The Joys of a Garden


The quick answer:  Consider all the ways a vegetable garden will benefit your health.


My Father’s Garden

I think “My Father’s Garden” was one of WOWL’s best posts.  Our Father, now passed, was a devoted gardener.  But gardening was about more than food.  His response, when I asked why he gardened, was brief:  “Why do you breathe?”  Gardening, for him, was about life.

Visiting grandchildren found his garden a magical place.  At night the various vegetables would leave their beds to form a marching band and tromp around the backyard playing classics like Seventy-Six Cornstalks.  But perhaps I simply imagined it all.

Garden Benefits

We’re headed to little Midway, Utah, for a stay at a historic home we care for.  It’s spring and plants are exploding with life after the long winter.  We love our visits here, even the weeding.  In this little town, almost everyone gardens. 

There’s so little crime in Midway that people leave cars unlocked with keys in plain sight.  But in the summer, in the church parking lot, they keep their cars locked.  It’s the only way to keep someone from slipping the extra zucchini into your car.

Skip’s Garden

I haven’t had a proper vegetable garden in past years, just a tomato plant or two.  But this year I felt the urge and made a place for a garden, tucked in a sunny spot shown in the picture above.  It’s not large, maybe 15 square feet.  But I have tomato plants, two kinds of squash and green peppers, cantaloupe, carrots, herbs, and string beans.  I love working in my little garden and look forward to the harvest time. 

The benefits of a garden include pleasant exercise, tranquility and relief of stress, vitamin D from the sunshine, the satisfaction of seeing the plants grow under your care, and a felling of closeness to Nature.  Plus you get really healthy food to eat.

All this leads to this week’s Healthy Change:

Comment:  Please comment on your gardening experience.  Whether you do it for truly local and organic food, to save money, or just for the joy of gardening, a garden is one of the best uses of your time.


Good Fat—Bad Fat

The quick answer:  A new voice has joined the crusade to restore traditional fats to the healthy American’s diet.  (Which means removing unhealthy factory-processed vegetable oils.)


Good Fat—Bad Fat

The Wall Street Journal—usually a source of business news—just landed with both feet in the battle over healthy fats.  Nina Teicholz’s May 2nd essay, “The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, supports points we’ve been making in Word of Wisdom Living, namely:

  1. Despite what the government has been saying for 50 years, traditional fats—butter, cheese, full-fat milk, and eggs—should be part of a healthy diet.  What is unhealthy are the low-fat and nonfat processed foods that Food Inc has been pushing as a substitute.  In our home we enjoy traditional fats including butter, cheese, whole milk, EVOO, and eggs.  We avoid reduced fat products.
  2. Despite what the government has been saying for 50 years, modern factory-processed vegetable oils are not healthy.  These oils are the foundation of the processed food industry—the bakery section, chip, cookie and cracker aisles of your grocery store are full of them.  Ditto for prepared foods in the frozen section.  Factory-processed vegetable oils are a serious health concern—we don’t allow them in our home.
  3. WOWL's Healthy Change #2 addresses a particular fat problem:  Avoid deep fat fried foods.  There are two problems with these oils that sit for days at high temperatures:  a) oils that have been hydrogenated contain harmful trans fats.  b) non-hydrogenated oils oxidize faster in the fryers creating toxic byproducts (see #4).  Scientists suspect a link to brain diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.
  4. The toxic byproducts noted in #3 have, as Teicholz states, “dramatic inflammatory and oxidative effects.”  We don’t know what they all are but two groups—monochloropropane diols and glycidol esters—are now causing concern among health authorities in Europe.  (The Europeans just seem to have more common sense about food.)
  5. Vegetable oils, factory processed, now constitute over 7% of the average American’s caloric intake—the biggest and most worrisome 20th Century change in the American diet.  (Rising sugar and high fructose corn syrup intake is another big problem.)
  6. Because Americans cut back on natural fats as advised by governmental and other authorities like the AHA, Americans now eat more sugar and refined carbs and this is a big factor in the overweight/obesity surge in recent decades and the consequent surge in diabetes and related diseases. It's a sad story.
  7. Fat doesn’t cause you to add body fat—though many think so.  But sugar and refined carbs raise your insulin level and insulin causes you to store and retain excess fat.  It’s contrary to what you’ve heard but to lose fat, eat more fat and less sugar and refined carbs. 

