Going Gluten-Free With Grain Brain

The following post is sponsored by FitFluential LLC on behalf of Grain Brain.

What if there was a theory that we could make lifestyle changes that would impact not just our weight, but our brain- to keep it healthy and sharp?  Dr. David Perlmutter, MD – who believes just that -is the author of the new book, Grain Brain, and fellow of the American College of Nutrition, the president of the Perlmutter Health Center in Naples, Florida and the cofounder and president of the Perlmutter Brain Foundation. He believes that the fate our our health and in particular our brain, lies in the food we eat. He believes, through years of practice as a neurologist that by reducing gluten and sugar (or the carbs that contain those), eating good fats, staying fit and getting enough sleep, we can take control of potential inflammations and chart a healthier course for life.

Gluten-Free with the Grain Brain | LiveDoGrow

Now…before you think that I have diven off a deep end believing any old thing….

Some context about why I am reading Grain Brain (and trying the theory for four weeks)…

I have shared in the past- in writing and in real life, that I am not a fan of trendy diets, opting more for lifestyle changes and that I am a believer in everything in moderation. That has not changed. In fact very recently I tried to respectfully discourage a friend from giving up gluten and sugar cold turkey. Except that I also sit here, before you, knowing that whatever other methods I am trying to regain control of my health- are not working. This is not a case of me throwing up my hands and trying something without thinking, planning and committing. I have seen too many cases around me of individuals go gluten free and feel incredible. Even my parents, made the move to gluten and sugar free lifestyles several months ago-which is significant because one of those parents- my dad- is a retired neurosurgeon.

So of course, I asked my neurosurgeon dad about the theory that nutrition and lifestyle change could directly impact our brain’s health. In truth, just like he is a skeptic about the use of chiropractors (which I go to for my running injury), he is skeptical about studies and theories. His theory, not unlike mine, is that if you throw a rock far enough, or in different directions, you will eventually hit something- in this case, there are theories about everything- and if you make enough lifestyle adjustments, you are almost certain to see positive changes. The question for him as the scientist, is…what is the long term empirical data that proves a direct correlation.

Having said that, I am not a woman of science. I am a woman that makes decisions based on research yes, but also on anecdotal observations –and also on gut feelings. I am also a woman whose body is full of inflammation – from headaches to ongoing congestion to bloating, joint and muscle pain–that is overweight, has heartburn, and who at a year shy of 40, feels not as sharp mentally as I used to be (as in, I can no longer remember everything that I used to, nor can I stay as focused). So for me– a plan that suggests a realistic plan to eliminate gluten and sugar to foster health benefits (one of which is weight loss)- is one that I am absolutely willing to try.

What is the Grain Brain plan?

At the core, Grain Brain is about lifestyle changes you can make today to keep your brain healthy, vibrant and sharp. The  4-week plan is based on the long time work of Dr. Perlmutter with his patients, through research and curating studies, includes:

o Shifting your body away from relying on carbs for fuel and adding brain health supplements
o Incorporating a fitness routine
o Getting restful, routine sleep seven days a week
o Establishing a new rhythm to maintain these healthy habits

The details and what the Grain Brain means for me (and why I am taking the Grain Brain Challenge)

Sleep is good for us.
The research is out there, in bits and pieces..like a new study that shows that sleep provides a metabolic cleanse, flushing out the day to day waste that accumulates. And although I said that we were going to talk about the easy parts first, this may be one of the things that is hardest for me to be successful with. I have fallen into horrible patterns of staying at my computer until much too late, sometimes even the wee  hours of the morning, working, (or if I am being honest, exploring social media streams) and as a result, am always tired. I have known that I need to better about this for a while…and only recently that I have started scheduling 7 am Pilates classes am I actually going to bed a bit earlier (at least on those nights before the early morning alarm).

Fitness is good for us.
Again…easy right? Well ok, not really- or at least, not really when you are struggling to rehab yourself after a running injury that has kept you out of running shoes for three months. The truth for me is that I am starting to realize that I need to re-frame my fitness expectations and definitions of success. By adding on Pilates I am slowly starting to rebuild my core muscles and through extensive physical therapy and now ART treatments with a sports chiropractor, walking is the best I can do until my hip pain decreases.

Key supplements for the Grain Brain | LiveDoGrow

Nutritional supplements can enhance our healthy efforts.
If you were to look at my medicine cabinets over the years, you would see an array of supplement containers, sometimes being used and often being forgotten. The only time I was good about taking vitamins was when I was pregnant and religiously took my DHA and Omega-3 prenatal vitamins because it was good not for me, but for the baby I was growing. So when taking DHA and Omega-3 to boost my brain function and overall health is suggested as part of the Grain Brain- it makes sense. I also read an article once upon a time about the benefits of resveratol- although I was not consistent- but sure, I am willing to give it a try. Turmeric is another supplement that I have heard more and more about, to reduce inflammation- so while it was not provided to me, I bought my own supply to try thinking I might as well.

