The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers
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The following is an excerpt from the new book, GRAIN BRAIN: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers by Dr. David Perlmutter (Little, Brown and Co., 2013).
Imagine being transported back to the Paleolithic era of early humans who lived in caves and roamed the savannas tens of thousands of years ago. Pretend, for a moment, that language is not a barrier and you can communicate easily. You have the opportunity to tell them what the future is like.
From a cross-legged perch on a dirt floor in front of a warm fire, you start by describing the wonders of our high-tech world, with its planes, trains, and automobiles, city skyscrapers, computers, televisions, smart phones, and the information highway that is the Internet. Humans have already traveled to the moon and back. At some point, the conversation moves to other lifestyle topics and what it’s like to really live in the twenty-first century.
You dive into describing modern medicine with its stupendous array of drugs to treat problems and combat diseases and germs. Serious threats to survival are few and far between. Not many people need to worry about crouching tigers, famine, and pestilence. You explain what it’s like to shop at grocery stores and supermarkets, a totally foreign concept to these individuals. Food is plentiful, and you mention things like cheeseburgers, French fries, soda, pizza, bagels, bread, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, waffles, scones, pasta, cake, chips, crackers, cereal, ice cream, and candy. You can eat fruit all year long and access virtually any kind of food at the touch of a button or short drive away. Water and juice come in bottles for transportability.
Although you try to avoid brand names, it’s hard to resist because they have become such a part of life—Starbucks, Wonder Bread, Pepperidge Farm, Pillsbury, Lucky Charms, Skittles, Domino’s, Subway, McDonald’s, Gatorade, Haagen-Dazs, Cheerios, Yoplait, Cheez-It, Coke, Hershey’s, and Budweiser. The list goes on.
They are in awe, barely able to picture this future. Most of the features you chronicle are unfathomable; they can’t even visualize a fast-food restaurant or bread bar. The term “junk food” is impossible to put into words these people understand. Before you can even begin to mention some of the milestones that humans had to achieve over millennia, such as farming and herding, and later food manufacturing, they ask about the challenges modern people deal with. The obesity epidemic, which has gotten so much attention in your media lately, comes first to mind.
This isn’t an easy matter for their lean and toned bodies to grasp, and neither is your account of the chronic illnesses that pervade—heart disease, diabetes, depression, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and dementia. These are totally unfamiliar to them, and they ask a lot of questions. What is an “autoimmune disorder”? What causes “diabetes”? What is “dementia”? At this point you’re speaking a different language. In fact, as you give them a rundown of what kills most people in the future, doing your best to define each condition, you are met with looks of confusion and disbelief. You’ve painted a beautiful, exotic picture of the future in these people’s minds, but then you tear it down with causes of death that seem to be more frightening than dying from an infection or being eaten by a predator higher up on the food chain. The thought of living with a chronic condition that slowly and painfully leads to death sounds awful. And when you try to convince them that ongoing, degenerative disease is possibly the trade-off for potentially living much longer than they do, your prehistoric ancestors don’t buy it. And, soon enough, neither do you. Something seems wrong with this picture.