as celiac disease to push his particular slant on dietary recommendations, it added.

Among Perlmutter’s recommendations for his patients is the use of Protandim, a multi-ingredient antioxidant supplement manufactured and marketed by Utah-based network marketing company LifeVantage.  Perlmutter is on the company’s scientific advisory board.

“Leading medical researchers in the area of gluten intolerance and celiac disease attest that there is no need for 90% or more of our population to avoid any grains,” the group wrote.

“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'."

Not sustainable

Dr David Perlmutter: Too many carbs and not enough healthy fats are bad for your brain

Jones said ultimately following the standard dietary guidelines and getting adequate exercise are the best ways to eat to protect your brain.

Perlmutter’s approach is unbalanced and while the foods he recommends might make sense in isolation, Jones questions whether most consumers could actually follow the whole program for long.

“He’s telling people to eat salmon, to eat avocados. Is that realistic? Will you get your kids to eat that for breakfast? Is that sustainable?” Jones asked.

47 comments (Comments are now closed)

Thank you

The entire diet industry is a scam. Look at how many companies are trying to capitalize by creating GF products and by putting GF on their products. The numbers of people who truly need to be gluten free is not enough to support the market, so they had to create this garbage about it being healthy for everyone in order to capitalize. Without those people, the GF industry wouldn't exist. The gluten free craze is nonsense unless you've been diagnosed with celiac disease.

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Posted by EO
10 December 2013 | 14h44

so glad i have tried no-carbs diet

It has been only 35 days i do not eat sugar and grains. The results are greater than i ever expected. My constant varying inflammation, including arthritis, is gone, memory and concentration are much better, altogether i have more energy. It really was a SILENT killer, with no signs, but an addiction to everything sweet.

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Posted by Lana
03 December 2013 | 15h47

Sorry Dr. Jones, I don't believe a word you say. Nice try, though.

I'll start from the bottom of the article and work my way up. First- Is it realistic for kids to eat salmon and avocados for breakfast? Mine think they are pretty yummy with some uncured, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free bacon, so you tell me. Could this program be followed for long? My family is six months into it and doing much better than we ever have before, healthwise.

The Whole Grains Council echoes concerns about Americans avoiding grains? WHY wouldn't they?!!?! It's a direct threat to their pocketbooks. They want people to keep buying whole grains. That's why they exist.

Jones promotes the Mediterranean diet. I wonder if she is aware that the traditional Mediterranean diet contains little to no grains and lots of healthy fats like the salmon and avocado she bashes later.

'So many themes it's hard to figure out what he's talking about.' Maybe it's because I don't have a PhD, but I had no trouble reading the book and comprehending the information presented.

'He appeals to older people who think they might be losing it, and younger people who are scared their kids might be autistic.' Maybe that's because 1 in 3 seniors are dying with Alzheimer's and 1 in 88 children in 2008 had autism. My bad, I thought it would make sense, him being a Neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, to speak to the people in our country who are having the most significant, life-damaging neurological illnesses.

I'm sorry, Dr. Jones, but you are a nutritionist, not a neurologist. Your current qualifications make you ineligible to speak on this subject. I see through you, and you are simply a mouthpiece for those who want to push the big food and big agriculture agenda.

As an American interested in being as healthy as I can, I can see right now that 'Following the current dietary and exercise guidelines' is NOT working to make Americans as healthy as they can be.

This article is a pathetic attempt to try and scare people away from something that could vastly improve their health. What do Americans have to lose by cutting grains and excess sugar from their diet for even a trial period of a month? Absolutely nothing. What does the Whole Grain Council have to lose from Americans cutting grains and excess sugar for even a trial period of a month? A LOT.

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Posted by Richelle
25 November 2013 | 16h18

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