Shifting away from carbs and gluten is more than just a trend.
Granted, a gluten-free lifestyle has become very trendy. But more than that, people that I highly respect and admire have had great health benefits from switching to a gluten-free diet. Presumably the idea of going gluten-free- to an Italian- should induce panic. But honestly, I have been trying to reduce gluten in the last few months (not very successfully, but at least I have thought about it and switched to brown rice pasta instead of regular pasta…). This is the part that I know is going to take the most effort and commitment. I did appreciate where in Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter talked about the realities of life sometimes interfering with our best laid plans. He talks about the balancing act that we need to sift through to be successful with a new habit and suggests that instead of applying the 80/20 rule (eat well 80% of the time and save 20% for splurges) to aim for a 90/10 rule where we focus our efforts for 90% of the time and let “the last 10% take care of itself.”

Going Gluten-Free may not be easy

For me, trying to reshape my habits and incorporate the theories behind Grain Brain means changing my eating routines- with intention, with planning and with a goal to make this lifestyle permanent. I already know that in the next four weeks I will face challenges- like waking up on my first morning to realize that not only were all the eggs in the house gone (I was going to make scrambled eggs for breakfast)- but my husband used them to bake….bread. I know that two weeks into my journey I will be venturing out, for a mother-daughter trip that involves an elegant afternoon tea service. I know that I will have to nibble on the birthday cake that my almost nine year old daughter and husband have been planning (imagine an engineer and a wanna-be engineer sketching out to scale a cake).

Gluten-free chardonnay baked salmon | LiveDoGrow

My first (intentional) gluten-free dinner: Chardonnay Baked Salmon (recipe from the Grain Brain)

But I am committed. Because if nothing else, Dr. Perlmutter has convinced me that the potential benefits outweigh any skepticism or fear. This is my health we are talking about- and as a cancer survivor, I know all too well how few things in life we can control. If there is even a chance that making these lifestyle changes can help me reduce my current inflammations, lose weight, feel healthier and impact my long term health…then I am all in.

What about you?

Have you heard about Grain Brain or tried to go gluten-free?  

Find out more about Grain Brain.

Follow along in my gluten-free adventures during the Grain Brain Challenge on Instagram (where I will be highlighting new recipes) at #GBChallenge

Read other articles about the impact of gluten-like this one about making the decision to go gluten-free.

Elena Sonnino signature | LiveDoGrow

I received a copy of the book, Grain Brain and supplies of nutritional supplements as part of this sponsored campaign.

 

 

 

 

Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Freelance Writer, Digital Media Strategist, Runner, Cancer Survivor and Chaser of Dreams. Elena writes about everyday wellness and wellness travel from the Washington D.C. suburbs and beyond.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for your honest thoughts. I’ll be interested to see how you feel over the next four weeks. I tried gluten free last year (for only 3 weeks) and felt no difference. My general belief that unless you are celiac or have a real sensitivity, a certain amount of gluten is not going to hurt you and that the whole grains are healthy. Of course, I’m not a scientist either (nor am I trying to sell a book).

    Reply
    • It is interesting–because I think I felt the same way at first- but I cannot deny the changes I have seen in friends or my parents–if nothing else in their overall health, weight loss and energy just from the switch to gluten-free. The overall plan- in my mind–boils down to the fact that anytime you increase fitness, eat well and sleep–consistently- at the very least- you are going to feel better in some way shape or form.
      Or at least- that is what I am hoping.

      Reply
  2. I don’t go GF, but I do try to be conscious of how much I take in. With processed foods it’s easy to have too much of so many things! I find I feel best when I keep it clean and prepare fresh foods at home.

    Reply
  3. Well-written and thoughtful post! I fall on your dad’s side of things: My question always is this “what’s the empirical evidence?” And there really is not much empirical evidence that going gluten or sugar-free is going to change your brain. But…I eat a gluten-reduced diet. I sometimes get eye-rolls from my empirically-minded colleagues because of this. I don’t think that gluten-free (or gluten-reduced) is going to make a significant difference for everyone, or even for most people. I had significant GI distress and almost a daily basis for a full year, and finally (after doctors kept trying to give me meds for irritable bowel syndrome), I did an elimination diet, and found that if I stay away from dairy and gluten, my intestines work very, very well!!! So I say, feel free to try it out and see how you feel. If you feel better, good for you! It’s very, very unlikely that it will hurt you to go gluten-free, sugar-free, and it just might work out very well.

    Reply
  4. I’m curious to see what you think? I’m gluten minimal and noticed a big difference in several ways.

    Reply
  5. I’m not gluten free but I avoid processed foods. I noticed even heavy restaurant dishes make me sick, but if I have whole grains alone I’m good and functional!

    Reply
  6. I’ve tried GF for brief periods of time but have never been able to stick with it because I found it so time consuming to cook, shop and eat that way. And when you travel a lot it’s a challenge. I try to cut down, but don’t notice a huge difference. That said – there could be major improvements inside the body that don’t necessarily translate to us “feeling different.” I’ll be following your story to see how it goes for you. Good luck!

    Reply
  7. Also read Wheat Belly-you will stay off gluten for good

    Reply
  8. I’ve been on the “grain brain” plan for years already:)

    Reply

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