We’ve been given all kinds of conflicting information about what we’re supposed to eat as part of a healthy diet. We’ve been told that low fat, low cholesterol was the way to go, and butter and eggs we’re taken off of the table while artificial sweeteners, fat substitutes, and margarine gained popularity. Looking for any get-skinny-the-easy-way magic bullet, the population literally ate it up. Now, we’re hearing that the opposite is true and foods we thought of as healthy and were supposed to help us stay slim actually make us fat and cause inflammation and disease.
I’m confused, frustrated, and don’t know what I’m supposed to eat to “eat healthy” anymore.
In his book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers, Dr. David Perlmutter writes:
Ironically, ever since we ‘scientized’ nutrition, the state of our health has declined. Decisions about what to eat and drink have gone from habits of culture and heritage to calculated choices based on shortsighted nutritional theories with little consideration of how many human beings reached modernity in the first place. And we can’t forget about all the commercial interest out there. Do you think the makers of high-carbohydrate breakfast cereals (read: the entire isle in your grocery store devoted to boxed cereals) truly have your health in mind?
Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist, advisor for The Dr. Oz Show, author of many books and writer for Huffington Post, draws from his own practice, research, and other studies to advise a diet eliminating gluten and favoring fats instead of carbs. He writes:
I’ve watched this single dietary shift lift depression, relieve chronic fatigue, reverse type 2 diabetes, extinguish obsessive-compulsive behavior, and cure many neurological challenges, from brain fog to bipolar disorder….To shift your body’s biochemistry to one that burns fat (Including the kind that ‘never goes away’), tames inflammation, and prevents illness and mental dysfunction, you need to factor in another big piece of the equation: carbs versus fats.
Your brain is made up of around 70% fat. For the past two million years, humans have consumed a high fat diet, and fat is the preferred fuel of human metabolism. Only since the emergence of agriculture in the last ten thousand years have carbohydrates become an abundant food source. While the human body does have the ability to genetically adapt to a change in diet, it takes forty to seventy thousand years for the significant changes to take place in the genome. We all have a “fat gene” because our bodies are genetically programmed to crave and need fat.
According to Perlmutter, the human dietary requirement for carbohydrates is almost zero and our livers can furnish this. Our ancestors would have had access to carbohydrates only seasonally when fruit ripened, and this type of carbohydrate increases fat creation and deposition to allow humans to fatten up quickly to get through times when food was more scarce.
By eating carbohydrates year round, we tell our bodies to store fat 365 days a year. A diet continuously rich in carbohydrates keeps our insulin pumps working all the time and limits the breakdown of body fat for fuel. Perlmutter says that it’s a persistent myth that the brain prefers glucose for fuel. The brain prefers fat, and it’s the brain’s superfuel.
Part of the reason I am focusing on fats, and cholesterol in particular, is not only because these ingredients have everything to do with brain health, but also because we live in a society that continues to demonize them, and the huge pharmaceutical industry preys on the public’s misinformation and perpetuates falsehoods, many of which could physically destroy us.
The idea of eating fat has become equated with the idea of being fat which is not true. Perlmutter goes on to say: “...in reality, obesity–and it’s metabolic consequences–has almost nothing to do with dietary fat consumption and everything to do with our addiction to carbs.”
Dr. Perlmutter is not without his critics who claim that he misrepresents and misinterprets inconclusive data. The diet Dr. Perlmutter advocates is similar to the Atkins’ low carbohydrate diet which has been around for decades.
Dr. John A. McDougall, a physician, nutrition expert, and author whose philosophy is that degenerative disease can be prevented and treated with a low-fat, whole food, plant-based/vegan diet based on starches such as potatoes, rice, and corn and excluding all animal foods and added vegetable oils, writes in The McDougall Newsletter: The Smoke and Mirrors behind Wheat Belly and Grain Brain:
The main take-away that readers will get from Grain Brain is that grains and other starchy foods are the cause of type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and most of the other chronic health problems suffered in the Western world. The truth is that people with type-2 diabetes are ill with many disorders of the body and brain. But grains and other starchy vegetables do not cause type-2 diabetes. The Western diet, loaded with meat, fat, and empty calories, makes people overweight and diabetic.
So, again, who do we believe? What do we eat?
Because I’ve had a brain injury, a brain healthy diet is of special concern to me, and I do believe fat is my brain’s friend and Grain Brain is worth the read and consideration. Will I eliminate all grains and gluten from my diet? No. I believe that we all have to educate ourselves, make our own decisions about what foods work best for our individual bodies, and eat accordingly.
Personally, I choose not to eat meat regularly because I don’t want to support the farming of animals for food, and I just don’t like the thought of eating an animal. But, occasionally I will shock everyone and eat a burger. I also stay away from processed foods, sugar, and now I will add gluten to the list. However, when I go out to eat, I love to splurge and order dessert with a coffee.
I believe that the choices I make day-in and day-out on a consistent basis determine my health and happiness, not what I do every once in a while, and going to any extreme diet-wise is unhealthy in the long run. I may be proven wrong about this, but I hope not. The bottom line is that you have to educate yourself and make choices appropriate for your health and happiness.