Grains for your brain

Amanda
Amanda O'Brien
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

“Grain brain” is the title of a new book released last week, suggesting that inflammation is behind the increasing number of neurodegenerative diseases and disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. David Perlmutter, the book’s author, suggests that inflammation is caused by high carbohydrate foods rich in gluten and sugar. Gluten is named as the main culprit, but his recommendations include an overall reduction of carbs, including suggestions to limit gluten containing grains, fruits and starchy vegetables in your diet.

The claims in this book are largely based on testimonies and the doctor’s experience with specific patients.

The bottom line, however, is that any diet that eliminates carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification or guidance can put your health at risk.

It’s important for the public to be aware of such fads which offer simple solutions to complex health problems, while failing to be based on good sense, let alone good science.

Does it sound strangely familiar? Not too long ago, another book, “Wheat Belly,” published by another doctor, also bashed the consumption of wheat and other grains. The difference between “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain” is that the former focuses on weight loss and management, the latter, disease prevention.

We usually hear more about eating well for our hearts, but eating well for your brain is equally as important. When it comes to keeping the brain healthy as we age, the truth is that grains and many other foods are beneficial.

Whole grains (like whole grain wheat, brown rice, barley, oats and rye), fish (such as salmon, sardines and mackerel), fruits and veggies, particularly cabbage, broccoli and kale, nuts, seeds, dairy, lean proteins (like meat, fish, poultry and tofu), and healthy oils rich in omega-3 (like walnut, flax and canola), will provide the brain with the nutrients needed for optimal function and protect against age-related damage.

Equally as important is the avoidance of foods that are highly processed and empty in calories, and keeping both the mind and body active. Contrary to popular belief, there are no particular singular foods, aside from fatty fish and beneficial omega 3 fats, which are “super foods” for brain health.

Poor eating habits, in addition to an inactive lifestyle, physically and mentally, are greater contributors to dementia than genetics alone. Sixty per cent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses are attributed to lifestyle choices. Studies have shown that older adults who consume nutrient-rich diets, without the avoidance of nutrients like carbohydrates or particular food groups, have better cognitive function. Healthy eating, including a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, provides enough fuel for the body and mind to perform daily functions necessary for work, school or play, without midday mental and physical slumps.

A well-balanced diet with whole grains will strengthen blood vessels so that oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to all areas of our body, and promote the growth of new brain cells and nerve connections. Proper nutrition nourishes our brains, particularly the areas involved in speech, reasoning and learning.

Last but not least, a high-quality diet protects the whole body against stress and inflammation (promoters of chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease), including the brain. It’s never too early to start eating well. Dementia isn’t something which starts at retirement. Studies show that aging occurs throughout the lifespan, even as early as our 20s and 30s.

So, if you are looking to learn more about grains, and wanting a good (science-based) read, pick up “Mindfull: Over 100 Delicious Recipes for Better Brain Health” by Dr. Carol Greenwood, one of Canada’s leading experts in brain health and nutrition, senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute and professor with the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto.

The book inspires healthy living and eating to ensure healthful aging and to prevent the degeneration of one’s cognitive function, including memory. Dr. Greenwood advocates that a “brain-healthy” diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy and other proteins, is vital to achieving optimal brain health. In addition, the book provides Mindfull recipes like whole-wheat oatmeal, blueberry pancakes with ricotta and golden quinoa with raisins and almonds for keeping minds sharp.  

September is Whole Grains Month. For more information on whole grains, brain health and nutrition, visit www.healthygrains.ca.

Amanda Burton is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the

website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.

Organizations: Rotman Research Institute, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto.The

Geographic location: Canada

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • cristina
    October 20, 2013 - 22:56

    canola oil - good for you?

  • Fredrik
    October 15, 2013 - 09:10

    Everyone warns about the low carb, high fat Paleo-inspired diets with large amount of animal saturated fats. Except those who are eating it of course. They just feel good. Still you will be warned time and time again that even though you lost weight and feel better than ever (even measurably) you are marching towards an early grave. Not to mention the harm you do to our precious planet by eating anything animal and the injustice to poor people everywhere in doing so. Truth is that the fossil fueled industrial agriculture has painted the whole damn humanity into a corner food wise. Degenerative diseases are rampant, especially in the poor. How can we build a better world if we everyday kill ourselves a little by unwise dietary choices. We have to accept what food that a human thrives on and build food supply around that even if it means a gigantic paradigm shift compared to now.

