Fat as Fuel + Grain Brain Challenge

Woo hoo! It’s Friday!

Last Friday in my marathon confessions, I mentioned that very little reading has been happening lately unless it was marathon related.  Well that changed.  On Saturday, I received this book:

Grain Brain

I agreed to review the book and complete a four week challenge.  I devoured it in a few days.  I never get tired of reading health and nutrition research.  More confirmation that I’m in the right field, I guess. The following post is sponsored by Fitfluential LLC on behalf of Grain Brain.  All opinions are my own, of course.


I appreciate that it’s written by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, who is a neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition.  He knows the science but also has his hands in holistic nutrition. It’s the perfect mix, in my opinion.

According to the book, most brain conditions are caused by inflammation.  He argues that inflammation can be triggered by carbohydrates, especially gluten and sugar.  Instead of a the typical American carb-centric diet, he discusses all the evidence that fat is crucial for our health, even saturated fat (butter, eggs, meat). The human brain consists of more than 70% fat.

We especially need to focus on good fats, like DHA Omega 3, found in fatty fish and algae to help reduce inflammation.  Plus many vitamins need fat to be absorbed properly (including Vitamins A, D, E and K).

He has found that wheat and gluten in particular are tied to all sorts of common complaints when there is an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity, including headaches, fatigue, seizures, bloating or stomach distress, ADHD in children, etc.

The Challenge

To keep your brain healthy and to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, he recommends a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, adding brain health supplements, incorporating exercise and getting plenty of sleep.

He recommends the following supplements:

Grain Brain supplements

1)      Resveratrol to enhance blood vessel dilation and support healthy blood flow (a powerful antioxidant found in red wine, or pictured above in GNC Preventive Nutrition resVida)

2)      DHA and EPA for anti inflammation, heart and vascular health and brain health, 1,000 mg of omega-3 DHA and EPA can be found in Spring Valley Omega-3 Fish Oil Gels

3)      Omega 3 fatty acids from a vegetarian and sustainable source like algae can be found in the BrainStrong Adult DHA Supplement  or another good source is Gold Circle Farms DHA Omega-3 Cage Free Eggs, with 150 mg of DHA (found at Whole Foods, Kings Supermarkets and Food Emporiums)

4)      He also recommends probiotics, turmeric and vitamin D.

Americans are severely lacking in DHA.  The typical Western diet has 100 mg daily as opposed to the 1,000 mg he recommends.  Studies have shown everyone, from infants to older adults, benefit with adequate sources of DHA in their diet.  He focused particularly on the benefits to the brain, such a improved memory and less risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

My thoughts (kind of long… sorry to make you think on a Friday!)

I absolutely agree with the emphasis on putting fat back into our diet for long term health.  I also agree that the introduction of processed carbohydrates can be linked to our obesity crisis, diabetes, heart disease, and number of other illnesses in the body.

What I had a little trouble with was his hard stand against all carbohydrates.  He pointed to research showing that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet improved brain health and inflammation in the brain but concluded that if less carbohydrates is good, than restricting them even more must be better.  Ultimately, his program calls for little to no grains and only one piece of fruit per day.

Again, I agree that we can all benefit from cutting out processed carbs and sugar, but I do not believe such an extreme reduction of carbs is necessary (or even helpful) for everyone.  For a more balanced approach, I would have loved to hear him mention:

1)      The importance of balancing acidic and alkaline foods.  He spent a lot of time convincing the reader that saturated fat is good (eggs, butter, cheese, meat) and while I agree that we do not need to demonize these foods as we did in the past, it is extremely important to increase meat (acidic) in proportion to an increase of vegetables (alkaline) as we know our health is most improved with a slightly alkaline (plant-based) diet.

2)      Acknowledge that many cultures around the world survived for thousands of years with a reliance on carbohydrates in their diet without the rates of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia and diabetes that we have today. For example, rice has traditionally been a staple in Asia, as corn is in South America, buckwheat in Russia, and wheat in the Middle East and Europe.  And most people in these societies were not obese, dealing with dementia, or dying from the diseases we have today.