Telcholz’s WSJ article states the issues between natural and factory-processed fats more clearly than I have yet seen in the media.  (And supports the Healthy Changes Word of Wisdom Living has promoted from the beginning.)  The last such article was by Gary Taubes in the N. Y. Times:  “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie.”  Taubes wrote 12 years ago, and in more detail.  Teicholz succinctly updates the emerging truth about fats.

Nina Teicholz has a book coming out, available now in Kindle:  The Big Fat Surprise:  Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.  I thought you would want to know about it.


Should Have Stretched

The quick answer:  For good health you must use your muscles.  Exercise includes aerobic (hard breathing), resistance (weights), and stretching.  You need all forms for best health—this week we address stretching.



Modern life, we’ve sadly learned, is carcinogenic.  You can greatly reduce your risk of cancer—and other chronic diseases—by following the Word of Wisdom.  That’s why this blog is important.  The #1 cancer for men (excluding skin cancer) is prostate cancer (PC).  For women its breast cancer, discussed here

There are three things men can do to reduce their PC risk besides eating a healthy diet:

  1. Avoid tobacco smoke—it isn’t just about lung cancer.  Tobacco exposure is measured in “pack-years.”  Each year smoking one pack daily increases mortality by about 2%.  
  2. Settle down with a good woman.  They don’t know why, but the more women in your life, and the sooner you start, the higher your risk of PC. 
  3. Enjoy sunshine.  PC can be aggressive or contained.  Most forms are contained and you’ll die of something else.  The aggressive forms, about 1 in 6, are the problem—the best protection seems to be a healthy serum level of vitamin D.  A recent study found that men in the lowest quintile of serum vitamin D had 266% more risk of an aggressive form.  Don’t know why, but your vitamin D is more protective of the worst PC than any other known factor.  For more about safe sunshine, go here.  For more about the study, go here.

Convenience and Exercise

Good health requires sweat, meaning active use of your muscles.  Yet a big trend in society over the last century has been laborsaving devices.  So we have to reconsider all our convenience gadgets. 

Do you have a garage door opener in your car?  Not us.  We jump in and out of the car to go push the button inside the garage.  The Beautiful Wife is patient with this odd behavior but I fear the neighbors are starting to wonder. 

This is the new question:  How inconvenient should you make your life?  Everything can be made harder.  Last Fathers Day, a daughter gave me a hand lawn mower.  Used it this morning.

This week the subject is stretching but I’m not doing it.   I stopped my stretching exercises while a sore knee recovered and never resumed.  This week was a good time to start but I strained my back making a sudden move one morning.  Probably wouldn’t have happened if I had been stretching.

Flexibility and Aging

Have you observed how you become increasingly less flexible as you age?  Maintaining flexibility—through stretching—is one way to slow down the aging clock.  One study, reported in this N. Y. Times article, revealed a connection between the suppleness of your body and the flexibility of your arteries, including the coronary arteries critical to heart health.  Flexibility, like the touching of toes, is a marker for artery health. 

Here’s are common stretching benefits:

  1. Increases flexibility
  2. Improves circulation
  3. Improves balance and coordination
  4. Reduces lower back pain risk
  5. Can improve heart health
  6. Reduces the tension of stress
  7. Improves energy

Please comment: Share your experience with stretching exercise.  How often do you do it, what do you do, and what's the benefit.


The Virtues of Family Dinner


The quick answer:  Cooking family dinner may be a chore, but it’s also the best virtuous cycle of your life.


Virtuous Cycles

You’re heard of the vicious cycle—where bad leads to worse.  Bad food, for example, robs you of energy, thus robbing you of the energy needed to eat better.  Smoking cigarettes is a classic vicious cycle that leads to addiction and premature death.  Now that I think of it, addictions are often a factor in vicious cycles.

Setting the table the other day, I knocked over the Beautiful Wife’s orchid.  When I saw the broken plant on the floor I said a bad word.  At the ill-spoken utterance a silence descended upon the room.  I silently vowed to do better but the good feeling of the moment was lost. 