    • Evie
      March 22, 2014 - 22:26

      Well said Fredrick! you echo my sentiment exactly

  • Cindy
    October 06, 2013 - 18:58

    I am a dietitian and your article really does a disservice to our profession. Please, please, please read the book first, in its entirety. If you did, then it would seem hard to write such a review as this. Dr. Perlmutter is one of the leading neurologists in the world, particularly with neurodegenerative diseases. He gets the brain! This book is backed by solid research, unlike the current dietary and cholesterol guidelines. Please also read The Great Cholesterol Myth by Stephen Sinatra, MD, a cardiologist. Our country is going to have to acknowledge that we have been duped by bogus research. Read the book and keep up with the research; you will be eating your words...no pun intended.

  • Martin Cleaver
    October 05, 2013 - 02:35

    I tell you from personal experience that being gluten & wheat free makes a world of difference to my ability to think clearly. Nystagmus - I had that 6 years; stuttering, and joint pain, all gone within 1 month of wheat elimination. M.

  • Zerocarbman
    September 26, 2013 - 14:41

    Low/very low/or no carb diets aren't a "fad" anymore, they have undercut the "dietician profession" and knocked them down! "We need carbs...." BS! I (45 yo male) switched to a meat only diet 5 years ago and improved my health more than anyone I've ever known! Lost 100 lbs. and have easily kept it off! If I'd kept listening to Ms. Burton's "advice" I'm sure I'd still be dealing with high blood pressure (now normal), unstable blood glucose (now a rock steady 89), high triglicerides (now consistantly 100 or below!!, low HDL (from 32mg/dL to 70 mg/dL) This article tows the same decade or so long line that has done NOTHING to improve the general populations' health. NOTHING!!!!!! Eat the meat folks...eat the meat!!!

  • Amy Alkon
    September 25, 2013 - 01:15

    Here's a picture of the effects of not eating grains: http://freetheanimal.com/2011/03/phd-med-school-biology-researcher-goes-paleo-racks-up-70-pound-weight-loss-gets-hot.html What's posted here in this article is disgustingly contrary to what the science actually says.

  • Beck
    September 24, 2013 - 22:56

    You're going to need to do some research Amanda. Your ignorance is harming people.

  • Alex
    September 24, 2013 - 15:55

    I went wheat free end of Feb 2012. 6 weeks later all my blood work was back in the normal range (triglycerides from 196 to 139). Now 7 months in I've lost 8" off my waist, and my triglycerides are down to 113 and I eat bacon and eggs most days for breakfast and zero change to my exercise routine. I feel better. I look better. Everyone who knows me can't believe the change AND how quickly the change came about. I do have to disagree with you on the lack of science in "Wheat Belly" as I read the book and there is a lot of science in there. Eliminating wheat has changed my life and for the better. For the first time in my life I really believe I will get to my goal weight. I have never lost anywhere close to 8" off my waist on any other diet. And I'm finally below the weight on my driver's license!

  • NM
    September 24, 2013 - 14:55

    "The bottom line, however, is that any diet that eliminates carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification or guidance can put your health at risk." Amazing that we managed to survive for around 2 million years with almost no carbohydrates then, isn't it? Pretty miraculous, according to your suggestion! And, I imagine that the Inuit and Massai on their traditional carb-free diets are hideously ill without those whole grains. And to the commenter above who claimed we need carbs (even if not grains). This is incorrect. Our brain and blood cells need a bit of glucose, but this does NOT have to come from dietary carbohydrate ingestion. The body can manufacture all the glucose it needs from dietary protein and fat. Even the USDA grudgingly admits that there is no such thing as an "essential" carbohydrate, unlike with fats and proteins, the removal of which from one's diet will lead to death.

