[Transcript] – The Surprising Facts About What Bread Does To Your Brain (And What You Can Do About It)

Affiliate Disclosure


Podcast from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2016/03/what-bread-does-to-your-brain/

[0:00] Introduction/Kimera Koffee

[1:54] Organifi Green Juice

[2:52] National Academy of Sports Medicine

[4:17] Introduction To This Episode

[5:50] Bread Head Documentary

[7:03] About Max Lugavere

[8:22] Why Is It Called “Bread Head”

[15:11] How Gluten Affects The Brain

[17:58] Bread and Social Norms

[24:47] Carb Timing

[27:38] Eating Different Kinds of Breads

[30:53] How Long Does Commercial Bread Takes To Have An Inflammatory Effect

[36:38] Consuming Gluten Digesting Enzymes

[43:04] What Other Foods Can Cause Inflammation

[46:57] Other Things With Hidden Gluten

[52:40.9] End Of Podcast

Ben:  Hello!  This is Ben Greenfield, and I was reading a book last night, it's actually a book written by a guy I'm gonna get on the podcast, a Harvard medical researcher.  And in the book, he talks, shockingly, about how not four, not five, but up to six cups of coffee a day have been shown to do things like decrease risk for Alzheimer's, diabetes, improve cognitive performance, which we all know, and actually carry with it far fewer risks than what you would expect.  Well, I thought that was pretty cool because I actually drink boatloads of coffee.  And now I have complete permission to drink even more.

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Alright.  Let's go ahead and move on to today's podcast, in which you're gonna find out how bad bread is for you.  Or is it?

In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:

“The latest estimates are that people consume about 30 pounds of fructose per year.  That's really deleterious.  It has a number of unique villainous roles in terms of brain health.”  “I think that we should view carbohydrates as performance enhancing drugs.  Carbohydrates are not inherently toxic, but they do provide a functional aspect to our physiology timed and appropriated in accordance with our activity.”  “Mechanistically, there's nothing in whole grains that can't be, at least micronutrient-wise, that can be attained more naturally from other sources.”

He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness.  His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance.  He is Ben Greenfield.  “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…”  All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.

Ben:  Hey, folks.  It's Ben Greenfield here, and I have a confession that I've actually talked about before on the podcast, but you may not be familiar with this.  I actually eat bread.  I eat bread a few times a week.  I had two big slices of bread last night, slathered in butter and some of the sauce that was on the pork that was on the side of the bread.  And frankly, most of the bread that I eat, I would say 99% of the bread that I eat is my wife Jessa's mouthwatering, homemade, slow fermented sourdough bread.

But lately, I saw a documentary that got me thinking a little bit more about bread, and how much bread one could actually get away with eating, and how often you can eat bread or should eat bread, and whether bread affects parts of your body other than, say, your gut, and even if you don't have something like celiac disease or gluten intolerance, how much bread you actually should eat, or whether you should eat any at all.  And this documentary that I saw is called “Bread Head”, and in it, director Max Lugavere explores the impact of diet and lifestyle on brain health.

Now Max has something called a vlog, or video blog online, and I'm gonna link to it in the show notes if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead, and he gets thousands, and thousands, and thousands of views on these things.  And in each one, he delivers these little bite-sized blasts of really good digestible information on topics like intermittent fasting, and the microbiome, and, yes of course, bread.  And I'll link to those over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead.

He's also spoken at the New York Academy of Sciences.  He's spoken before the United Nations.  He's appeared on a ton of different shows, like NBC Nightly News and Yahoo Heath, and he's been a regular guest expert on the Dr. Oz show.  So he's really delved into nutrition pretty hardcore in this new documentary, which I'll also link to in the show notes, called “Bread Head” is super fascinating.  When it comes to bread, and gluten, and beyond.

Now, I've got good news.  Max is actually my guest on today's show.  So he's right here with me, and today we're gonna delve into bread and beyond.  So, Max, welcome to The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show.

Max:  Thank you so much for having me, Ben.  It's an honor.  I love the show.

Ben:  Awesome.

Max:  I'm psyched to be here.

Ben:  Awesome.  Very cool.  Congratulations on this documentary that you're producing called “Bread Head.”  And I'd like to actually jump in right there with that, and that is what does bread have to do with your head exactly?  Why this title?