Fortunately we have virtuous cycles—where doing good leads to even better.  Eating well gives energy to eat better.  Exercise stimulates a plethora of good outcomes.  Service to others bestows a basket of blessings upon the giver.  Know what I mean?

The secret to a good life is to maximize your virtuous cycles and minimize those pesky vicious cycles.  Ever notice how the Word of Wisdom helps that happen?  Which brings us to a classic virtuous cycle—the family dinner.

Family Dinner

In this post we discussed ten criteria of an ideal family dinner.  Check them out.  No other daily event has so much potential as a virtuous cycle in your home.  And most likely, with a little effort, the beneficial power of your family dinner can be enhanced.

We noted the virtuous cycle benefit of service above.  Maybe the most beneficial service you’ll ever donate is cooking the family dinner.  And when the children are grown up and gone away, those dinners will be among your best memories.

Live Alone?

In this post we talked about family dinner for singletons.  It’s not easy to eat well when you eat alone but you might consider the example of Judith Jones.  Jones made her fame in the publishing world when she pulled a book from the reject pile back in 1950.  It was the memoir of a girl who died before she could make her mark in life—The Dairy of Anne Frank.  She later became Julia Child’s publisher.  After the death of her husband, Jones had to learn to cook for one.  Here’s what she said:

“Learning to like cooking alone is an ongoing process.  But the alternative is worse.

She also wrote a charming book about cooking alone titled The Pleasures of Cooking For One.  I recommend it.  Jones was also good about inviting other singletons to dinner.

Please Comment:  Please share your best family dinner practices and ideas.  This is a topic where everyone has expertise so please, lots of comments.


Building A Successful Family

The quick answer: If you want to succeed you must organize.  Don't leave your life—or your diet—to the chaos of chance.  Organize your eating with menus and shopping lists.


Tiger Moms

Amy Chua—the Yale law professor who touched a nerve in mothers with Tiger Mom, her book about high-achieving children—has partnered with spouse Jed Rubenfeld on another book that should sell well:  The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. 

Always curious about the roots of exceptionalism, I had two questions:  Who are these high-performing cultural groups, and what are the three winning traits? 

Notably, seven of the nine cultural groups are recent immigrants—Cubans (beginning in ’59), but also Nigerian, Indian, East Asian, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Americans.  The question now is whether they can continue to excel after they’ve gotten comfortable in America. 

The other two groups have religious origins: Jews and Mormons.  If you're ambitious for your family and seek the advantages exhibited by all these groups there’s only one you can actually join—the Mormons.  (It’s not hard; they actively seek new adherents.)

The three traits for success:

  1. A belief in one’s specialness (I hesitate to say “superiority”). 
  2. An anxiousness to excel (the flip side of insecurity).
  3. The self-discipline to defer momentary pleasure for more lasting benefits.  (Not so common in today’s live-in-the-moment society.)

The authors note how these highly successful groups defy racial stereotypes—they include Blacks (Nigeria), Hispanics (Cuba), Asians, and Middle Easteners.  All this led to the big question:  Do the traits behind economic success also define people who eat well?  It’s a good subject for a study.  I’m starting to think the discipline to succeed includes a healthy food culture.  BUT, it all starts with bringing order to the chaos of life.

Ordering Your World

There’s a food reformation going on and you’re part of it (thanks for reading WOWL).  Here’s the prime indicator:  Last year sales of soda drinks dropped and diet drinks dropped even more (down 7%).  This is monumental.  Even better, “fast food” is becoming a derisive term.  It’s a trend, not a blip, and scares the dickens out of Food Inc.  That’s all good.

Darya Rose—a San Francisco neuroscientist, food blogger (Summer Tomato), and author (Foodist)—claims you can lose weight without dieting by eating real (whole) foods.  That’s our claim also.  Dieting and food fads are out—real and traditional food is in.

Of our 13 Healthy Change themes (visited once each quarter), the third theme is Organization.  The goal is to organize/create an island of wellness in an unhealthy world.  Though modern factory food is uniquely unhealthy, it's also true that mankind has never had so mamy options to eat well.  If you organize, you can eat better than mankind ever has.  This is a a blessing peculiar to our time that is seldom embraced.