  • Cynthia
    September 24, 2013 - 06:47

    It's pretty disingenuous to say that Perlmutter's book (which I am in the middle of reading) is based only on anecdote and not on science. Quite the contrary. It's really an excellent review of very recent scientific literature on diet and health -- research that your doctor may not be aware of unless they graduated medical school last year. As a scientist, I am always a little skeptical of these popular diet books, but Grain Brain is thick with references to actual clinical studies. It's also disingenuous to say that you need grains for a healthy diet and then not support that with any citations. For example, how do grains particularly strengthen your blood vessels? You cite no studies to that effect. And if grains are so healthy, why do manufactured grain-based products such as cereal and bread always have to be "fortified" with vitamin supplements?

  • Dr Stavros Eleftheriou
    September 24, 2013 - 03:06

    Suggestion to the writer of the article: I would suggest to re-write the article after you study (not just read) the aforementioned books, and the scientific research behind all the information in these 2 books. Maybe then, you will be able to reveal the truth and stop making assumptions. You mis-inform your readers. Dr Stavros Eleftheriou

  • LInda Wilkinson
    September 23, 2013 - 22:31

    I have been grain free and low carb for four years. I have lost 60 pounds, 8 dress sizes, and oh yeah, achieved normal blood sugar reading with my type 2 diabetes without medications. I seriously doubt Ms Burton read the book.

  • Kathy
    September 23, 2013 - 22:22

    I would love to see your study " Studies have shown that older adults who consume nutrient-rich diets, without the avoidance of nutrients like carbohydrates or particular food groups, have better cognitive function. " There is no such study with those results and you are probably paid by the wheat industry. Disgusting to be so misleading with peoples health!

  • Chrissy
    September 23, 2013 - 21:40

    Dear Mrs. Burton, give up the gluten for 90 days ...then write an honest article about how it impacts your life, better yet keep a journal and allow an objective source write the article.

  • Karl Arman
    September 23, 2013 - 21:10

    I wonder how many top level secret meetings are going on behind closed doors all over the grain industry? Their in panic mode. Have been seeing more and more article popping up all over the place.

  • Karl Arman
    September 23, 2013 - 20:33

    It would be interesting to see what is going on behind closed doors in the grain industry. Nothing short of panic, I bet. "September is Whole Grains Month. For more information on whole grains, brain health and nutrition, visit www.healthygrains.ca." Its so obvious, its laughable.

  • Teresa
    September 23, 2013 - 20:00

    I have been off grains for a month eating a version of Paleo after reading the Perfect Health Diet (you need to read it obviously so you can actually help people instead of dishing out this misinformation). Arthritis is gone, hair is growing back, lost 6 lbs, feel 10 years younger, this is my new life. There is concrete evidence linking gluten to schizophrenia and other health problems. You are misinforming people. Imagine for millions of years we never ate any grains and survived just fine. Healthy whole grains are killing people and people like you are helping, how much did the grain people pay you to spew this?! Next your going to tell people to drink milk all the time....

  • Kay
    September 23, 2013 - 19:29

    Amanda Burton - your arrogance in assuming that outdated dietary dogma supersedes the genuine scientifically supported revelations of highly qualified and respected cardiologists and doctors, astounds me. Do you really believe what you've written? Have you read either book? (don't bother answering that question - it's obvious you haven't). More pertinently - How Much Were You Paid????

  • Alex
    September 23, 2013 - 18:28

    Dr Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, just did a fantastic interview on Robb Wolf's Podcast.. I encourage all to check it out. I have been grain free for several years. I'm 130 lbs lighter by eating low carb, I am completely healthy at 52, and I have never felt more energetic.

  • Regina
    September 23, 2013 - 18:26

    Everyone seems to be addressing this article just fine but I would like to just talk about what everyone always says when there is talk of eliminating wheat from the diet: "The bottom line, however, is that any diet that eliminates carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification or guidance can put your health at risk." I wasn't aware that wheat was the only carbohydrate and a category of food within itself. Period. While some may be able to tolerate wheat without gaining weight, etc. It certainly is not a necessary nutrient and each person on this planet could go without eating it and be healthy forever.

