“Grain Brain” Review

Monday Jun 22 | BY |
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After my last article, my readers asked me if I could review the book Grain Brain. This popular book by Dr. David Perlmutter has been talked about a lot, and many people have questions about it.

You probably guessed the premise of the book just from the title alone. Grains are bad for health. They mess with your brain and mess with your health.  According to the book, this applies to carbohydrates in general.

Here’s the thing: this book, like many others, is just another low-carb diet book. Authors all around the world know that low-carb diets are popular.

For the book Wheat Belly, the enemy was wheat.

For Grain Brain, the enemy is the common grain.

Ultimately if you look at the recommendations from these books, it’s all the same.

Of course, the subtitle gives away a lot of the plot: “The surprising truth about wheat carbs and sugar, your brain’s silent killers.”

Now, let’s take a look at the claims made in the book, because the author writes: “Although several factors play into genesis and progression of brain disorders, to a large extent numerous neurological conditions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and not enough healthy fats.”

His research to prove this is shady at best.

According to Dr. Perlmutter, our ancestors ate a diet that was essentially ketogenic: 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. The modern diet is 20% protein, 20% fat and 60% carbohydrates.

First of all, Dr. Perlmutter’s figures are wrong.

The modern diet is actually about 42% carbohydrates, 42% fat, and the rest protein.

When Dr. Perlmutter talks about the ancient diet consisting of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates, he is also deeply off the mark.

Dr. Cordain, the person who actually came up with the paleo diet in the first place, writes that the macronutrient consumption in ancient humans is roughly protein at 19-35% and carbohydrates at 22-40%. He’s basing this evidence on native tribes all around the world that eat what you would call a “hunter gatherer diet.”

Dr. Perlmutter recommends eating no more than 50g of carbohydrates a day and avoiding fruit. This will supposedly improve conditions such as ADHD, migraine headaches, epilepsy, mood disorders and weight loss.

50g of carbohydrates is not a lot. Many other Paleo people are recommended roughly 100g of carbohydrates.

So, what’s the reward? Well, Dr. Perlmutter claims that avoiding grains and fruits will improve your inflammation because the carbohydrates in grains and fruits are setting off inflammatory pathways. “If it is a brain disorder, then diet is the problem.”

I’ve never understood why carbohydrates are blamed for inflammation when research shows the opposite, because a plant-based diet is high in unrefined carbohydrates.

It may be true that refined carbohydrates do contribute to inflammation in the body, but all the research actually show that plant foods are strongly anti-inflammatory.

In one study called, “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Plant Based Foods and Their Constituents” done in 2008, the consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole wheat, was found to be inversely associated with the risk of inflammation.

It is surprising to me, but again not so surprising given that Grain Brain is a typical low-carb book, that the author blames fruit for causing a host of health problems (mainly because of the fructose, a type of sugar, that it contains).

This advice is poor advice because all of the research shows that eating fruit is beneficial. Even research that tested eating huge quantities of fruit showed positive health results in human beings. (see here)

Grain Brain is just a sensationalist book.

It’s actually a typical low-carb diet book disguised as something different, as something that it’s not. There are no revolutionary insights at all in this book.

The diet will work for weight loss and may improve other aspects of health because all low-carb diets do that.

The question is, do they do that better than a diet that emphasizes plant foods? The answer is no. Are unrefined plant foods, such as whole grains and fruit, dangerous for health and contribute to brain related diseases? The answer is also a resounding no.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

42 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Sabrina says:

    Frederic, Very well written article. You summed it up very nicely. I totally agree. Sabrina

  2. jodi says:

    i agree. nothing wrong w/ good carbs- a little quinoa and oats are most definitely beneficial in my book! i will not give them up! and i most certainly will not give up fruit!

  3. Alfons says:

    I do not agree!
    More and more epigenetics studies shows that grains are a real treat to the brain.

    • Al says:

      I agree with Alfons. There are a lot of current studies showing that the heaviest gluten containing grains (Wheat, Rye, & Barley) may not be as healthy as they’ve been made out to be. Even Dr. Cordain expresses caution when it comes to these grains.
      I don’t think fruit is a problem unless you have an insulin issue.