Healthy Change #3 advised writing weekly menus.  We do this on Mondays, at breakfast, using a clean piece of paper.  I make two columns and write the days of the week in the left column (we don’t plan Saturday night).  In the top-right column we note what needs to be eaten (from the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry).  In the bottom-right area we make a shopping list, divided by stores.  We’ve gotten into a rhythm that works for us.

Brooke's Shopping List

Here's a link to a shopping list done by the talented Brooke.  Brooke makes everything better—if the Beautiful Wife had just delivered identical Brooke triplets the world would be even more beautiful.  And here's the original post on shopping lists—if you want to read more.

Please comment:  How do you organize grocery shopping?  Got an app for your iPhone?  Use a printed list you keep in the pantry during the week?  What works best for you?  Please share.


A Primer on Dietary Fat 

The quick answer:  Most of what you’re heard about fat is wrong.  For best health enjoy natural fats in your diet, including omega-3 fats from plants and animals.  Fats make everything taste better and improve bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins (K, A, D and E) and nutrients.


Omega-3 Fat Primer (in 285 words)

A fat (fatty acid) is a chain of carbon atoms with a head and a tail.   The number of carbons is variable but all chain lengths provide needed benefits.  In the last 50 years we were taught that fats were unhealthy and many processed foods were introduced in low-fat or nonfat versions.  This was big mistake #1. 

Think about a fat, composed of a chain of carbon atoms with a head and tail:  If all the carbons have two adjoining hydrogen atoms the fat is saturated.  Saturated fats are stable—meaning they have a long shelf life.  They’re also solid at room temperature.

If a carbon atom is missing its hydrogen atoms it is unsaturated to some degree.  Unsaturated fats are more reactive—a good thing for your body—but when exposed to oxygen in the air they will oxidize which is why your olive oil can go rancid.  Because shelf life is critical for processed foods, those more reactive omega-3 fats were unknowingly removed.  Call this big mistake #2. 

Omega-3 fats are divided into two groups: short chain (found in plants) and long chain (from the fish and animals that eat plants).  You need both forms—the long-chain fats are especially critical to brain health.  There is a link between the rising rate of adult dementia and eating too few long-chain omega-3 fats. 

Your body can convert short-chain omega-3s to long-chain forms but at a limited rate, so for optimum brain health you need fats from fish and animals.  Feedlot animals eat dried grains (high in omega-6 fats) and few green plants (which supply omega-3)—big mistake #3.  So for a good balance of omega-3 to -6, include some pastured meats and fish in your diet.

The Queen of Fats

For more, read Susan Allport's book about omega-3, "The Queen of Fats." discussed in this post.  For additional info, check this past omega-3 fat post.

Skip Protests

For healthcare, the Beautiful Wife and I joined Kaiser Permanente.  In my prior life in the medical device industry I visited many of their California facilities and admired KP’s organization of preventative medicine.  At doctor visits, for example, there is a routine check of your weight and blood pressure—thus emphasizing two keys to good health.  Their goal is to keep you out of the hospital.

They also have a newsletter to support healthy living.  But a recent issue addressed the issue of fat in our diet and repeated all the errors we have been hearing about fats for the last generation.  I fired off a letter of objection that pointed out five grave errors and requested they publish a correction.  I also suggested five true statements familiar to you good readers of Word of Wisdom Living:

  1. Avoid any product containing hydrogenated oil (shown on the ingredient list) due to issues such as trans fat toxicity.
  2. Enjoy minimally processed traditional fats like butter, domestic olive oil, and properly processed tropical (coconut and palm) oils.  Healthy fats taste good and are filling.
  3. Minimize consumption of so-called vegetable oils (solvent-refined soybean and seed oils).  Likewise, avoid foods from commercial deep fat fryers, which contain oxidized vegetable oils.
  4. Balance the omega-3 and omega-6 oils in your diet by minimizing processed foods (high in omega-6 and deficient in omega-3 fat) and focusing on whole foods and healthy meats (omega-3 is intact).
  5. Fresh nuts are a good source of healthy fats.

