Rage Against the Gluten Skeptics

The gluten defenders lapped up the article This Is Your Brain on Gluten by James Hamblin. Anything that conforms to their opinion that avoiding gluten makes one orthorexic is a message worth spreading. The article goes after Dr. David Perlmutter, who wrote the book Grain Brain, which is about his view that grain consumption is linked to brain diseases from dementia to ADHD.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers by David Perlmutter

I clicked onto the story because although I am receptive to the message that a doctor is getting positive results by getting his patients to remove grains, I am deeply skeptical that all carbohydrates are bad. I haven’t read his book, nor do I plan to. I avoid wheat because it makes me feel terrible, I eat fruit and ice cream because it makes me feel wonderful.

The article actually started pretty decently, even including some comments from Chris Kresser, who is one of the few remaining health bloggers that I still respect. Then the article turned to crap. Our reporter reached out to Dr. Katz as a source to discredit Dr. Perlmutter. Remember that name? He is the doctor I mocked in the post Who is the Guinea Pig Dr. Katz?

I mocked him because he calls canola oil “heart healthy” in his just-published book and he lumps saturated fats with trans fats. He even goes as far as to refer to butter as artery-clogging. In 2013! Of course, his book is super pro-grain. This is the expert The Atlantic reached out to? Can you say biased? Katz even got to plug his book in the article, referring to his own work as “sensible”. His book has the sensationalist title Disease Proof.

Katz also landed this dipshit fear-mongering comment into the article.

 “The problem is that people are going to get their dietary cholesterol from things other than fish and eggs; they’re going to get it from meats and dairies. The problem with diets like that is if you eat more of A, you’re probably going to eat less of B. So people who are eating more meat and dairy and high-fat, high-cholesterol foods are eating fewer plants—they’re not eating beans; they’re not eating lentils. So yes, I think it’s entirely confabulated and contrived, and potentially dangerous on the level of lethal.”

What a tool. Those of us that avoid wheat are eating more plants because we aren’t consuming half our calories in grains anymore. I’ve got my issues with the Paleo diet, but everyone I know in the Seattle Paleo group ended up eating more fruits and veggies when they tossed the grains. So in our article, which is supposed to be a critique of the argument that removing grains could improve neurological ailments, now has an “expert” stating that giving up grains causes one to eat fewer plants (not fewer grains) which could be “potentially dangerous on the level of lethal”. Huh?

This is a credible source?

This could have been a really good article had the reporter sought out a real expert in neurological diseases. Katz has a financial interest in dissing not only a competing nutritional theory but a competing book for sale right now in many bookstores.

Full disclosure: The Atlantic magazine took images from my Flickr feed in 2011 without giving proper attribution per the Creative Commons license I set for both images. I reached out to them to resolve the issue and they never responded back to me. So I have a slight bias against that rag.


Add yours

  1. What’s your thought on steel cut oatmeal? I’m tired of bacon and eggs so I splurged at Trader Joes today and bought some. Is it cool?

  2. @Ed – I’m guessing YES. Only you will know for sure.

    I see grain/gluten intolerance as a spectrum that we don’t fully understand yet.

  3. Ed,

    a huge bowl of stell cut oats with blueberries + scoop of whey protein + dash of ceylon cinnamon + mucho coconut oil + a couple of mixed up raw egg yolks (optional) = morining bliss

  4. Funny MAS, most of the social media sharing and such seemed to be from pro-Grain Brain folks. Perlmutter himself tweeted it. I don’t think most read the whole thing!

    I just got the book. It is really bad, beginning with his risk quiz that includes all manner of things having nothing to do with eating grains or their effect on the brain. This is a third grade or worse knockoff of Wheat Belly which isn’t saying much. I haven’t read the full thing yet but what I have read fails to make a case for why grains (gluten specifically) are causing dementia, much like WB failed to make the case for wheat favoring visceral fat accumulation.

  5. @Evelyn – I look forward to your full review. His anti-carb bias was way too extreme for me, but I am still interested in how grains are affecting different people differently.

    Do you have any speculation on what might be causing dementia and how Dr. P is getting positive results by getting his patients to give up the grains?

