Editor’s Letter: October 2013
By Laura Aiken
If he isn’t already one, Dr. David Perlmutter is about to become a bestselling author.
If he isn’t already one, Dr. David Perlmutter is about to become a bestselling author. Perlmutter is the writer of Grain Brain, a book that according to its scribe’s website “blows the lid off a topic that’s been buried in medical literature for far too long: carbs are destroying your brain.”
If you think the public interest in the admonishment of wheat is waning, bear in mind that as of Aug. 18, Wheat Belly was No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list in the Advice/How-To/Miscellaneous section. The release of Grain Brain is potentially bad news for the bakery industry. That’s about the softest way I can say that.
Before I go any further, I will clarify that I haven’t read Grain Brain, so I don’t intend to discuss its claims but simply to make two vital points. Firstly, the bread industry at every level needs to fight negative claims against wheat and carbohydrates with all the education at its disposal (you may want to start with the Healthy Grains Institute). Thank you to the Baking Association of Canada for drawing attention to the release of this book, and for being active in making us aware of dissenting literature. Secondly, Perlmutter is a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the nervous system, including how it relates to the brain, and it is due diligence to draw attention to the limits of the allied field of neuroscience and brain scan technologies.
You may not have felt like there was a war on wheat bread going on, but I would certainly call it one now. There is a lot of seductive information for consumers and industry alike to sift through. We are all entitled to our own beliefs in the search for truth and that must be respected, alongside respect for the important inquiries and research undertaken by Perlmutter and others in attempts to shed light on how food and our bodies relate. However, the notion that carbohydrates are destroying our brains is highly seductive information. It just doesn’t get any sexier than that right now. Realize that every book displayed prominently by the cash register at a major book retailer denouncing your product needs to be counteracted at your own point of sale. Educate your customers at your own cash register, on your packaging and online. Be proactive in sharing research with your social media community.
To my second point, the brain is an incredibly complex, elastic, beautiful and fascinating structure. We’ve scratched the surface in understanding the human mind and that’s a gigantic feat in itself. I recently read Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, a book that provides a good foundation from which to critically approach today’s hot headlines. If we don’t understand the limits of what our technology can tell us about ourselves, its authors ask, how can we be expected to assess the information sources?
Consider the case of a middle-aged, well-adjusted, educated, married father working as a civil servant who was found to have a black hole where 75 per cent of his brain should be (Psychology Today and The Lancet). It seems wise to approach big cover claims with a healthy degree of skepticism when anomalies like this man exist in the world. Even with fMRI and PET technology, the brain is still very much a mystery.
There is a lot of promising data in the field of neuroscience with regards to correlation, but as Satel and Lilienfeld write, it cannot yet “forge tight causal links between brain data and behavior.” Since the bakery industry is affected by the research of neurologists and neuroscientists, it would be beneficial to have a feel for the limits and great successes of these fields. There are many stakeholders in the quest for causation, and truth is often the subject of ongoing debate. For now, those of us in the bakery industry at every level needs to arm themselves with the education at their disposal, man their stations and prepare for a longer fight in the war against carbohydrates.