It’s been six weeks—I’m still waiting for KP’s correction.

Please comment on your experience with omega-3 and omega-6 fats.  People need both, but we have to get back to a balance.  In our home we minimize refined oils in favor of traditional fats like butter and olive oil.


Sugar and Revolution

The quick answer:  The Industrial Revolution brought us unlimited sugar.  We must learn to limit our sugar intake.  Candy is this week's Healthy Change—a timely topic as we approach Easter.


Revolution and Reformation

In Derbyshire, England, the River Derwent flows quietly by hillside pastures divided by moss-covered stonewalls where sheep graze as they have for centuries.  The ancient villages of Hathersage, Belper, and Milford slumber peacefully now.  But two centuries or so ago a revolution exploded here with the world’s first cotton mills—powered by the river and manned 24/7 by women and children. 

Once-bustling mills now lie in silent decay—the Derwent Valley is a World Heritage Site, cradle of the Industrial Revolution and the factory which changed the world for good and ill.  In time the factory system reached our food supply under the guise—better-said disguise—of “modern convenience.”  It changed how we eat—highly processed factory foods, stripped of nutrients and laden with additives, replaced natural, home-cooked meals.  In time, these packaged foods led to today’s chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and maladies too numerous to mention.  Together they form a modern plague. 

The task before us now is to restore our food chain to its former natural healthfulness—we call this the food reformation—and all who read this blog are part of that restoration, defined by Word of Wisdom Living’s 52 Healthy Changes.   

Derwent Valley Origins

Last week the Beautiful Wife, our eldest son, and I traveled through this same Derwent Valley, visiting the villages of Belper, Milford and Hathersage where ancestors once lived and labored in the early factories. 

We share an ancestor—William Frost of lovely Hathersage, the scene of Charlotte Bronte’s revolutionary Romance Era novel, Jane Eyre.  Bronte lived in the church vicar’s cottage while writing Jane Eyre in the 1840s.  My ancestor Robert Hellewell (of Belper and Milford) married William’s lovely daughter Rachel Frost in the adjoining chapel in 1844.  The BW descends from Rachel’s younger sister Maria. 

Robert, Rachel, and Maria all worked in the textile factories.  It was an era of new ideas driving radical change and they were as the leaves blown before the first gusts of a coming storm.  In time Robert and Rachel, accompanied by Maria, heeded the preaching of early Mormon missionaries and immigrated to the Utah Territory to help build a new Zion in the wilderness.  That new Zion is a work in progress and one task is to restore the wholesomeness of food.  In the Derwent Valley, I though I saw the closing of a circle.


Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a pre-revolution—the sugar boom.  Fortunes could be made building sugar cane plantations in the New World.  Before sugar availability had been limited by Nature—bees could only make so much honey.  Now there was an unlimited supply flowing into Europe and the nature of food began to change. 

Sugar’s sweetness made hot drinks popular according to the colonies supplying European countries—hot chocolate in Spain, coffee in France, and tea in England.  As sugar became cheaper a new treat arose—candy.  In the beginning sweets were an occasional treat; today it’s hard to find a processed food that doesn’t include sugar. 

Soda drinks are a major—and harmful—source of dietary sugar.  So-called diet drinks are equally unhealthy.  Therefore, the year started with Healthy Change #1:  If you consume sodas or other sweet drinks, limit yourself to one (12 oz.) serving per week.  It’s a rule we can live with.

As you know the Healthy Changes follow 13 themes that repeat each quarter of the year—now we start the 2nd quarter and revisit the subject of sugar with this Healthy Change:

Please comment:  How will you manage the Easter candy glut?  Tell about your experience with a "sugar fast."  Or share your sad story of falling off the sugar wagon.


Let The Sun Shine

The quick answer:  Enjoy the sunshine; it’s the best source of vitamin D.


In The Beginning . . .

I love the Genesis Creation story.  I find great lessons about nutrition—for this is where our food supply was created.  There are a great variety of plants and animals on our planet and people everywhere do quite well eating whatever is at hand.  The body is remarkable for how it can flourish on such a varied cornucopia. 

