Carbo Loathing

January is the time we think about resolutions and regimens. If you have the slightest interest in toning up or feeling better after feasting, the media will enthusiastically tell you which diet fad to try and which to avoid. Back in November, Forbes posted, What Grain Is Doing To Your Brain, about anti-gluten guru Dr David Perlmutter. The doctor has a bestselling book, Grain Brain, and a PBS special, Brain Waves, based on his belief that grains, gluten and carbs are destroying our brains. Wait, what  … Oh yeah, should you believe him?

Perlmutter’s book is propelled by a growing body of research indicating that Alzheimer’s disease may really be a third type of diabetes, a discovery that highlights the close relationship between lifestyle and dementia. It also reveals a potential opening to successfully warding off debilitating brain disease through dietary changes.

Perlmutter says we need to return to the eating habits of early man, a diet generally thought to be about 75% fat and 5% carbs. The average U.S. diet today features about 60% carbs and 20% fat. (A 20% share of dietary protein has remained fairly consistent, experts believe.) …

So we’re in Paleo territory.

“Lifestyle changes can have profound effects later in life,” he says. “I’m watching people who’d already started to forget why they walked into a room change and reverse this. We have this incredible ability to grow back new brain cells. The brain can regenerate itself, if we give it what it needs.”

What it needs most of all, Perlmutter says, is “wonderful fat.” There’s no room in anyone’s diet for modified fats or trans fats, he says, but a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil, grass-fed beef and wild fish provides “life-sustaining fat that modern American diets are so desperate for.” …

“We like to think a whole-grain bagel and orange juice makes for the perfect breakfast,” Perlmutter continues. “But that bagel has 400 calories, almost completely carbohydrates with gluten. And the hidden source of carbs in this picture is that 12-ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. It has nine full teaspoons of pure sugar, the same as a can of Coke. It’s doing a service with Vitamin C, but you’ve already gotten 72 grams of carbs.

In The Atlantic, Richard Hamblin recently posted, This Is Your Brain on Gluten, and wonders if Perlmutter is really on to something, or just trying to support a preconceived notion. He asks anti-fructose crusader Robert Lustig what he thinks:

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Lustig told me last week, “that insulin resistance drives dementia. We have causative data in animals, and we have causative medical inference data in humans. Basically, Alzheimer’s is a metabolic syndrome of the brain.” … “If anything affects how our mitochondria function, it’s going to be felt in the brain first. We know that metabolic syndrome is defective mitochondrial function. I have no doubt that at least one form of dementia — the most common form; the one that’s gotten worse over the past decades — is due to our diet. There is no question that refined carbohydrates play a role in this. The question is, what role, and is it the starch or the sugar? I think the jury is out.”

I am reminded of Minding Your Mitochondria by Terry Wahls, but Lustig carefully does not actually endorse Perlmutter. Another of Hamblin’s sources attacks Perlmutter’s embrace of fat and high LDLs, yet another notes that some cultures live perfectly well on high carb diets, and another points out that paleolithic man didn’t have cooking oil, and probably didn’t get the 75% fat that Perlmutter claims. One of them endorses his own book. Hamblin remains skeptical.

I’m skeptical, too. Though I think Paleo is a decent strategy, I think avoiding processed foods is the most believable aspect.

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8 responses to “Carbo Loathing”

  1. artappraise says :

    I found Hamblin’s Atlantic article enormously helpful. That’s the kind of piece I like to read on this kind of thing where you suspect some of the theorizing involved in a diet fad is on the right track but is also kinda flying off in the wrong direction and with overkill to boot. One things clear to me: humans in first world contemporary society got an epidemic of metabolism problems and medicine hasn’t a clue about what’s really causing a lot of that.

    I am someone who has never had to watch my weight my whole life but have a mother that got obese eating the same food she fed me and my brothers and not anymore of it than we did, so I am really super sympathetic about prejudice towards those who have that problem. Especially when people treat them like they have a moral failing. The longer I live, the more I read on it, the more I see family and friends illness, the more convincing it becomes that they don’t understand squat yet about allt he body’s hormones and how they work much less how diet and environment affects them.

    As a thirty something I had a major auto-immune event hat was real scary and I had to follow a rotation diet as part of getting well, pay more attention to how different foods and other things affected my body (while at the same time having several years of immunization therapy against airborne allergies I never realized I had because I paid so little attention to my body.)