  • John Kennedy
    September 23, 2013 - 17:26

    I am 100% convinced that wheat is poison. When consumed, wheat causes inflammation across the body and can result in a number of ailments including weight gain, diabetes, memory fog, fibromyalgia/CFS, rheumatoid arthritis, ADD and so much more. Conventional wisdom is killing people. The entire concept that grains are good for you is a serious lie and worse.

  • Bob
    September 23, 2013 - 17:04

    Byes, why is everyone hating on whole grains? If more people ate more of it we would be a lot better off than bologna and mary browns.

  • Rennette
    September 23, 2013 - 16:40

    Look at who is financing the "Healthy Grains Institute" , all the industries who stand to lose when people stop buying their products. Sales are down dramatically and panic has set in, prompting the nonsense that Ms. Burton writes. Gave up grains last year, and lost 35 pounds as well as blood pressure, diuretic and reflux meds. Ms. Burton do some research next time before writing tripe like this and embarrassing yourself.

  • Sue
    September 23, 2013 - 16:28

    In reporting on diets and what should be eaten, I think you would be better advised to have a nutritionist evaluate what you write so you don't accidentally cause someone to hurt themselves. It is a known fact that with auto immune diseases such as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are not foods we should eat uncooked or in excess. Also, there has been a great deal of research regarding gluten and the consequence of autoimmune diseases in this country. Please be aware of what you write so people don't mistakenly take it to heart and make themselves ill. Thank you.

  • Lynda
    September 23, 2013 - 15:37

    To quote the article: "The difference between “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain” is that the former focuses on weight loss and management, the latter, disease prevention." Really? I have not read "Grain Brain" but have read 'Wheat Belly" and it is not all about weight management! Dr Davis focuses on health and only health. Sure, weight loss is part of that, but he talks about all the degenerative diseases and other conditions made worse by eating wheat. I have been wheat free for two years now since reading Wheat Belly and I am wheat free for my health first and foremost. I am no longer pre-diabetic nor have acid reflux.

  • Judy
    September 23, 2013 - 14:34

    I'm a real person that has several health issues namely Diabetes, chronic Gerd, inflammatory arthritis, and thyroid disease hence auto immune related diseases. I read wheat belly with much hesitation but was amazed at the difference in my health in one short week. At first still eating sugar and carbs just losing wheat I had significantly lower blood sugar, remission of arthritis pain, 95% improvement of reflux and the chronic fatigue and fog has lifted. Now eight weeks out and reducing sugar and some carbs and I feel fantastic I've lost six pounds. I keep waiting for the show to drop and it hasn't. I'm 51 and feel like I'm ten years younger. I'm so happy and well that I don't care what you or anyone else thinks. It's NOT dangerous to my health to eliminate wheat or sugar! It's the BEST thing I've ever done for my health. We will survive with less bread pasta and cereal and cookies believe me. Whole Food Revolution!!!!! Yay ME!!!

  • SueW
    September 23, 2013 - 14:31

    Seriously? You ended the article with a link to the a whole grain website? Paid off much? I kicked wheat and other gluten-containing grains 2 months ago and so far, I'm off asthma meds, my psoriasis is gone off my elbows, my acne has cleared up, I've lost 20 lbs, and my IBS has vanished without a trace. That's after only two months! Other than his book, Dr. Davis doesn't have expensive shakes, vitamins, premade meals or anything else to buy like other "programs" which empty my pocketbook, but don't help me get healthy or lose weight. The biggest thing for me is losing the carb addiction. Instead of constantly thinking about and craving food, I eat when I'm hungry - about 3 times a day with sensible portions. For me, wheat was crack. I'll never go back to grains... ever. Sincerely, a healing and reducing Canadian.

    • Joe
      September 23, 2013 - 17:10

      You probably lost weight because you got off your ass and stopped eating a loaf of bread a day. Good job!

  • Brian Williams
    September 23, 2013 - 14:25

    Looks like dietetics is another "science", like "climate science" that has been totally corrupted by politics. This silly woman is parroting the nonsense she learned from her university text books. Complete garbage.

