Grain Brain is the latest book by award-winning neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, and while the book has landed at the top of The New York Times bestseller list, it's not without its controversies. We spoke to the highly regarded physician about the diet he prescribes, how we can boost brain function and some of the compelling research that he has come across.
theFashionSpot: Was there particular research that inspired you to write this book?
David Perlmutter: There was no one particular research that brought about the creation of Grain Brain. The literature demonstrating the profoundly detrimental effects of carbohydrates and sugar as well as gluten issues is vast and now in great alignment.
tFS: Traditionally, we are told that there are "good" and "bad" carbs and sugar. Sugar from fruit, for example, isn't the same as fruit from a candy bar. Can you tell us about some of the most compelling findings that support the idea that we should be limiting carbs, wheat and sugar across the board?
DP: Publications in such well-regarded journals as the New England Journal of Medicine have made it clear that blood sugar elevation is directly related to brain degeneration. In August, 2013, The NEJM published a very compelling report showing a profound relationship between even mild elevations of blood sugar, well below the levels that define diabetes are associated with a dramatic increased risk for dementia. Blood sugar directly reflects dietary choices. Diets higher in sugars and carbs in general are associated with higher blood sugar levels and this explains the research correlating higher dietary carb content with dementia risk. Leading researchers are now convincingly reporting that gluten sensitivity directly relates to the enhancement of inflammation in human physiology, a cornerstone of Alzheimer’s disease. Much of this research is being done in England.
tFS: What to you say to people who have pointed out that your book has more theory than compelling evidence — especially when it comes to suggesting that people, who don't have a gluten sensitivity or history of degenerative brain diseases in their family, should adopt the diet you have outlined?
DP: The premises we describe in Grain Brain are derived from more that 200 well qualified research publications.
tFS: How is the diet you prescribe different from Atkins?
DP: The Grain Brain program is far more selective in the recommendations of fats and meats. Rather than generically approve fat as a macronutrient, the program delineates between healthful fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, grass-fed beef and wild fish as contrasted to unhealthful modified fats.
tFS: You talk about limiting the intake of certain fruits — isn't that a bit extreme for the average person?
DP: Fruit represents a powerfully concentrated source of pure sugar so its consumption, while permitted, requires limitation.
tFS: While the diet you outline may be conducive to fighting Alzheimer's, couldn't the high fat and cholesterol put people at risk for heart disease?
DP: Healthful fats are now being recommended by leading cardiologists around the world. So again, it is fundamentally important to be selective in terms of dietary fat choices. Fat has been an integral part of the healthy human diet for hundreds of thousands of years so the notion that we should suddenly stop consuming this vitally important nutrient because we were told to do so back in 1992 makes no sense whatsoever.
tFS: What do you say to those that say that we should eat everything in moderation versus encouraging people to avoid certain food groups?
DP: Halfway measures work halfway. “Everything in moderation” opens the door to defining “moderation” and would allow virtually every lifestyle choice imaginable including “a few” cigarettes. Our mission is to provide the very best recommendation to those ready to embrace what leading edge research is offering up.
tFS: What, aside from changing the way we eat, can we do to boost brain function?
DP: Without question, aerobic exercise is fundamentally important in a brain health program. In fact, new research actually demonstrates that the brain can be stimulated to grow new brain cells in the memory center with just the addition of aerobic exercises. I recommend a minimum of 20 minutes daily.