  4. Thank you! I agree with you completely and I’m really sick of listening to clueless people talk about how our ancestors ate and the evolution of the gut and brain as related to fad diets for their justifications. How on earth could Paleolithic people eat 70% fat?! That’s ridiculous, not even logical. We need unrefined grains and carbs to improve our brain function. Grains supply all of our B vitamins which support brain function. Thank you for your review its important people understand that Grain Brain is just another sensationalist version of an old theme. Yes you might lose weight temporarily but it is not a lifestyle diet and whatever weight was lost will soon return.

  5. I agree 100 per cent with this article. To try and say fruit per se is bad for one is utter nonsense. Any food can have an imbalancing effect if eaten in the wrong proportions or out of its natural context. Fructose is being added to foods it was never designed to be combined with.This is what causes weight gain and hormonal imbalance. In it’s natural state, i.e. within the whole fruit, it gets absorbed more slowly due to the fibre in the fruit.
    Great article, Frederic.
    Best regards,
    Teresa

  6. Neil says:

    Good. Thanks, saves me buying it to see what it was all about, as i was thinking about grabbing it previously.

    Dr who? Dr Doolittle perhaps. Anyone who says not to eat fruit is about six cans short of a six pack.

    You gotta wonder who this guy is marketing to. I suppose in a strange kind of way, the concept of no fruit may appeal to a lot of people because they don’t eat enough as it is, and this may give them an excuse and reason to avoid fruit. But to the unique folk out there who eat a lot of fruit and everything else natural, books like this are a blight on sensible health education – just adds to the confusion.

  7. Rachelle says:

    Thanks so much for this review. You are consistently a voice of reason. I only wish this message would reach more people. I get so frustrated when I hear interviews of so called health experts that say things against the science and long lived populations. In most cases the interviewer never questions anything the so called expert says and so there is so much contradiction between interviews!! thanks so much for your work.

  8. Jeanine says:

    Grains, as they are used in common processed foods, are sprayed with pesticides. The same with most fruits and vegetables. You fail to mention that Dr. Pearlmutter is trying to keep the toxins out of our diets, thereby preventing leaky gut and yes, brain disorders. If you are going to review a book, you should fairly present the research he discussed. It’s not only about low carb, but the elimination of toxins.

    • laurie says:

      If that’s the issue then wouldn’t buying organic solve the problem?

    • Lynne says:

      I agree with you Jeanine and Frederick.
      Grain Brain and Brain Maker – the insights of clinical practice over 30yrs Again wheat Belly – a cardiologists insight.
      We learn from the learned.
      Take note of the evolving science of epigenetics and the microbiome.
      See Chris Kresser’s recent podcast on cellular and Acellular carbohydrates – feed and nourish the microbiata or feed and create an unbalanced microbiata and suffer the ill health consequences.
      This post will do more harm than good. We need to learn from the clinicians perspective, what has been revealed in improving patients health in the neurologists/cardiologist practice in conjunction with emerging science.
      A vegetarian/ raw foodist blogger – come on! me thinks he protesteth too much.

    • Kathy says:

      I agree with you, Jeanine. I have read Grain Brain as well as Brain Maker. Plus Wheat Belly. I have been gluten-free for a year and a half and I feel so much better. The inflammation I suffer has been reduced greatly. Much less arthritis and fibromyalgia symptoms, less bloating and sick-gut feelings. I have less brain fog and fatigue also. I do eat some grains from time to time, but nothing with gluten. Plus I’ve shed 20 lbs. Hooray!

    • Dodie Lake says:

      Simple solution is to buy organic produce. If you want to talk toxins – go no further than meat! Have a look at the video FOOD INC and you will see the horrific truth of meat production!!

  9. Rudek says:

    I was vegetarian for 5 years and now that I am doing a paleo diet with lots of fruits and vegetables my systemic inflammation/pain is a lot better. It seems that avoiding grains, especially wheat has helped a lot, plus I have reached an ideal weight at 50+ and great energy.