  • Jenn
    September 23, 2013 - 13:57

    This article is complete nonsense. First of all, the books do not tell you not to eat any carbohydrates. In fact, the suggested diets focus on healthy carbs (similar to Atkins) with protein and healthy fats. Your brain does nto need wheat to function. it needs carbohydrates, and you can get plenty of them without eating wheat. There is no beneficial nutrient in grains that you cannot get from other healthy foods. Just because people can and do eat something does not mean that we were meant to consume it. And next time try reading the books you are going to bash!

  • ElcyIL
    September 23, 2013 - 13:54

    A diet of "healthy whole grains" and lean meats made me fat, depressed, anxiety ridden and pre-diabetic. I was in my 30's and my doctor wanted to put me on Metformin to stave off "inevitable" diabetes type 2, I was also on an SSRI and had blood chesterol levels completely out of whack. My doc wanted me on statins, but I refused. Since quitting grains I have lost 25 lbs, gone off the SSRIs, my fasting sugar is down 23 points, my triglycerides dropped 20 points and my HDL is up almost 30. I have more energy than I have ever had! I promise you that the only thing putting my health in danger was eating grains, and all the other processed junk comprised of them. 2 pieces of whole grain bread has the same effect on blood sugar as SIX tsp of sugar, how is that good for anyone? A diet of veggies, healthy fats from grass fed meats and coconut, and ethically raised pastured meat and wild fish is all anyone needs to be healthy. There is NO dietary requirement for grains, you are lying to people by saying so, shame on you.

  • RED
    September 23, 2013 - 13:54

    Why don't you actually read the books you report on? Then you would see the pages and pages of research articles, with full references cited, supporting the authors statements. These books are based on science, facts, observations and people's real life experience. Both of these doctors are well-informed and extremely adept and analyzing articles and data in terms of research. You however, apparently do not know what research is since your report here is full of misleading, fictitious opinion. For me, wheat equals extra weight, plugged ears, jaw pain and acne... all gone with a wheat free diet. My husband had acid reflux so bad, that he had ulcers in his esophagus.... completely gone following a wheat free diet. If you feel its a fad, don't follow it. But be prepared for a life of ailments and medications.

  • DJ
    September 23, 2013 - 13:54

    It always fascinates me that low-carb or Paleo people get flack for "eliminating" foods from their way of eating, yet vegans / vegetarians never get told that they shouldn't eliminate meat or other animal products from theirs. Hypocritical much?

    • S
      October 15, 2013 - 21:39

      I don't actually think this comment is true. Vegetarians and Vegans get "flak" all the time for the way they eat, and have had to deal with it for years. That said, everyone should be allowed to eat what they want and determine if it is good for their particular body or not. I can't stand fascism in any form - so I am pretty tired of anyone telling anyone else what they can and cannot eat. We all have a right to ingest whatever we want. If wheat-free works for some, great. If wheat works for others, great. If vegan works, great. If meat-eating works, great. A thorough survey of the past 2 million years indicates that people can survive and thrive eating almost entirely all-meat to entirely vegetable -- and every combination in-between.

  • Jan
    September 23, 2013 - 13:38

    Sounds like Ms. Burton wrote a 'bought and paid for' article for the Grain Industry!

  • Mathieu Gagné
    September 23, 2013 - 13:09

    For me, grains = leaky gut and inflammation + constant brain fog. I'm not celiac. Since I've cut grains, I have constant energy all day long without needing snacks. I won't touch grains again, it's just another form of sugar crap.

  • Kristin
    September 23, 2013 - 12:59

    Why dont you try reading the books you are reporting on? Or researching the paths they took to reaching their conclusions? I quit wheat and eating white carbs, lost 100 lbs, and am off blood pressure meds, cholesterol meds, diabetes 2 meds, anti depressants, and no longer have chronic pain, which i was taking 3 different meds for. Its easy to sit in your office chair and critcize something, but you dont know what its like to have your life back after feeling like your on deaths door every morning when you wake up.

