Personal Hacking for Health and Productivity

Grain Brain or Wheat Belly?

Anti WheatMy foray into the world of anti-wheat literature started with an audiobook version of Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter.

Absolutely fascinating subject matter and vital reading for anyone with a neurological disorder but I really advise you to steer clear of the audio version and choose instead the paperback so you can flick through to the interesting bits and avoid the author’s (and the reader’s) efforts to turn this into gospel.

I listened to this in the car with two teenagers and an adult cynic. Within minutes of the book starting there were hoots of derision, and the extended pauses between “super powerful paragraphs” were punctuated with cries of “hallelujah” from the back of the car.

I’ve just checked out the Amazon reviews and by and large, readers love it. I however found it to be mediocre and would much rather recommend Wheat Belly.

Wheat Belly, by William Davis MD was published before Grain Brain and heavily influenced the latter. I found it to be an intriguing read (again an audible version so I’m influenced by the narrator) and it was this book that convinced me to go gluten free for good.

Wheat Belly strikes me as a far more widely researched book than Grain Brain. For example, I learned about the fascinating history of wheat, starting from einkorn to its hugely modified genetic brethren of modern day wheat and found myself unusually politicised and embarrassed by my historic and naive support of GMO’s – who knew? It also goes into in-depth scientific detail about human physiological responses to food stuffs – perhaps too much for many readers but at least you have the chance to review or skip.

It’s not fault free though.

Here’s a quote from a sceptical reviewer

My favorite quote from Wheat Belly had to be this one, “Wheat of course, was my first thought”. It was Dr. Davis describing an interaction with a patient with alopecia areata, and yet somehow I’m guessing, it describes Dr. Davis’ first thought with pretty much any patient who walks into his office, perhaps even regardless of their presenting complaint.

I have to agree with this. Despite being thoroughly convinced by the anti-wheat arguments, I couldn’t stop my eyes rolling when the good Dr Davis described yet another consultation with an unsuspecting sufferer:

Mr X, Y or Z came in, suffering with a) memory loss b) skin rashes c) intractable weight gain d) paralysis e) anything, I immediately thought “mmmm this looks like the evil effects of gluten”. I prescribed a wheat-free diet and 3 weeks later, Mr X, Y, Z came running, unaided through my office door with glowing skin tone. at least 3 stone lighter and actually remembered my name. Another wheat-free miracle!

It’s convincing but just too convenient. Unless Dr Davis has a peculiarly specific clientele, there is no way that everyone’s life was revolutionised by the eradication of wheat and gluten, and it makes for an unnecessary bias in the book.

Something Matt Fitzgerald talks about, in his book Diet Cults which aims to debunk nutritional polemic, is context, so for example he says his response to being told that wholegrains are unhealthy is to laugh in your face. His reasoning is that “I’m fit and I’m ripped and I eat wholegrains”. On the other hand, he say’s that many people who respond to “Diet Cults”, (be that high fat, low carb, paleo, gluten free etc) are either not fit, not healthy or both and so when faced with the assertion the “XXX makes you fat” can only say, “well I eat XXX so maybe it is the cause of my predicament”.

I accept that there is some truth in that argument but nevertheless I personally find the anti-gluten argument rather persuasive. I do not believe that everyone will be affected adversely by gluten or wheat but I am convinced that some people have their lives destroyed by gluten and a whole swathe of other folk will suffer unnecessary side effects, of varying levels of annoyance. I am definitely not Coeliac but as someone with a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis I am still experimenting with my own physiological response to going gluten cold turkey.

While I might not (yet) have categoric evidence that gluten causes me any harm, I’m certainly not in any rush to re-introduce it to my diet. Gut instinct alone tells me my diet is no worse for the absence of wheat in its myriad forms. I desperately miss Stella, but bread, pastry, cakes, fake soya proteins and adulterated ice creams are really no loss to human functionality and if I can forestall the inevitable onset of dementia, so much the better.

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