Friday, March 27, 2015

Grain Brain

I have just about finished reading David Perlmutter's Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers.  It covers the ground you would expect it to - grains, carbs, and sugars causes inflammation; cholesterol is good; cutting out grains and carbs, (and of course sugar) will drastically, dramatically alter your life.

I'm at the point where I don't read books like Grain Brain for radically new information.  I read them to keep on track.  It also represents a type of self-reinforcement that has become common in the age of the internet.  I believe that is both good and bad.  I remember when the internet was heralded as the place people of differing views could get together and discuss, in true democratic fashion, differences of philosophy and opinion, and we would all be better citizens because of it.  I found that I immediately gravitated toward the car-free crowd, which also tends to be the car-critical crowd.  Daily I read posts on Twitter and on the internet about the great strides bicycle infrastructure is taking, the steady, dramatic decline in car ownership, both in the United States and around the world, and references to the few whackos out there who continue to champion internal combustion engines.  I get Bill McKibben's tweets about the groundswell of opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and I read tweets from the primal community.  The fact that all these messages pour into my devices does not make it feel like I'm part of an insular community, but paints a picture for me of a global culture of bicycle riding, carbon scorning, grain refusing people.  The world looks that way to me, and it gives me optimism, which is a good thing, but if I spend time doing something like visiting my family in the Southeast, I realize that there are a lot of grain-eating, car-driving, global climate change denying people out there.

Parenting becomes an even more difficult thing when you are trying to change your own culture.  We stopped eating spaghetti a couple of years ago because my wife felt it was making her feel terrible.  Our kids now long for pasta night.  Is there anything wrong with pasta?  In the larger cultural climate, of course not.  But we, as the parents in the family, are now circling about like sharks in the waters of sugar is poison, pasta is poison, bread is poison.  How much allowance to you give the larger culture in raising children?

I'm particularly worried about my son's eating habits and my responses to him, particularly in light of reading Grain Brain.  He loves to bake.  For years I've fought him on that.  That feels like a really shitty thing to do.  "Hey Dad," he'll say, "will you get the stuff to make cookies?  I've really been wanting to make cookies."  "I really don't want you eating sugar," I'll say.  "Plus, it's hard to have cookies around when I'm trying not to eat them.  I like cookies too your know."  I almost always capitulate in the end, though sometimes he gives up.  To a large extent, I would much rather have him in the kitchen baking than sitting in his room submerged in the realm of Minecraft.  He also likes for me to buy him some jelly beans on the weekend when I do the weekly grocery shopping.  I used to buy him a box of Jelly Bellies from Trader Joe's, but he would down them in a second.  Now, I do a short burst of Jelly Beans from a bulk bin, but he's irritated when I return home with a smattering of Jelly Beans for him.  But here's the thing - his eating habits tend toward the terrible.  To my eye, it looks like he's addicted to sugar.  Whatever I get him for a week - a big bag of trail mix with M&Ms, jelly beans, lemonade, (when he requests it), etc. - disappears within two days.  He does eat what I make for dinner, but neither he nor his sister are that big on breakfast.  They also will not take anything for lunch.  I will send them off with carrots, which I find later rotting in their backpacks.  Zeb, particularly, won't eat sandwiches.  He's not fond of fruit.  The trail mix is the only thing he requests, and, as I said, he polishes that off in a day or two.  I think I would have to buy forty dollars worth of trail mix a week for him to max out on it.  He won't eat just nuts - the candy is what does it for him.

He also seems to be in the dark tunnel of adolescence.  He rarely smiles. He seldom laughs.  He stays in his room all the time playing Minecraft.  On reading Grain Brain, I started thinking, "you know, if I could just get him to eat a low-carb diet and eliminate sugar, his mood might improve significantly."  It might also be equally true that if I just got off his fucking case and bought him supplies to make cookies and snacks he wants to eat, his mood would equally improve.  It's a hard call, and I never know which way to go with it.

In my own adolescence, I stayed in my room and locked my door, (which drove my mother crazy, though I wasn't doing anything naughtier than what teenage boys normally do in their rooms).  I could eat an entire sleeve of Oreos at a sitting.  I lived mainly on Lucky Charms, frozen chicken pot pies, applesauce, sprees, skittles, grilled cheeses, Campbell's tomato soup, and whatever my mom made for dinner.  I probably consumed much more sugar than my son is consuming.  Should I just let him be a teenager?  No matter what your view of healthy is, how do you try to inculcate that in your children without creating conflict?

The main thing I notice in myself at this point in time is I do not have a big problem with allergies.  People are being felled by the juniper pollen all around me.  I'm not willing to attribute that solely to my sticking strictly to a no grains, low carb diet, but it's certainly possible that's helping.  This time of year, that's reason enough to stick to the diet.  My allergies can really be debilitating.  (I remember one year when my eyes almost swelled shut).  I'm also still free from any difficulties with my asthma.  I wonder if my mother had known cutting out sugar and going low carb could help with asthma, I would have embraced it as a teenager, or if I would have been pissed off all the time that I couldn't eat oreos and ice cream?  The world is never simple.  Perhaps there is a time for ramen and ice cream.  We take care of ourselves and each other as best we can.

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