Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Grain Brain

Next up for review is Grain Brain. The author, Dr. David Perlmutter, is a Board Certified Neurologist and president of the Perlmutter Health Center in Naples, Florida.

Introduction
Grain Brain really has one central theme; that the wrong type of carbohydrate can destroy the human brain. The book is broken down into 3 sections: 1) The science part: this section covers how the brain works, all about gluten, and how the wrong type of carbs can cause problems. 2) The lifestyle part: this section covers the proper diet and exercise program to optimize brain function. 3) Meal plans and recipes. The book is 285 pages and is very well written. I truly enjoyed reading it.

5 Things I Really Liked About Grain Brain
1) I really enjoyed learning about the human brain. While I have studied anatomy and physiology in the past, this book really gets into the inner working of the brain and how our lifestyle can help it to flourish or slowly destroy it. It really is a miracle organ.

2) The part of the book that discusses the link between blood sugar and brain function was fascinating. As the research begins to pile up in this area, it was really nice to get a detailed explanation of the potential mechanisms that may be at play here. Very few people truly understand the importance of maintaining a stable blood sugar, as nature intended. It makes me sad when I think of how our country is eating right now.

3) The section on sleep was really interesting. Sleep deprivation will adversely affect just about every part of your body, especially your brain. Seven hours per night should be your absolute minimum goal.

4) As an exercise physiologist, the chapter on physical activity and optimal brain function was fascinating. I knew that exercise is important for brain health, but I was surprised that it was the most important factor. When speaking of preventing brain shrinking and cognitive flexibility, Perlmutter notes that there is no better tool than physical activity. 

5) In Grain Brain, a good amount of time is spent discussing the problems with a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. The author strongly feels that this style of eating is not the path to weight loss or improved health. I couldn’t agree more.

5 Things I Didn’t Agree With In Grain Brain
1) When covering carbohydrate containing foods, the author utilizes the glycemic index, a standardized measure of how a carbohydrate food will influence blood sugar. However, he completely ignores the concept of glycemic load. This measure takes into account both the glycemic index and the amount of carbohydrate in a serving. The glycemic load will give you a much more practical look at how a food will impact blood sugar and insulin levels and it should have been discussed.

2) Grain Brain recommends only 60 grams of carbs per day. This is only 12% of calories on a 2000 calorie diet. Since 20% of protein is about as high the body will let you go, this diet breaks down to 12% Carb, 20% Protein, and 68% Fat. This is a ton of fat, and as mentioned later, much of the fat that he recommends is saturated fat. This level of carb restriction has also been demonstrated in the literature to be very hard to sustain.

3) Grain Brain includes a liberal consumption of saturated fats. Coconut oil, beef tallow, butter, and cheese are all allowed on a daily basis. I don’t think this much saturated fat is a good idea.

4) Grain Brain strictly limits other foods that are health promoting such as whole grains, fruits, and legumes. 

5) I was a bit confused by the references. The book had a ton of references and some were from very reputable journals, like the Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine. However, a significant percentage of his references were from quite unscientific sources, such as YouTube videos, blogs, Dr. Oz’s website, New York Times science writers, etc. These references do not prove much scientifically, they are just the opinion of the author. In most cases, the author was not a researcher or educated in the research sciences in any way.

Is Grain Brain Worth Reading?
Absolutely! I really enjoyed this book. You’ll learn a lot about the human brain and how to take care of it. While I don’t agree with many of the dietary recommendations, this much is clear; the proper diet, plenty of exercise, and the right amount of sleep can help keep your brain working until a ripe old age. This is of the utmost importance, because at the end of the day, if your brain isn’t working, what kind of life can you have, really?

 

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