In the 20th Century man reinvented food—today food mainly comes in packages from factories.  Sadly, we are now learning that though man can flourish on many combinations of plants and animals, there is one form that doesn’t support a long, healthy life—the factory foods of the modern American diet.

You could state a guide to nutrition in two simple sentences:

  1. Eat food as close as practical to how it was created.
  2. Show reverence for the creatures that are part of our food.

“God saw the light, that it was good”

Aside from a diet of natural foods and regular exercise, the next best thing you can do for your health is get a little sunshine.  Light, when it was formed or created, was given a benediction, that “it was good.” 

Sunshine works on the cholesterol in our skin to form a new molecule that is acted upon by the liver and kidneys to become vitamin D.  More hormone than vitamin, “D” plays many beneficial roles.  There’s been a steady drumbeat in recent years of new discoveries about the benefits of vitamin D. 

There is wide deficiency and insufficiency of vitamin D.  Most people know their cholesterol number, and nearly all men know their PSA number, but very few know their serum vitamin D level.  Some feel we have this backwards—the best number to watch would be vitamin D.

Fear of Sunshine

The weatherman, when he foretells a sunny day, typically warns you to hide from the sun by covering up, staying out of the sun, or slathering on a sun block.  You've been told to fear the sun.  We have an excellent dermatologist and she has it right—get a little sunshine, fifteen minutes on each side is plenty, but don’t get burned. 

The Vitamin D Solution

The best book I’ve seen on vitamin D is The Vitamin D Solution, written by Dr. Michael Holick, PhD, MD.  Holick suggests a 3-step solution of 1) testing, to know where you are, 2) sensible sunshine, and 3) safe supplementation when sunshine isn’t available. 

The book makes two remarkable statements about vitamin D and cancer:

First, on the benefit of getting sensible sunshine: “vitamin D could be the single most effective medicine in preventing cancer, perhaps even outpacing the benefits of . . . a healthy diet”.  We hear all the time that we should avoid avoid sunshine to prevent skin cancer, which brings us to the second point.

Second, the book quotes Dr. Edward Giovannucci on the benefits of sunshine for vitamin D versus the risk of skin cancer:  sufficient “vitamin D might help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer”.    I like those odds: 30 better outcomes at the risk of one bad outcome.

Please note the term "a little" sunshine, sun that burns or turns the skin pink may be harmful and should be avoided.  (If you live in the northern latitudes, don’t tolerate the sun, or are concerned about your vitamin D, consult your doctor.)

Please comment:  Want to share your experience with vitamin D, or how you tested?  Do you live in the northern latitudes?  If so, what do you do in winter to maintain vitamin D.



The Joy of Salad


The quick answer:  Eat a big salad, with lots of dark leafy greens, daily.  It’s the easiest way to get your vegetables and very affordable.


The Magic of Salad

Most people eat about 15 servings of food a day, traditionally divided between three meals and a couple of snacks.  Nothing wrong with that.  (A serving fits in the palm of your hand, about ½ C for most folks, less for kids.)

Of those daily servings, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say we should get 4-5 of vegetables.  A lot of what’s in the Guidelines is nonsense, but this is good advice.  The problem is Americans average just one daily serving if you throw out French fries (and you should).  So here is one of the most critical issues in nutrition—eating enough vegetables. 

Here’s the solution—put a green salad in the center of your plate at lunch or dinner.  Depending on the size of the salad, you can get 2-4 servings.  How easy is that?  Making salad is pretty easy for the cook too and that’s a good thing.

A salad is any mixture of greens served with a dressing, though it’s good to include a variety of colorful vegetables.  Back in the day when fats were out of favor I ate salads without the dressing.  That wasn’t so good because lots of nutrients are fat-soluble so having a little fat makes them bio-available.  (Vitamins K, A, D, and E are all fat-soluble.)  There was a lot of wisdom in that old olive oil-and-vinegar salad dressing.

 Dark Greens

I bet half of our vegetable intake is dark leafy greens.  They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.  Dark greens are also full of omega-3 fat, folate and carotenoids.  Dark greens contain the stuff of life and you can buy them year around for around $1.00/Lb. That’s less than half the price of less-healthy processed foods. 

