Have you heard of Grain Brain? The full title is Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar -- Your Brain's Silent Killers, a new book by Dr. David Perlmutter, outlining lifestyle changes you can make today to keep your brain healthy, vibrant and sharp. Last week I received a copy to read and review. I also received an invitation to join Dr. Perlmutter's Grain Brain Challenge, a 4-week challenge designed to improve brain health through some diet, exercise and sleep recommendations.
I gladly accepted the invitation and agreed to take on the challenge.
The timing couldn't be more perfect because I'm not training for any races right now, so I don't need to freak out about changing up my diet. And, as you'll see, Dr. Perlmutter's dietary recommendations really aren't that different from what I'm doing now anyway. But I'll get into that a little more later.
Also, although I've been really good with my diet for the past few months, lately I've been slipping a little more than usual. Since I was diagnosed with Lyme disease again in September, I started feeling a little sorry for myself. I felt like it was unfair, like I shouldn't be dealing with Lyme again, especially after my hip and blah, blah, blah, whine, whine, whine . . .
But, really? It was just an excuse to eat more sweet potato chips and trail mix.
So, the Grain Brain challenge is -- in my opinion -- just what this happy runner needs to get things back on track. And, hey, if my brain is going to benefit? Well, huge win right there.
OK, so, now you know that I'm in. But what exactly is the challenge?
Good question. Here's the deal. In the book Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter makes a very strong and well-supported case that grains are pretty much the root of all evil when it comes to your brain. Sure, he uses all sorts of more refined, scientific and medical terms but, basically? Grains = evil. Fat, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Not evil at all, despite what the medical establishment would have you believe.
"The diet heart hypothesis that suggests that a high intake of fat or cholesterol causes heart disease has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit, and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies, and even government agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century." -- Dr. George V. Mann, one of the participating researchers in the famed Framingham Heart Study (from Grain Brain, page 78)Fat, in fact, is and always has been a fundamental pillar of our nutrition. Good fats, like DHA omega-3 (found in fatty fish and algae) help reduce inflammation and certain vitamins, like A, D, E, and K, require fat in order to be absorbed properly. This is important because, as Dr. Perlmutter points out, the root of many brain conditions is inflammation, which can be triggered by carbs, especially those containing gluten and that are high in sugar.
The first few chapters of Grain Brain lay out Dr. Perlmutter's claims, like the above, and offer support through multiple studies and reports and Dr. Perlmutter's own observations. In addition to discussing why our brains need fat, and why it isn't the big bad cause of heart disease, he also explains the connection between the grain-and-processed-crap-heavy standard American diet and increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and other brain conditions.
It is all extremely interesting to me -- especially because it is in-line with what my doctor prescribed to help repair my nerve damage and it fits with other research and reading I have done. I've been following a mostly sugar-free diet since January and have been (mostly) Paleo since early May. The dietary changes have made a big difference in my life. I'm ready to try out what Dr. Perlmutter prescribes in Grain Brain.
So here it is.
About the Challenge
The Grain Brain Challenge is a 4-week challenge to make some lifestyle changes to benefit your brain. It starts with some supplements that Dr. Perlmutter actually recommends taking for life. As in, forever.
For the challenge, I'll be taking:
- GNC Preventive Nutrition resVida, which contains trans-resveratrol
- Spring Valley Omega-3 Fish Oil Soft gels with 1,000mg of DHA and EPA
- BrainStrong DHA with 900 mg DHA from algae
|Some of the supplements that I'll be taking during the challenge.|
These will supplement what I already take (and that Dr. Perlmutter recommends):
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Vitamin D
- Coconut oil
Week 1: Focus on Food
Shift your body away from relying on carbs for fuel and add brain-boosting supplements to your daily regimen.
Week 2: Focus on Exercise
Incorporate a fitness routine into your schedule if you don't already have one. (Got that one covered!)
Week 3: Focus on Sleep
Work on getting restful, routine sleep seven days a week.
Week 4: Put it all Together
Establish a new rhythm and maintain healthy habits for life.
The big thing, of course, is the food. Isn't it always? Here is the What to Eat and Not to Eat from Grain Brain:
- Healthy Fats – extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, organic butter, almond milk, avocados, nuts and nut butters, cheese (except blue cheese) sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
- Herbs, seasonings, and condiments
- Low-sugar fruits and vegetables – avocado, bell peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, lemons, limes, leafy greens and lettuce, spinach, broccoli, onions, Brussels sprouts, green beans, celery, garlic, asparagus
- Protein – whole eggs, wild fish, grass-fed meat, fowl, poultry, pork
- Gluten including whole-grain and whole-wheat forms of bread, noodles, pasta, pastries, baked goods, and cereals
- Processed carbs, sugars, and starch – corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chips, crackers, pastries, muffins, pizza dough, cakes, doughnuts, ice cream, jelly, processes cheese spreads, juices, honey, sugar, corn syrup
- Packaged food labeled “fat free” or “low fat” except for things like water, mustard, balsamic vinegar
- Margarine, vegetable shortening, cooking oil
- Soy – soy burgers, soy nuggets, soy hot dogs, etc.
OK. Most of that, to me, is no problem. No problem at all. I have already ditched the bread, pasta baked goods and cereals. Margarine, corn syrup, soy? Yuck. Ditched those, too.
But . . . sweet potatoes?
It is going to be a rough 4 weeks without my beloved sweet potatoes. And, quite honestly, I'm going to have a hard time giving up my daily bananas and dried cranberries. I had best be getting this brain in super-sharp shape!
We'll see how it all shakes out. I'm committed to 4 weeks and I'm ready for it! I'm not totally sold on adding dairy back in to my diet so I'll have to figure that one out. Maybe I'll experiment and maybe it will be fine. Who knows? I guess I will at the end of 4 weeks!
I'll report on the challenge from time to time. (You can't wait, can you?!?) In the meantime, if you're interested in following how the challenge is working out for others, pop over to Twitter or Instagram and the hashtags #GrainBrain or #GBChallenge.
Have you read Grain Brain?
Do you have experience -- good or bad -- with giving up grains and sugar?