  10. wendy green says:

    i agree with you for the most part. if you read the book without looking at the recipes in the back…there’s some decent info there…i love his term “diabetes 3” for Alzheimers ….so it’s really about GRAINS and not carbs in my mind. and staying away from them generally has improved my health and mental state.

  11. Rebecca Lee says:

    Thank you for your review of Grain Brain. My complaint about the book is that the author recommends bolus doses of alpha lipoic acid in his supplement advice at the end of the book. This is poorly understood, but let me educate anyone who reads this….Alpha lipoic acid is a bithiol molecule and as such is a chelator for mercury, arsenic and perhaps lead. It needs to be used on a careful protocol which takes into consideration its half life in the human body. When taken in huge, infrequent doses, particularly since it is fat soluble, it can pick up these metals and drop them off in your brain.

    This interesting and important tidbit of information comes from the research of Dr. Andrew Cutler, PhD who has written the book “Amalgam Illness, Diagnosis and Treatment,” and whose webpage is http://www.noamalgam.com.

  12. Federic,

    With regard to the relationship of fruits to inflammation, I believe what Perlmutter is trying to do is get everyone to reduce their sugar intake which , in many cases, for people who are not active enough to burn the sugar, becomes fuel for the bad bacteria in our bodies and contributes to candida over growth.

    Candida and yeast over growth is at epidemic levels which is contributing to many many diseases. What he really is getting at is leaky gut which causes inflammation.

    He is also inferring most people are sensitive to modern grains and thus creates inflammation in the bowel which also causes other related ailments.

    If you really want to get to the bottom of it, his new book, is a mind blower and filled with research on the relationship of the gut micrbiome to most dis- ease. The book is called, The Brain Maker and I encourage you and anyone interested in really understanding health, wellness and disease to read this book.

    And just to let you know, i do not know this guy or have followed him until I read this book and it is a game changer.

    Thank you for your work,

    David
    Creator of The Cure Is…U movement

  13. Maria says:

    Frederic,
    You are the one that is off the mark. ‘Grain Brain’ is not a sensational book.

    The proof is in the pudding. People with health issues go on Dr. Perlmutter’s recommended diet for a month and their symptoms abate. You can’t argue with evidence.

    And Maureen, you might do some ‘real’ research. Your claims are the cause of many health problems today.

    No one is mentioning that the grains of today are hybridized. Thus, a total different food than our
    ancestors ate. Heritage wheat, rye and barley are simple not available. You can’t mess with God’s
    created foods without some repercussions health wise.

    • Ann C says:

      Dear Maria,

      Read Leviticus 19:19

      God says not to mess with the seeds.

      Read the Bible; it’s the best book.

      Ann

  14. janice says:

    There is no ONE formula for eating that fits us all. I am fortunate that I can eat
    everything and I am very aware of how less optimal foods reacts in my body.
    Also my body’s needs differ during different times of the month and year.

    If someone has health issues, i recommend keeping a food diary for at least 30
    days. Bodily function and mood and cravings must be included. Then each person can learn
    what is right for their body instead of latching on to the latest trend.

    Actually, I have not kept one in a while so starting july 1, I will do another.

  15. KarenS says:

    I agree with David Scharps. Dr. Perlmutter’s new book, Brain Maker is a game changer. I like to stay informed and educate myself, keeping an open mind, and I would hope that anyone who agrees with this article will consider making decisions for themselves and not just go along with someone else’s review before reading a book for themselves. Then take away from it the bits that are helpful and leave the rest if not, rather than make a blanket judgement and decide the book is not worth reading. Most of all, don’t assume Brain Maker is not worth reading based on your decision to not read Grain Brain if that is your take away after reading this book review.

    Karen

    • Karen, you comments are so fairly stated. Reviews can be very damaging to credibility as when someone takes a position vs finding the good and those things that may not be in alignment. The book has helped so many and by and large most people do have food sensitivities to many of our grains because they are in no way representative of how and what the used to be. they

  16. Lisa says:

    Thanks for your review. I found it helpful.