Max:  That's a great question.  I picked the title “Bread Head” because bread to me, is the ultimate example of a highly-processed food masquerading as a health staple, especially when you think of whole grain bread, which for many years was a staple in my diet.  I was raised to believe that whole grains should make up the foundation of one's diet, and so looking at a delicious slice of whole wheat bread and having a couple slices about every morning was something that I thought was nothing, if not completely additive to my health.  But the reality is that bread, especially whole wheat bread, which if you actually become familiar with the glycemic index, which I know that you are, it doesn't really affect your blood glucose all that differently from white bread.  The average size of a whole wheat bread actually has a glycemic index higher than that of table sugar, which is sucrose.

Ben:  Okay.  I'm gonna jump in right there because I know that folks are thinking this right away, 'cause I know I've got a savvy audience and they've heard probably, I believe, that whole grain bread can have a higher glycemic index than say, a Snickers bar.  We've talked about that before on the podcast.  But doesn't it depend on the bread?  Whether it's like Wonder Bread from the grocery store versus like, let's say, you go to the frozen food aisle and get, whatever, Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Bread, like is there a significant difference?

Max:  Well there is a difference, and you hit the nail on the head.  Foods are not eaten in isolation, they're part of dietary patterns, and we like to call them meals.  But the truth is, so I spent a lot of time looking at the role of metabolism in brain health.  My focus is the brain, that's the focus of Bread Head, which is the first film about dementia prevention.  And the truth is the way that I look at carbohydrates, and I don't necessarily focus primarily on body composition, although that is a focus for me because I do think that it's important, I think that we should view carbohydrates as performance enhancing drugs.

Carbohydrates are not inherently toxic, but they do provide a functional aspect to our physiology that I think should be timed in accordance, timed and appropriated in accordance with our activity.  So the idea that we should be consuming 7 to 11 servings of really rapidly digesting carbohydrates per day to me fights our optimal metabolic health because if you look at studies where they found that even mild elevations of blood sugar, well below the level of what would be experienced in the body of a type II diabetic, that blood sugar is doing something to your constituent proteins and I don't think that it's a positive thing.

So you're right.  Certain breads are better for you than others, but the difference is not really that great.  I think that we've been led to believe that the glycemic index, there's is high glycemic carbs and low glycemic carbs, but the threshold for what we consider a low glycemic carb is still a very high glycemic source of carbohydrates.  So I like to base my diet around carbohydrates that are 30 or below on the glycemic spectrum.  Those are mostly vegetables.

Ben:  Yeah.  That makes sense.  I eat a very plant and vegetable-rich diet just to limit the amount of carbs that I actually do take, and although I will admit that I have to say that with a caveat, especially based on if you're listening to this podcast at the time that it comes out, last week's podcast in which we talked about how once you exceed about 40 grams per day of fiber, there can tend to be a deleterious effect on your gut.  Especially if you have like irritable bowel syndrome, or constipation, or something like that, and you can go listen to that previous episode if you want to dig more into that.  But to return to my original question, Max, I asked you about the head, right?  You're talking about blood sugar a little bit, but I'm curious how this relates to the head?  Or to what I would perceive to be like the brain?

Max:  Yeah.  That's a great question.  So, I think that we're at this, you mentioned fiber, we're at this incredibly fascinating time for science right now where we're realizing the role of the gut and optimal gut health in terms of, not only the function of our brains, but our every other organ as well.  And so it turns out that by initiating inflammation, which is a major driver, if not an instigator of many of the sort of diseases of modernity that I'm sure you talk about all the time on your podcast, that the brain can often bear the burden of these inflammatory processes.  And bread, aside from being a really high glycemic source of carbohydrates, it's also a source of gluten.

Now gluten is not the sort of dietary Lucifer that many people will say that it is, and truth be told, a lot of people avoid gluten and don't know what it is.  But it's a protein that has been shown to induce permeability in the gut lining of everybody.  Not everybody is necessarily gonna get sick from this, but we know that the nature of inflammation as it pertains to a lot of these diseases that we're talking about, including dementia and inflammation, can be driven by low-grade inflammation that's highly cumulative and highly self-perpetuating.  So the fact that gluten can induce permeability of the gut lining and can lead to this sort of seeping of compounds that are normally kept within the safe harbor of the gut into circulation.  That's really problematic because the gut, I like to say, controls the dial on inflammation in the body.  So the fact that gluten can induce a permeability of the gut lining in everybody, I think that's worth paying attention to.

