Yogi Diet: This is Your Brain on Wheat

Well, maybe not. Via wholegrainscouncil.org.
Well, maybe not. Via wholegrainscouncil.org.

We’ve written before on this site about diet. Quite a lot about it, actually—including eating raw, giving up wheat, eating mostly raw, continuing to give up wheat, etc. We’ve also talked about the stages of a yogi diet.

I’ve got a friend who’s just started Ashtanga. He said to me, “I don’t like beer anymore.” Long pause. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

Now, understand, we’re not nutritionists. We’re not doctors. And we’re not purists. It’s been a long, slow process. Steve lagged a few years behind me in big, weird, transformative diet changes…mostly because he took longer to fully commit to yoga. Funny how that works.

But, I have taught a research course on food, and done the research legwork on the evils of wheat. Note: Not “gluten.” Wheat. My conclusion at the end of that course was that we have really taken a wrong turn as a species by modernizing wheat and pushing “whole grain” as a healthy choice. (Just so you know, no whole grain wheat anything is actually whole grain—it’s white flour with the rest of the grain added after processing.)

We travel about in the world touting this philosophy, and everywhere we go we meet with the same extremely high level of disbelief. Denial. It’s almost like people go deaf. It just seems so counter intuitive and wrong. And impossible to fix without massive diet changes.

So a new book written by neurologist and nutritionist, Dr. David Perlmutter, caught my eye, appropriately titled Grain Brain. It’s specifically about the effect of the commonly-held belief that a whole grain, low fat diet is good for you. This review in the Psychology Today blog “The Optimalist” includes a very interesting interview with the author by Michael Lugavere. In that interview, Perlmutter says this:

So-called “complex carbs” may actually represent a more significant threat to health than simple sugar in that they may not only raise blood sugar, but keep it elevated for a more prolonged period of time. Foods can be evaluated by their glycemic index which measures not only how high blood sugar will be elevated by the consumption of a particular food, but also takes into account how long it will have this effect. So the higher the glycemic index, the more damaging are the effects of elevated blood sugar. Whole grain bread for example has a dramatically higher glycemic index when compared to pure table sugar.

Now, we’ve followed a trajectory of authors who have said this, starting with Michael Pollan (years ago), to Dr. William Davis in his book Wheat Belly. Pollan has been writing about the effects of a processed diet for years now, and has included what he considers a kind of fat phobia that most of us were raised with: Pollan has called this one of the biggest lies in dietary science, that all fat is bad.

Davis wrote about the history of modern wheat, and the debilitating effects on the entire system that are all caused by eating wheat—whole grain or not.

In his book, Dr. Perlmutter connects this set of related issues—low fat and whole grain, carbs and sugar—and focuses specifically on the effects on the brain and nervous system, with the cardiovascular system coming along for the ride.

This is because there is a strong link between high glycemic foods and cholesterol levels and dementia. But it’s not what you think: Elderly study subjects with higher LDL cholesterol levels “may have as much as a 70% risk reduction for dementia.”

See? You’re already fading. You already find this hard to believe.

This represents a kind of vindication of the diet changes that have slowly evolved in our house. We still don’t eat wheat—we now both get side effects from it. But we will eat eggs. Sometimes, we’ll even eat meat. We use a lot of coconut oil and olive oil. It’s odd the way sugar in all forms dropped away. We stopped not just eating fruit. We actually don’t like it. It’s made me wonder how those mind-body connections get formed, and what blunts or stunts them. And how it is that Ashtanga has made them so strong. We’re a walking poster couple for this diet. Still don’t believe? Or maybe that it’s just paranoia or a fad? Says Perlmutter:

In writing Grain Brain, I reviewed more than 250 peer-reviewed references, many of which specifically address this issue and are discussed in great detail. Gluten free isn’t new or a fad. It’s the diet that humans have consumed for more than 99.9% of our existence on this planet. I would direct your readers to recent publication by my friend and colleague Dr. Alessio Fasano from Harvard. I welcome the hysteria as it is directing attention to an absolutely fundamental issue in our modern nutrition.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “Yogi Diet: This is Your Brain on Wheat”

  1. It is amazing to me that a trained neurologist/nutritionist should propagate such concepts. It is also sad, because following common sense would easily suffice as a dietary guideline for most people provided they don’t have specific medical requirements. I would just like to make a comment about the terms association and risk, which always figure prominently in this kind of “science”. In the last century, a sharp drop in the birth rate for European women was strongly associated with the decline of the European White Stork, an animal that we all know is crucial for the delivery of babies [Sies, Nature, 1988]. Association and causality are not the same. Any thesis that uses associations to suggest causality should raise alarm. Especially, when great care is taken to point out scientific prowess and academic credentials of the author, and even more especially, when the text is published in a book for sale and not in the peer reviewed literature. You may want to at least entertain the thought that the concepts of Drs Davis, Perlmutter et al. might not so much be a vindication of your dietary evolution as the source of some self-fulfilling prophecies.

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