  17. Chris says:

    Right on Fred! I concur wholeheartily!

  18. Pat Cannon says:

    I can only go from my own personal experience.

    My thing is to AVOID ALL FOODS THAT CAUSE INFLAMMATION!
    I find wheat and sugar to be at the top of the list for causing inflammation.

    I have not been able to walk without a walker for some time now.
    Since I have given up ALL wheat products and sugar, the inflammation is going away.
    I am now able to walk for a short time without my walker.

    I expect to able to walk totally without the walker within the next six months.

    • Agree with Frederick. Some comments here are missing that people get better bc they react to gluten and refined sugar. Other commenters propose a similar diet in their blog – so of course that makes them biased! Anyone who advocates the extreme if cutting out all carbs and tries to say our ancestors ate that way should not be trusted. Well said Frederick.

  19. Kelly says:

    I would add that part of the problem with today’s fruit is that so much of it has been hybridized, meaning it has been bred to have much higher sugar contents than when our ancestors were eating a lot of fruit.

  20. Your so called “OPINION” on grains does not have any scientific facts ! I have alleviated “ALL GRAINS INCLUDING WHEAT” from my diet now and after 1 year of being “GRAIN FREE” I can happily say I NO LONGER HAVE “BI-POLAR ILLNESS. I was diagnosed 40 years ago with severe BI-POLAR and for over 10 years now have been on MEDICATIONS for the condition as well as sleeping pills. I went cold turkey from the sleeping pills 1 year ago (since they were no longer effective at putting me to sleep) and after taking “ALL NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS” I can proudly say “I NO LONGER HAVE TO TAKE THE ADDICTIVE SLEEPING PILLS”. I can get to sleep on my own. I also have gradually taken “MYSELF” off the” PHSYCHIACTRIC MEDICINES (with increased nutrition and abstaining from grains) now for 1 1/2 years with no “Manic” episodes. I have completely turned my eating habits around ! I am a “VEGAN” who eats no grains at all and I have not only healed my DISORDER but my whole health has improved. Many health problems have gone away ! The GRAIN BRAIN book, The WHEATBELLY book as well as the WHEATBELLY TOTAL HEALTH book have been a major factor in recovery and have only added to the betterment of my health. I feel that unless a person really tries the diet they will not be able to understand fully it’s benefits. And HEALTH doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes up to 5 years or so to “fully” recuperate from the harmful effects of a diet high in carbohydrates. “SUGARS” (carbohydrates) also mess with your blood sugar levels and promote the “over growth” of “CANDIDA. Which 98% of Americans today have. There is so much to what you put into your body. These 2 doctors have researched the GRAIN TOPIC and happen to be very well educated as well as they “DO” provide “SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE” for their claims. But the average person on the S.A.D. Diet (Standard American Diet) is not ready to GIVE UP what they have been doing for so many years. There are sacrifices to make and a high price to pay but in the end it is worth it all ! Most people have an uncontrollable “ADDICTION” to carbohydrates. Different books from other authors on why sugars are bad for you compares “COCAINE ADDICTION” to “SUGAR ADDICTION”. The chemical reactions are very similar. Except one is way more harmful than the other. If you RESEARCH the topic of SUGARS these other doctors say the same thing that Dr. Perlmutter & Dr, Davis say. They all agree ! Why can you not agree ? Are you ADDICTED to “SUGARS” as well ? Where is your “SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH” promoting your opinion ? I don’t mean to be too blunt, however I absolutely do not agree with your point of view. Sorry ! Maybe if you did as much research as they have done you could write a book on this subject too ! In conclusion, each individual is in charge of their own body but if you proclaim to be well educated on a subject you better be able to back up your claims with “PROOF” especially if you are trying to convince people to agree with you. You can eat what you want but as for me I’LL continue to loose weight and be the healthiest person I can be by abstaining from grains and remaining “MEDICINE FREE” for the rest of my life ! I’m worth it !