We are all individuals with unique bodies.  Some of us have more stomach acid than others and do well on higher protein diets.  Others have little stomach acid and run into trouble digesting meat and need slightly lower levels of fat in our diet.  I do not believe one diet fits all. 

Again, overall, I agree with the major points that Dr. Perlmutter made, and I think his message is really important to help us undo our fear of fat and our love of carbohydrates.  If we could move toward largely unprocessed diet with less wheat, I believe we would see a lot of the same benefits, (even if whole grains are still included.)

For Runners

One other fun research fact that I loved as a runner- cardio has been tied to larger brain development. Walking, running, and being in motion spurs the generation of new brain cells. (There is so much research lately about the benefits of strength training and functional exercise, I was fully expecting him to criticize cardio, especially distance running!) :)

(To be fueled largely on fat as an endurance athlete requires the body’s ability to use fat for fuel, rather than it’s glycogen stores, which is another post for another day, but something I’ve been experimenting more with this cycle via glycogen depletion runs.)

So for the next four weeks, I’m going to take the supplements and experiment with more fat and less carbohydrates and I’ll report back on how I feel. I can’t promise to stick to only one whole grain serving per day… we’ll see. Although he does have some delicious recipes (even desserts)- this is already longer than usual, so maybe I’ll share those in my follow up.

If you’re curious, definitely check out his book and anyone who is interested in trying the supplements and higher fat diet along with me, please join in!

Have you heard of or read the Grain Brain? Do you emphasize fats (of all kinds) in your diet?

49 thoughts on “Fat as Fuel + Grain Brain Challenge

  1. Laura this was so interesting! I really agreed and enjoyed your review of the book. The dr. I see for my gluten intolerance is also a neuro scientist and specializes in food intolerances and their affects on the brain. He also recommends the tumeric (tumero-liquid form found on Internet that my daughter loves so delicious) probiotics, vit d and b12 (which he says most of us are lacking). According to him no one should eat gluten but again that might be a bit extreme.

  2. I think it’s interesting but I don’t buy into the “if less is good, even less is better” philosophy. And studies on specific diets are really to small and/or too short term and/or too uncontrolled to really draw conclusions from. I agree with your approach — experiment and see what works best for you!
    Coco recently posted..The Plank Routines That Keep Me Injury-FreeMy Profile

  3. I agree with Coco in that I don’t necessarily buy into extremely limited various food groups, etc. I agree that fat is a super important part of our idea and shouldn’t be demonized but it’s also important to figure out what works for each person because everyone is different, right? I love hearing about these different studies and approaches. So fascinating!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: It takes a VillageMy Profile

  4. Interesting. I think many people should cut back on grains, but let’s face it, many people should simply cut back on EVERYTHING. My motto is and always will be moderation in all things. I know from prior experience my brain cannot function on a low-carb diet (my whole family went Atkins one fall and that’s the only time I have ever failed a test in school!), but I also know my husband thrives on low-carb eating. Proof that to each his own, and why we don’t practice extremes in our household.
    Kasey recently posted..The most delicious cheetos in the world!My Profile

  5. This sounds like an interesting book to read. I am one to read a book like this with a “grain” of salt. I do not believe that a diet that works for one person works for another the same exact way. I love my fats {grass-fed butter, olive oil, avocados} but try to eat more veggies than I do fats or meat. Right now THAT works for me.
    Maureen recently posted..Finally FridayMy Profile

  6. Very interesting! I’m not sure how my body would do on my runs if I didn’t eat carbs. And I LOVE fruit! I can’t imagine only having one serving a day. I eat more like 2-3 servings of fruit a day. I definitely agree with you that one diet does not fit all. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts after the challenge!
    Mindy @ Road Runner Girl recently posted..Fitness Friday…Recovery Week!My Profile

