COMMENTARY

Is Avoiding Grains a Mistake?

Neal D. Barnard, MD

Disclosures

February 26, 2014

In This Article

How Bad Fats Harm the Brain

But how could fatty foods, such as cheeseburgers and chicken wings, increase blood sugar? The answer appears to lie in the accumulation of fats inside muscle and liver cells. The metabolism of these intracellular lipids appears to disrupt insulin signaling, causing insulin resistance.[6]

While these mechanisms are still under investigation, our research group, with the support of the National Institutes of Health, tested the theory that getting these fats out of the diet would help. And it clearly does. In people with type 2 diabetes, a low-fat, plant-based diet causes significant weight loss and dramatic improvements in blood sugar control, not to mention reductions in plasma lipids and blood pressure. All this occurs in the absence of any limits on carbohydrates, calories, or portion sizes.[7]

As our diabetes study was bearing fruit, researchers at the Chicago Health and Aging Project published ground breaking findings showing that fatty foods were linked to Alzheimer disease. After 4 years of observation, saturated and trans fats were associated with increased Alzheimer risk.[8] Other studies have examined the same relationship, and although the data vary somewhat from study to study, the overall picture is that saturated and trans fats increase Alzheimer risk, just as they increase the risk for many other health problems.

It appears that the effect of these "bad" fats on cholesterol metabolism influences aspects of beta-amyloid deposition in the brain. This fits with 2 other observations: First, statins lower risk for Alzheimer disease, and second, the APOE epsilon 4 allele that is strongly associated with Alzheimer risk plays a major role in cholesterol transport.

Bottom line -- avoiding "bad" fats is a good idea.

In our studies and many others, people with diabetes, weight problems, lipid disorders, and other conditions discover the power of throwing out meat, cheese, and other animal products. As they replace them with healthy beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits, weight melts away, blood sugars fall, and the need for medications drops.

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