    • Larkspur says:

      I totally agree with ‘Anonymous’ Ditch the grains! (but keep the fruit if you can find ‘natural’ fruit)

      Have recently retuned from US. – Huge portions of everything in cafes. Too much pasta, bread rolls. muffins. Even eating modestly I put on weight, even walking much more than I do at home.

      Just made a meal at home; red onions, quinoa, red lentils, spices and green peppers. Lovely!

  21. Nancy says:

    I totally agree with you. My only problem with whole wheat is any pesticides it may contain. Otherwise I believe highly in fruit, and grains in our diet. Sugar and processed carbs are the culprit! Thanks for your review!

  22. Jan says:

    I agree completely! Keep up the great articles and please keep reviewing new books. There is a another one called The Gut Revolution can you give us an opinion on this one too?
    I like that you use common sense.

  23. Dodie Lake says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Apart from the fact that the authors use statistics creatively, the thing that annoys me the most, is the use of the word ‘carbohydrates’ in a sweeping sense. A lot of what they claim as the negative effects of carbs, actually can be applied to refined and processed carbs but is not true for organically grown whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans etc.

    As far as what our ancestors ate – it depends on to what time or place one refers. There are many ancient societies who grew crops and whose staple was rice or corn (obviously not GMO or sprayed with glyphosate). In the book ‘The China Study” claims are made that eating meat is the primary cause of many diseases, including cancer. This is because meat is acidic, inflammatory and contains no fibre.

    Also quoting what ancestors did is not necessarily a positive – have they not heard of evolution? Diets changed as man evolved – lifespan improved. We are not ‘hunter gatherers’ – far from it. Most people would be horrified if they actually had to kill their own meat and eat it raw! To me the Paleo diet is contrived at best and dangerous at worst.

    Also unless one eats grass fed, organic meat – there is a plethora of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics in your meat. Meat is, after all dead, rotting flesh. I think live fresh, raw vegetables and fruits and whole organic grains would be my choice for a healthy diet.

  24. IH says:

    I agree with commenter #12. Dr Perlmutter’s message is mainly to stay away from foods that cause inflammation and grains being on top of the list. For the last 6 months I have experimented with this concept after finding out that my thyroid antibody markers were not what they are supposed to be. I definitely can say that grains and also legumes for me at this point are not the ideal food. However, I do eat fruit and lots of greens, (green juices and smoothies) more healthy fats and small amounts of grass fed animal protein. In this time I also followed a raw food vegan detox program and I’m sorry to say that for me at this point a concept like dr Perlmutter’s and dr Mercola makes more sense. I would want to ask you to research also dr Terry Wahl’s book. She cured herself of advanced MS following a similar concept. I like her’s very much because it is a combination of plant based foods and carefully selected animal foods but with a focus on plant foods (lots of raw) She is on TED talks and I think people who read this blog will be interested in what she has achieved. She was paralyzed and is “up and running” again. I haven’t seen any case like hers yet. Truly remarkable!! I encourage everyone to check her out especially if you have autoimmune issues. Further I want to say that I think that dr Perlmutter is NOT a sensationalist. The man has done his homework and the next book “brain maker” is even better.

  25. Ann C says:

    YOu did not mention anything about the problem of gluten? Why?
    The book has a lot to say about how gluten is affecting our brains
    and our immune system.

    I don’t agree with some of Dr. Perlmutter’s info; especially about eating meat, etc.
    But I do agree that too many carbs will make you sick.

    I have so much to say, but not enough time or space to say it.
    However, I recommend Dr. Alessio Fasano’s book on gluten.
    He’s the real expert.

    Great discussion.

    Ann

  26. Heide says:

    Mom and i survived WWII.
    i don’t take any drugs, not even an aspirin.
    we ate potatoes, veggies from our garden, a loaf of dark bread from the bakery.
    maybe a couple of times a year, i.e. Xmas and Easter, we had a rabbit for dinner which we grew ourselves but the rest of the time there was no meat. there was nothing in the stores to buy.
    we also had a barrel of sauerkraut in the basement which we made ourselves.
    my mom lived to be almost 100 without heart problems.
    she got “bad” food in the senior home in her high ’80’s. it was prepared off-site and i never ate it while visiting her. she eventually got dementia in her ’90’s. i blame it on the food.
    i think we had a better diet during the War in comparison to what junk passes for food right now.
    re B12: George Nearing, who was a vegetarian and ate only from his own organic garden, was told by his doctor he should add B12 to hies diet. Nearing did not listen to the doctor’s advice. Nearing died at 100, his doctor died way before him.