    I think they actually are forced to learn more about it by a lot of the diet fads! Someone like Dr. Atkins, for example, really challenged researchers. So in a bizarre way., diet fads are a good thing. Some inevitably get well and healthy or it wouldn’t be a big or lasting fad, and it can’t all be placebo. And if researchers want to disprove the fad works for the majority, they got to figure out WHY it works for some, thereby learning more about human metabolism. Meantime, the people doing it start to pay more attention to how what they ingest affects them–never a bad thing, mho. Actually, I believe you can’t really get very good medical treatment without being a fully aware partner of the doctors treating you, especially because it’s still part witch doctor we are dealing with as far as “modern medicine.”

    Is really one good side of the internet, the empowerment of people to just start taking part in experiments without permission on what works in health. This is why I get kind of ornery when anyone advocates too strongly for restrictions (even for the pharmaceutical industrial complex’s stuff, where it may be poison to many, but just the cure for the few.) We’ve got to let knowledgeable adults risk things if we are to advance medicine faster than it has in the past.

    Like I said the last time I commented here, you can really do damage to yourself eating too much spinach….who you gonna sue, Popeye?

    P.S.Some quick thoughts on specifics. Paleo makes sense to me for some this way–wouldn’t it make sense that those with less evolved body systems would flourish on it? While those who have inherited systems that have adjusted more to the “bread is the staff of life” lifestyle of agricultural humans might fare better with more carbs? And notice how so many more females instinctively like a carb diet and so many more men prefer high protein and fat. Surely that is not just psychological or cultural but also hormonal.

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    • Donal says :

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The most interesting concept to me lately is that our gut bacteria has evolved for a certain range of foods, and by changing to industrial food we are stressing our traditional bacteria and welcoming new bacteria our bodies aren’t at all adapted to. All that irritable bowel syndrome makes a lot more sense in that light.

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  2. artappraise says :

    P.P.S. Do you know the story of the researcher Fred Kammerow?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/health/a-lifelong-fight-against-trans-fat.html
    I think guys like that, who stick to a belief countering conventional wisdom and herd thinking, are heroes. Sometimes they can be wrong. But if they’ve hung their hat on something that nobody is doing a good job countering, they’re usually onto something important.
    I am fascinated by his story because I knew of his theories in the early 90’s but not of him at all. I read them in alternative medicine books (the kind by M.D.’s.) I was convinced by the data, it sounded like the writers explaining it had all this data coming from experiments. Clearly they had studied his work but they weren’t citing him because I was reading books for patients and not for doctors.

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  3. artappraise says :

    oh and a new Atlantic article,
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/how-sleep-deprivation-decays-the-mind-and-body/282395/
    reminds me-and many forget to put this into the whole picture-we no longer sleep like we were bulit to, and more and more I’m seeing this sort of thing, from the article
    …Others, like Dr. Joyce Walseben, a psychiatrist and the former director of Bellevue Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center, point to sleep’s importance in regulating the body’s hormones. But these theories are not complete.

    “It may be the biggest open question in biology,” Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen…

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    • artappraise says :

      more excerpts:
      ….“Definitely, we know that sleep deprivation leads to depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and probably mortality,” …
      …lack of sleep disrupts other systems in the body.

      “For instance, if you stay up until 3 a.m., you might get very cold,” he said, clarifying that sleep helps to regulate your body temperature. “Your G.I. tract can get messed up. You’re not supposed to eat at three in the morning. It’s a fairly miserable experience.”…,,,
      It’s also easy to find related theories about affects of how much artificial light we are subjected to….

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      • Donal says :

        I am going to bed earlier and getting a lot more sleep lately. Partially because with streaming I can watch a few shows and crash early, and partially because I like to get up earlier, make real oatmeal and get the bike ready.

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  4. artappraise says :

    “Wow” news on topic,…next question:do Neanderthals qualify as following a paleo diet? 🙂
    From a NYT roundup of the week’s science news, Dec. 30

    An Ancient Link for Diabetes

    Researchers have identified gene mutations that may explain why Latinos are almost twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as Caucasians and African-Americans. And in a twist, the quirk can be traced to Neanderthals.

    While trying to explain the high rate of Type 2 diabetes among Latinos, an international team of scientists happened on an ancient gene, most likely involved in fat metabolism. Having mutations in that gene raises a person’s risk by about 20 percent; having two copies, one from each parent, raises it by 40 percent.

    “As far as I know, this is the first time a version of a gene from Neanderthal has been connected to a modern-day disease,” David Altshuler, a geneticist at Harvard and an author of the study, told NPR.

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