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

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Grain Brain: Experts say advice to avoid grains is unhelpful

Related tags Nutrition

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
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.

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The Truth

Posted by travis Thompson,

Grain brain, paleo, the whole 30. These are all diets that avoid grains. I have an autoimmune disease that started when i was 23 after graduating college. I ate the standard american diet. I spent 6 years in agonizing pain, as the doctors told me it was incurable!

I finally found out the truth that diet is everything. I read all the science and after adopting a grain free life my condition resolved. I have talked with and read thousands of success stories from all over the map. Proof is in the preverbial pudding.
It is so abundantly obvious from a science and biology standpoint, that we should eat our native diet to maintain optimal health period, everything else is corporate rhetoric and completely unfounded!! As the science poors in to validate these lifestyles this modern era will go down in history as woefully ignorant, as we are killing ourselves through poor lifestyle choices, one being a carb overload!! Doctors that do not support let alone endorse these life saving modalities should be criminalized imo.

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No sources

Posted by Charles Priest,

While you rebuttal of grain brain is strong and well written there is no substance to it. Something I liked about dr pearlmutter's book is that he is constantly referring to studies and scientific sources of information. I stopped and looked up several of these sources and all were legitimate. If you want to contridict his claims maybe you should back it up! There are no resources for your criticism.

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Posted by JfK,

I believe Dr Perlmutter is on to something that is seriously wrong with our overcarbed diet. Grain Brain provides a complete and scientifically credible analysis certainly worthy of consideration. Perhaps there is more to the grain issue that the body's innate reaction to carb overconsumption, which oddly seems to coincide with the increased use of Round up, pesticides, and GMOs, all causing leaky gut issues. I think it's time we seriously take a closer look at our food system and make some necessary changes before dietary health related disease overtakes all others

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