  6. charles grashow

    Dec 25, 2013 — 10:57 am


    Results 22 cohort study publications met inclusion criteria and reported total dietary fibre intake, fibre subtypes, or fibre from food sources and primary events of cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease. Total dietary fibre intake was inversely associated with risk of cardiovascular disease (risk ratio 0.91 per 7 g/day (95% confidence intervals 0.88 to 0.94)) and coronary heart disease (0.91 (0.87 to 0.94)). There was evidence of some heterogeneity between pooled studies for cardiovascular disease (I2=45% (0% to 74%)) and coronary heart disease (I2=33% (0% to 66%)). Insoluble fibre and fibre from cereal and vegetable sources were inversely associated with risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Fruit fibre intake was inversely associated with risk of cardiovascular disease.

    Conclusions Greater dietary fibre intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Findings are aligned with general recommendations to increase fibre intake. The differing strengths of association by fibre type or source highlight the need for a better understanding of the mode of action of fibre components.

  7. As regards:

    Do you have any speculation on what might be causing dementia and how Dr. P is getting positive results by getting his patients to give up the grains?

    I haven’t gotten to any of this part of his book. I read the section on fructose and sugar (odd, grains are low in fructose) and skimmed most of it. Busy with other projects, but I would be surprised when all is said and done to read anything definitive in his book. This is the problem with these doctors — they can pretty much say anything. Unless they have published case studies there is no way to confirm any of this. Take his “colleague” William Wheat Belly Davis. Only a few short years ago his Track Your Plaque program recommended oats and legumes and striving for an LDL of 60! He even warned against hypOglycemia for diabetic patients. He was getting *remarkable* results. What changed?? Now he claims his patients still have plaque but apparently it’s miraculously stable because — he claims — his patients no longer have heart attacks.

    Perlmutter is pretty “famous” for using glutathione to treat Parkinson’s. I’m surprised the increased publicity surrounding this book hasn’t brought increased scrutiny of the numerous complaints, questions and controversy surrounding this.

    I honestly don’t think there’s a shred of evidence that grains per se have anything to do with dementia. He also makes the same mistake the early cholesterol folks did in equating dietary carb with circulating glucose levels. The onus is on Perlmutter to provide the evidence supporting grains causing dementia. I’ll check out that case come January.

    I *get* that some have issues with grains and need to avoid or limit them. But this doesn’t make them harmful per se. If they were truly so toxic to humans, you wouldn’t have some of the most populous regions consuming them in great quantities as a staple.

  8. @Evelyn – Thanks for the comment.

    My hope is that this discussion can move into a positive middle ground that neither unjustly blames grains for all society’s illness and the other which seems to ignore a large percentage (10% – 30% depending upon the source) are having issues.

    The best middle ground hypothesis I’ve heard came from Kresser’s podcast about fermentation and antibiotics.

    The best middle ground solution I’ve read comes from the WAPF people, who focus more on how grains were processed.

    Sadly, the discussion on the topic never seems to get this far. If grains aren’t evil then they must be good. If they aren’t good, then they must be evil.

  9. I hope so too MAS, though I do believe that the statistics on true issues are highly inflated. I’ve been hanging around with a lot of ex-paleos who were convinced they had a problem with gluten or grains, who now consume these regularly without incidence. I have never seen so many stock photos of people grabbing their abdomens in distress as I have in the paleo community. Something’s up there I think ….

    Books like this one will not move any of us forward. Even WAPF drives me a little batty sometimes with their soaking and sprouting and whatnot. Nobody in those traditional cultures had a clue about phytates and whatnot, nor did they likely have a source of plentiful clean water. So they dried stuff to avoid spoilage and soaked it so they could eat it! Some of the dried stuff sprouted during soaking and some fermented a bit. They then ground, mashed and whatnot to maximize getting all the nutrition out of it. The true rough parts were discarded even by these primitive cultures, so that part of the “whole grains” is misguided in our modern versions of what is considered whole.

    I think it is great to raise awareness so that those who think they are following a healthy diet but experiencing problems know there may be a reason that can be fixed by simply avoiding some foods. But it’s almost like the paleos suggest we all shouldn’t drink because some people can’t tolerate alcohol. Ironically they seem to do just that with respect to grains but make plentiful exceptions for the booze. Strange, eh?

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