Not everybody is gonna have the overt violent response to it that those with celiac will have, and that makes up about 2% of the population.  But there's also a large amount of people that have what's called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, I think the latest estimates are 18 million people in the United States are sensitive to gluten.  It's a vastly under-diagnosed condition, and those symptoms can manifest completely extra-intestinal, meaning you don't have to necessarily be having an overt response at the level of the gut, meaning bloating, or diarrhea, or something like that, to be having a reaction.  Those reactions can manifest purely neurologically, meaning you can experience symptoms of depression from gluten, you can experience symptoms of brain fog.

Ben:  And is that because it's affecting your gut and your gut is then affecting your brain?  Or is it because the gluten is directly affecting your nervous system, whether or not it's actually affecting your gut?  How's this actually occurring from a mechanistic standpoint?

Max:  That's a great question.  There are probably multiple mechanisms.  It can be because of the role that it's playing in inflammation that you don't necessarily feel.  So the brain, as I mentioned, can bear the burden of inflammation in the body.  It's oftentimes located downstream of a lot of these inflammatory processes that we're talking about.  So pro-flammatory cytokines that are initiated at the level of the gut can freely cross the blood-brain barrier.

Over the past year, it was discovered actually that the brain is connected to the lymphatic system in the body by vessels that were thought previously to not exist.  So I mean that's another route of entry for these inflammatory cheerleaders to enter the brain and cause symptoms from depression, to brain fog, to even initiating what are again these vicious cycles that are highly self-perpetuated that could ultimately lead to things like dementia.  On the other hand, these peptides that gluten is broken down into can enter circulation and the same compound that mediates permeability at the level of the gut called zonulin, which was discovered by a researcher at Harvard named Alessio Fasano, also exists at the tight junctions of the blood brain barrier.

So that's where I think that it's something worth avoiding, and I will state that there's no evidence to say that gluten directly causes Alzheimer's disease or anything like that, and I use Alzheimer's disease often because it's the most common form of dementia.  It's not my only focus, but I think that it's, as a surrogate for brain health meaning, if we think of dementia as the worst possible long-term brain health outcome, we wanna do everything that we can to avoid that and to optimize our brain health, I think it's one of those things that would be best avoided, especially considering the fact that there's no evidence that humans need wheat for optimal health.  I mean there's no evidence that humans need grains for optimal health.

So a lot of my, sort of research, you know what I like to try to do is I try to figure out how I would feed the brain if I were building one from scratch, and if I were trying to fuel a brain from scratch.  Is there any evidence that the brain needs wheat to fuel itself?  No.  Is there any evidence that the brain needs grains?  No.  We've been anatomically modern humans for the past 200,000 years and we've only had wheat on the plate for the past 10,000.

Ben:  What about, just to interrupt you real quick, what about, you talk about the brain obviously from a very scientific standpoint, and I would totally agree with you that gluten seems to be able to cause a neuroinflammatory effect, especially when in concentrated amounts, such as the form in which we would find it in, for example, grain or wheat that's been bred for commercially high bread, or wheat production, high crop production.  That seems to especially concentrate these glutens or these gliadin proteins which resemble the texture of human hair.  They seem to be very resistant to digestion, they seem to be capable of causing digestive issues, and if not digestive issues, as you've pointed out, they can still affect the nervous system and cause neural inflammation even if they're not affecting the gut.

So I would certainly agree with you that wheat and grain is not essential for brain health.  It's not essential for brain fuel, especially if it's concentrated in terms of the gluten.  Now what about the idea though that in many cultures and in many societies, when we look at mental health, and that would be directly correlated with brain health, and social health, and even longevity, this concept of like breaking bread and having bread at the table?  And like I visited Mediterranean societies like Israel and I've spent a lot of time in Dubai, and in many of these cultures we find bread being broken and dipped into all of olive oil as part of like a pre-meal ritual, and people gathering around bread.  How do you address that side of bread when we look at it from a mental health standpoint, not necessarily related to brain chemistry, but more to like social norms?

Max:  Yeah.  I think you're right in that a lot of these dietary patterns that epidemiologists have seen represent patterns that are cardioprotective and neuroprotective include bread and include whole grains.  I think that people, it's obvious that people don't eat singular food groups.  They eat overall patterns, and from these population studies it's really difficult to tease out what aspects of those patterns are optimal and what may be sub-optimal.  There's no doubt that the Mediterranean dietary pattern is one of these often cited dietary patterns, and it includes whole grains.  But I think that when you look at the more mechanistic studies, it becomes clear again that there is that there's no essential need for it.