  7. Very interesting. I’ve heard the book mentioned via FitFluential peeps, but that’s pretty much it. I don’t use probiotics, but I try to add turmeric in most days actually. I do try to pay attention to my fats. They used to be really really low, but I’ve been much better about adding them back in without guilt. As for the carbs, mine are lower than they used to be. However, I do think we need a certain amount of carbs, especially athletes, for the energy source they provide. Balance.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Fun for Friday – RunfessionsMy Profile

  8. That’s very interesting. I should read that too. It is very reminiscent of the Paleo lifestyle. That too emphasizes to use fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. Just an FYI, it does take some getting used to. The first week or two you may see some lack of energy. It will come back. I am not 100% Paleo but I’m getting there and I feel pretty good.
    Kristina Walters @ Kris On Fitness recently posted..The Hills… Indoor Edition & Energy Bits GiveawayMy Profile

  9. Good to hear your review on this. I saw the title and sub-title and my knee-jerk reaction was that we don’t need another book bashing grains! Yes, Americans eat too much processed crap, no question. But we have gone overboard (as Americans are wont to do) with the demonizing of grains. There ARE grains that are good for us. I do agree, however, about increasing healthy fats–and again, the lack of healthy fats in our diets probably stems from the earlier dietary craze, which was low fat!

    Ok–did I just rant there? Sorry if I did!
    misszippy recently posted..Friday fiveMy Profile

  10. Thanks for posting Laura. I have been interested in reading this book and then saw clips of him on Dr. Oz and thought he was a bit extreme in what carbohydrates he “supports”. I do not eat grains because they give me a 9 month food baby but I do eat carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit, seeds, rice and quinoa on occasion and those I don’t limit.

    I am a huge proponent of a high HEALTHY fat diet as I personally have seen huge improvements in mental clarity and mood. It has been hard to get past the no fat/low fat brain washing. After all my increased fat intake, the result has been I have lost weight.

    Thanks for giving an honest review.
    Tara Newman recently posted..Five Fall RecipesMy Profile

  11. I think the major change that most everyone is overlooking is not just the change in our diet but the more importantly the change in our activity levels over the past 50 years.

    There is considerably more sitting and less general activity, which has been demonstrated to increase heart and brain health.

    I agree with his supplement recommendations (oy, that brand of fish oil has not been tested to be very good). But I’m finding his science a little too extreme.
    Deb Roby recently posted..While We Walk…My Profile

    • I do find it disappointing that many people would look at the diet and say, no way! It’s not sustainable for me, and throw out the whole thing, as opposed to making simple shifts around the points he was making (more physical activity, more fat, less processed food) and still see good results.
      Laura recently posted..Fat as Fuel + Grain Brain ChallengeMy Profile

  12. I find this so fascinating. I’ve been following a facebook page by two mum’s and nutritonists who want to change the food pyramid with grains at the top and fat at the bottom. They feed their kids sticks of organic butter as treats! I couldn’t handle the levels of fat they promote, but I definitely agree that highly processed carbs and really low fat is no good. Just interesting to see all these vastly different nutritional approaches! One piece of fruit would make me sad I think!
    Jess recently posted..New South Wales Fires – What you can do to help!My Profile

  13. My initial reaction to the title of this book was “Oh great another carb bashing diet.” I think there is no one size fits all for a way of eating. It may work for some but I personally would not thrive. However, I would try it just to see if I did feel different. I like to “test” out different ways of eating because I am asked a lot about nutrition given the field that I am in. Now if I can just get my patients to learn to be not so afraid of fats….
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..I Think I’m An AddictMy Profile

  14. I’ve always believed in all things in moderation, and that most definitely includes carbs. And fats. And fountain Coke. Wait, how did that last one get in there? As an athlete, and more importantly, as a mother, I strive for a balanced diet. Thanks for sharing this with us! Definitely good food for thought.
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted..20 Reasons to Be ThankfulMy Profile

  15. This book sounds interesting! I’m on a challenge right now and reducing the amount of fruit I eat has been a big challenge for me. I also had to increase my carbs more than recommended as I just felt a little bla without them. I’m interested to hear how you react to these changes.
    Nicole @ FruitnFitness recently posted..Artisinal Dish OcalaMy Profile

  16. I actually read part of this book when I spotted it at the bookstore recently. I found it pretty interesting, but I am with you about the whole carb thing. We started eating a LOWER (not low) carb and grain free diet last year. I also added a little butter and coconut oil into our diet. I try to read all I can about nutrition and after reading the Perfect Health Diet book, I made the decision to add some starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and occasionally white rice back into our diet.