  • Chup
    September 23, 2013 - 12:57

    Im not seeing any actual real rebuttal to the books... just that you think theyre wrong. Not an effective post at all...right now im more convinced by the drs than i am by you

  • Susan Matheson, BScPhm
    September 23, 2013 - 12:56

    "The bottom line, however, is that any diet that eliminates carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification or guidance can put your health at risk." There are no nutrients found in grains that can not be found in more healthful foods such as vegetables, meats, fish, fruit, nuts and seeds. I was previously ill and bedridden with a neurological disease, but since starting a Paleo diet I was able to return to work. Please look at the work of Dr. Terry Wahls, an MS sufferer who put her disease into remission with a Paleo-type diet.

  • J Neal
    September 23, 2013 - 12:51

    Your article seems to suggest that Wheat Belly is a fad book based on bad science. Not so, and if you read it I'm sure you would agree. Have you read it? The amount of science in the book is quite staggering, and it's written by a very eloquent, well informed doctor, who's probably just as well qualified as you, or indeed any other health expert you care to mention. It upsets me somewhat to read this because it casually condemns a great book which I have personally found to be absolutely revolutionary in terms of addressing my own stubborn health issues. It's worked for friends of mine too. Your statement, that grains are good for you is simply not my experience, nor is it backed up by the science (which you can read about in Wheat Belly). By the same token, your inference that cutting out grains is bad for you is not supported by any science that I'm aware of, and seems to be backed up in your article by opinion, not science. Maybe grains aren't bad for everyone, but it's better to be open-minded about complex issues rather than condemn views that you haven't understood properly, or researched thoroughly with the damning 'fad' label. It's invidious and misleading.

  • Ash
    September 23, 2013 - 12:50

    Where is your scientific (meaning, clinical, not observational) evidence for damning what Wheat Belly and Grain Brain have both posited with at least biochemical explanations and data? What sound argument do you have for starchy, phytate-filled whole grains being necessary for the brain's energy requirements, or do you genuinely believe that gluconeogenesis isn't enough and wasn't enough to support the hundreds of thousands of years of homo sapien existence prior to agriculture? You very appropriately cite inflammation as the root cause for many of our ills... So why do you conveniently sidestep what Drs. Perlmutter and Davis posit, in addition to multitudes of folks involved in Ancestral Health, and--without clear basis--mention nothing about the higher-than-healthy insulin response to consistent consumption of grains (a simple Google search on the glycemic index and load of a slice of whole wheat bread should suffice, folks) which results in the very inflammation you mention above? Ridiculous.

  • Sarah Thomson
    September 23, 2013 - 12:49

    Interesting article, but one has to wonder: Has the author ever read the book "Wheat Belly"? Has she ever tried going wheat-free for a short period of time to understand (before writing the article) what makes Wheat Belly such a hugely successful book? No? Didn't think so.

  • Robin Nixon
    September 23, 2013 - 12:48

    "The bottom line, however, is that any diet that eliminates carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification or guidance can put your health at risk." Says who? Where are the studies that show this?

  • Debi Williams
    September 23, 2013 - 12:47

    Seriously, did the author of this article even read the book. Grain Brain is one of the best scientific referenced books I have read on this subject to date. One only has to read the book to know this. I couldn't even go past the line that said " The claims in this book are largely based on testimonies and the doctor’s experience with specific patients." To know that the author of this article had not read a bit of the book.

  • Thom
    September 23, 2013 - 12:46

    Did Amanda Burton even READ the book before writing this?

  • Kerry
    September 23, 2013 - 12:42

    I'm sorry to inform you, but foods like gluten and dairy are in the top 8 most common allergens AND are a nasty culprit for food intolerances, inflammation, celiac disease and more! THose issues are hugely on the rise! Educate yourself before you tell people to fill their bodies with those foods!

  • Dr. William Davis
    September 23, 2013 - 12:33

    You call this insipid recitation of conventional "healthy whole grain" thinking "reporting"? I doubt Ms. Burton even read either book, as she says that both books are based on anecdote but no science. That is not true; both are based on extensive review of the science. Had she read the books, she would not have said something that is blatantly not true. If you'd like an on-air debate with me, just name a time and place. I'll be there. But I'd bring your Band Aids.

  • BC
    September 23, 2013 - 10:31

    Sensibility in the Telegram opinion pages???!