  27. Joseph Arbo says:

    I started on the wheat belly diet plan in Feb. At age 59 and have lost two inches from my waist line. It is now June. These books don’t make you eat a low carb diet, they make you eat complex vegetable carbs, a healthier choice. I have no food cravings and eat as much as I wish, dairy, nuts, vegetables and fruits. In all my years I had a weight issue even when on the various diets like,The Mediterranean, Fit For Life,etc. I am not a meat eater at all, seafood and fish are my choices, and with Cancer running in my family, I am happy to be healthy and youthful for 60 years old,next week. I do recommend staying away from these grass grains, the corn syrup, soy products, preservatives, and night shades if you have a reaction to them. Inflammation isn’t the only test of a diet, bloating, gas, infrequent bowel movements,all contribute to weight gain. Since adjusting my eating habits, I am eliminating twice per day and feeling a lot more energy. I feel better now than in my twenties. I will say I do not agree with everything in the book,but that is my choice in food consumption. I would never recommend eating meat today as it has never made me feel good after consuming it. I will also add that, fine tuning my core and newly discovered exercises, which are proper for reducing my abdomen, are next on my agenda and so far they, along with diet are transforming my health even further.

  28. Why are so many people saying grains in general are inflammatory when most are not. Rice oats corn etc are if anything anti inflammatory. Whole grains and not gm of course! To bunch things together like this and follow a popular trend (low carbs) and use dubious science – all adds up to a book that is a fraud. Gluten for some will be such a bad problem that they may follow this diet and feel better. But they would feel better still if they ate other healthy grains. How you feel is often the best gauge.

  29. Based on your review of Grain Brain, I now have all the evidence I need to conclude that this site is a front for the food corporations that are still promoting whole grains and fructose consumption. Immediately after posting this, I am unsubscribing to Renegade Health.

  30. Alfons says:

    The China Study is not a real scientific study it is purely based on observations. It is just the title of a book nothing more. Dr.Perlemutter talks about good science.

  31. HOLY COW! What a firestorm! I’m sure some people do very well eating less carbs, and I believe the wheat and some other foods today are so different from what we ate even 50 years ago that its the way we farm, with GMOs, hybridized foods, and pesticides that cause most of the issues. I believe that we eat too much food, no matter what it is. I read wheat belly and what he had to say about the wheat we eat today made so much sense. No wonder so many people have issues with it. However I do eat fruit, and rice( organic of course) and I do just fine. I can not eat too much meat as I have a difficult time with digesting it. Plus I am allergic to milk and pork. Everyone is different and I believe genetics have a lot to do with the way we react to food. I also have a huge issue with factory farming, and eating animals even though I do eat some meat, but I do not believe that our ancestors were such great hunters that they were able to catch meat everyday. I think there were a lot of plants, including grasses being eaten. Some cultures ate mostly fish. There was a great article about this in National Geographic. I need to go find that article again. It depends on where your ancestors came from.
    I agree that it is a difficult subject and that for some people it has probably been a great way to eat.
    Thank you Fredric
    Steph Perdew

  32. Shan says:

    This blog about “Grain Brain” is very carefully written. It echoes my naturopath’s as well as my opinion. Thanks Frederick for taking time to read this book and review it. I also look for honest opinions like yours based on supporting or non-supporting facts and statistics. I would love to read your reviews, if any, on Wheat Belly by William Davis as well as Hormone Reset Diet by Dr. Sara Gottfried, both seem to be NYTimes best sellers. Moderation being the key, I just listen to my body. There are as many unique diets as there are number of people on this planet. There are no cookie cutters here.

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