Wednesday, 29 January 2014
Grain Brain / David Perlmutter
I dislike the evangelical tone of books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly. I can appreciate that the doctors who wrote these two books truly believe what they are preaching—but I am not a convert.
I am disturbed by the cherry-picking of the medical literature and the use of studies which say “this is suggestive of a link and more study needs to be done.” Exactly. More study needs to be done. Having said that, I have found that my life is more comfortable without gluten. Rashes that I have been smearing with prescription cream for decades are gradually clearing up. My joints are not as sore and stiff as they used to be and my feet seem to feel more, thus staying upright on ice and rough surfaces is easier. What started as an experiment may be sticking around as a permanent life style.
But I am very wary of any diet plan that eliminates lots of fruit and many vegetables from the menu. Humans have been eating these plants (or similar foods) for millennia and human evolution didn’t just stop at some undetermined time in our history. (Read Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk for more on that notion). Of course, different populations have been under different evolutionary pressures. Many Europeans benefit from having ancestors who adapted to be able to digest cow’s milk products, while many Asians and North American aboriginal populations did not. It makes sense that gluten sensitivity, just like dairy sensitivity, would vary according to genetic history as well. I have northern European ancestry—milk doesn’t bother me, but it seems that gluten does.
However, I will not be giving up fruits and vegetables any time soon. Nor will I be purging the legumes, rice and other non-glutinous grains from my pantry. I completely agree that a person’s diet should not be weighted towards baked goods. [I have always enjoyed the process of baking and will probably continue to do so, but I have never baked vast quantities for my own consumption; it is something that I do when I will be sharing with others]. But I refuse to believe that carrots and potatoes are equivalent to poison.
I am also uncomfortable with being urged to increase meat consumption, when we live on a planet with limited resources. We all can’t eat copious quantities of meat and feed everyone adequately. Something has to give and it will probably be heavy meat consumption. Plant proteins currently used to feed animals could feed a tremendous number of hungry humans in this world and that would be a better use of them. I do think Perlmutter is correct when he says that we shouldn’t avoid foods with cholesterol, like eggs or shrimp, but that is no excuse to load up on them either. But you also have to take into account where these foods come from—is that fish that you are eating for omega-3s fished in a sustainable fashion? Will this resource still be available to your great-grandchildren or will it be extinct? [To his credit, Perlmutter does recommend sustainable seafood, but it is well towards the end of the book]. See Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe for good coverage of the seafood question.
BTW, I do agree with Perlmutter that 1) exercise is good for every part of the body, including the brain, and 2) getting enough sleep is absolutely essential for good health.
I find it darkly amusing that the author talks about mesmerism as junk science in his epilogue, when I think the same charge could be leveled against him! In the meantime, I think books like this fuel a conspiracy-theory mentality, an obsession with “blaming” someone or something rather than taking personal responsibility, and confusion among those who depend on mass media to run their lives.
In short, I think we should consider many factors when choosing our groceries: What are we allergic to? Avoid eggs or peanuts or whatever gives you an allergic reaction. What provides nutrition? Load up on fruits, vegetables and legumes. Consider the future and choose fewer animal products and shop for seafood according to its sustainability. And chuck the one-sided pop-science diet books into the bin.