    I have been struggling with my energy levels during my longer runs recently and am trying to figure out the best fueling plan for me. Energy gels and chews aren’t really working for me, and I don’t really like using them. I actually just listened to a few podcasts and have been reading blogs this past week that talked about a higher fat intake for endurance athletes, so I have started to add more healthy fats to my diet. One of my best runs recently was after I had a cup of coffee with some butter in it instead of a snack bar and a cup of plain black coffee like I usually have prior to a run. Not sure if that was just a fluke or not, but I am anxious to test it out further.

    Like you, I don’t feel like there is one “diet” that fits all. There is so much information available to us today, and I think that we should educate ourselves, then make decisions based on what is best for us as individuals.

    I am very interested to hear how your glycogen depleted runs go for you.
    Tempie @ The Texas Peach recently posted..Ozeri 4x3runner Digital Pedometer ReviewMy Profile

  17. I haven’t read your book but I like your take on it anyways. While I do agree that a lot of processed and sugary carbs are probably not good I really cringe when people tell me about low or no carb diets. I also just do not want to be that example for my kids. I do not want to be that woman that won’t eat carbs…totally just my opinion!….and I actually might die if I tried ( I love carbs a little too much and it is a very good thing that I run)!
    Jen@milesandblessings recently posted..If at first you don’t succeed…..My Profile

  18. Laura, this is an excellent review. When you challenge the book, you bring points up are so valid and backed up with evidence. I agree with you and have been looking into how important it is to keep our bodies PH balanced. I found this video by a research dr. at Johns Hopkins about Goji berry juice as a means of keeping your body alkaline… it’s so eye opening. He uses goji berry juice, but one could argue that all foods keeping the body in an alkaline state are beneficial for maintaining our health. Here is the video:


    Great review Laura! Have a great weekend.
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Being Resilient…We slip up and then we stand upMy Profile

  19. I totally agree with you, and I think you have one of the most balanced approaches to nutrition I’ve ever seen someone have, and I really respect that. I definitely try to avoid processed carbs, and include as many healthy fats as I can – avocados are a food group, as far as I’m concerned : ) But I think, as with everything, balance and moderation are much healthier than completely restricting (except, of course, in the case of actual food allergies/intolerances).
    Michelle recently posted..A Week of AppointmentsMy Profile

  20. I was really glad to read your balanced approach to this topic. And I literally couldn’t agree more than there is no one right diet for everyone. I have never been a big fan of “absolute maxims” espoused by so many of the new research. We need to find what works for us.
    This having been said I am very much a proponent of healthy fats. I take in flax, chias, walnuts, almonds, pecans and fatty fish on an almost daily basis. Fats have so many important effects in our bodies and to reduce them to an extremely low level is not healthy. I tend to have a bit of a problem with the idea that bacon is health food.. yeah that is hard to buy into.. but I do eat egg yolks and get in some animal fat.
    I have to be honest when I say I also don’t really accept the whole “carbs are bad” idea. Manipulating carb intake is an important way to get leaner, but when we are training at our hardest we need carbs.
    I also feel like gluten has gotten a bad rap (and I like how you wrote that people have been eating wheat for 1000’s of years) to be honest. I do have some friends that feel just terrible after consuming it, and when they remove it from their diet they don’t get the GI distress they get when they do eat it. For them I say “I wouldn’t eat gluten”, but (once again like you wrote) for those of us that do no appear to have gluten allergies.. I just haven’t bought into the idea that it is inherently bad.
    Of course these are just my opinions, but like you I try to take a balanced approach.
    I am definitely interested in your writings on the next 4 weeks on the program.

    Chris recently posted..Across the Years Training Week 15 RecapMy Profile

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