The bagged, prepared greens in the produce section of the store make salads even easier.  Our family likes Brooke’s Broccoli Salad.

I think this might be the easiest Healthy Change:

Please comment:  Share your favorite salad recipes.  Tell what salads your children love. 


Protecting Your Brain

The quick answer:  You can blame brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s on the modern diet—that’s the quick answer.  The big question is whether you can escape them.


When You Outlive Your Brain

Though dementia is a bigger problem, Alzheimer’s disease is plenty scary.  Rates of both are soaring; it’s a modern tragedy.  Dr. Perlmutter has written a book—Grain Brain­—that gathers the best available info on how to protect your brain as you age.  Perlmutter is a natural medicine neurologist who believes the cure is in lifestyle, especially diet, not prescriptions.  He takes a dim view of grains, but there’s more you’ll want to know.

My point isn’t to defend grains as the staff of life; I’ve already done that here.  Rather, I would like to review some excellent conclusions from Dr. Perlmutters book.

How Your Brain Dies

Dr. Perlmutter summarizes the process by which brain-wasting diseases arise.  You can blame it on the modern diet:

  1. We eat a high-sugar diet of refined, processed foods that are deficient in natural nutrients.
  2. This diet leads to high blood sugar, chronically high insulin, overweight and obesity for many, inflammation, and oxidative stress due to free radicals.
  3. These conditions lead to diabetes, heart disease, and diseases of the brain.
  4. Science, wrongly applied, falsely blamed heart disease on dietary saturated fat and cholesterol.
  5. In retrospect this made little sense—our brain is actually 70% fat; ¼ is saturated fat and ¼ is omega-3, mainly DHA.  Cholesterol, a form of fat, is essential to brain health; it’s also the precursor for vitamin D.  So these fats aren’t villains, they’re the stuff of healthy brains.
  6. The brain is energy intense—though just 2% of your body weight it uses 20% of all calories.  So there’s a fire in the brain as those calories are oxidized—lots of free radicals are produced and antioxidants are needed to neutralize them.  Unfortunately our diet and lifestyle aren’t helping.

That's a very brief account of how the modern diet harms the brain, and other organs.

Surprising Facts from Grain Brain

#1  The Beautiful Wife has an above-average cholesterol level and this had been a worry.  Dr. Perlmutter argues that cholesterol is necessary for brain health and people with higher cholesterol levels actually live longer and with less dementia.  The BW is guardedly pleased to hear this.

#2  The incidence of dementia is rising in step with diabetes.  Diabetics suffer a doubled risk of dementia.  They also have a higher risk of heart disease.  So managing your sugar intake is about more than getting fat—it’s about saving heart and brain.

#3  As many as 30% of people of Northern Europe extraction may be intolerant to some degree of the modern glutens.  Gluten intolerance doesn’t only attack the intestine (Celiac disease), it can attack any organ, including the brain and this can go on for years; when the damage becomes obvious it may be too late.  Here are some signs to look for.

#4  If you suspect a gluten intolerance, ask your doctor about being tested.  This is a serious issue.  Dr. Perlmutter recommends the Cyrex Array 3 test.  For more information, visit

Twelve Steps to Brain Protection

You may recognize these from our Healthy Changes, but here are some of Dr. Perlmutter’s recommendations, slightly paraphrased:

  1. Fast periodically, 24-72 hours.  (I’m thinking 24 hours each month is a wise plan.)
  2. Do aerobic exercise most days.
  3. Eat real food especially low G.I. fruits and vegetables; avoid processed foods. 
  4. Minimize sugar and avoid refined carbs.  (The fiber>sugar rule is a good guide.)
  5. Avoid refined seed oils (soybean oil, corn oil, etc.)
  6. Enjoy natural oils including EVOO, coconut oil (and good butter).
  7. Get omega-3 fats daily (fish or DHA from algae or fish oil)
  8. Avoid soda drinks.
  9. Get plenty of sleep, 7 hours or more, in a darkened room.
  10. Get plenty of vitamin D, from the sun if possible.
  11. Meditate (or use some method of stress relief).
  12. If you’re sensitive to gluten, avoid it. 

The title of Dr. Perlmutters book was misleading—as you can see, it’s about much more than grains.