And I'm just all about optimization.  I think that that's really where my obsession lies.  And so I like to think of what would be the optimal dietary pattern.  I mean you look at the Mediterranean diet, the Mediterranean diet is rich in extra virgin olive oil, it's rich in foods that are less processed, it's rich in wild fish.  And we could assume that there's maybe a greater consumption of meats from animals that have been grass-fed, for example, they also eat whole grains.

Ben:  They also traditionally fast quite a bit too.

Max:  They also fast quite a bit.  And a lot of these recommendations that you see coming out from the medical establishment will include whole grains, but mechanistically there's nothing in whole grains that can't be, at least micronutrient-wise, that can't be attained more naturally from other sources.  I mean many of the vitamins that you get from bread are there because the bread has been enriched.

Ben:  I'd certainly agree with you that you can find, I mean it sounds like you were about to talk about B vitamins, and yeah, I mean you can get that from everything from a multi-vitamin, to spirulina and chlorella, or even in many cases, meat is extremely nutrient-dense.  I remember a presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium a couple of years ago by this guy named Alessio Fasano pointing out that bacon, I believe, is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the face of the planet, and it's certainly a way that we can get many of our vegetables and our minerals in the type of things that we'd find in bread.  But I'm curious, again to return to kinda like this social issue, or this mental health issue, or this tradition issue when we look at many of these cultures, do you completely eschew bread?  Do you personally completely avoid bread?  Or do you see it to have a certain role in society, or a certain role in say, like food enjoyment?

Max:  Yeah.  I don't really.  Honestly, I think it's time to move past the idea, move past the culture of sandwiches, and give that real estate on our plates back to things that we know people, especially in the United States, are not consuming enough of.  I mean the latest estimates coming out of the CDC show that something like 10% percent of US adults are eating the requisite two to three cups of vegetables per day.  We know that there is, if we use magnesium, for example, as a surrogate for vegetable consumption, which we can because magnesium is at the center of the chlorophyll molecules, and nature has conveniently color-coded vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, green, and we know that 60% of the US population is not getting adequate magnesium, which is an incredibly important mineral, that is a coenzyme for numerous reactions in the body, or a co-factor for numerous reactions nobody I should say.  I would give the real state on our plates and the real estate in our stomach back to vegetables, which the latest research published in the journal “Alzheimer's & Dementia,” last year it was published, showed that there is actually an inverse relationship between vegetable consumption and risk for dementia.

Again if we use that as a surrogate for brain health, we're not even eating enough vegetables and yet the more dark leafy greens we consume, the better off our brain health is gonna to be.  Those kinds of mechanisms don't exist for grains.  In fact I would say they show the opposite.  Many of our brains are dramatic blood sugar inducers, and they found that even mild elevations of blood sugar below the level, like I said, of type II diabetes can damage the brain.  And they lead to a process called glycation, which is purely a function of glucose exposure and time.  So, as you know, I mean you talked about this.

Ben:  Now what about if you were to consume some of these foods, let's use bread as an example.  Let's say you're consuming bread, for example, I save all my carbohydrates for the end of the day, and I do a very hard workout at the end of the day, and I know that I have a period of time after that workout during which my GLUT4 transporters, which are responsible for shoveling glucose into muscle tissue as well as my insulin sensitivity, is very high during that period of time.  And actually, based on natural circadian rhythms, insulin is going to, towards the evening, be a little bit more responsible for shoving nutrients into muscle tissue, rather than creating new fat cells or shoving carbohydrates or fatty acids, say, into the fat tissue.

And so I save a lot of my carbohydrate intake for the end of the day, when glycation from something like bread may not be an issue, and that that's when I would consume something like bread, or wine, or potatoes, or anything else that would spike blood sugar, or potentially cause glycation if consumed a different time of day.  Do you think that for people who are eating higher carbohydrate foods, that type of thing, are they going to be better off with that type of approach?  Do you have an opinion on this whole idea of carb backloading or carb timing?

Max:  Yeah.  Well, exactly.  I think that as it seems like you do, I think that it's best to use carbohydrates as, like I said, a performance enhancing drug.  I think it's important, when you're consuming carbs that you want to have a substrate in your body for that glucose to go to.  And I think post-workout, your muscles are hungry to replace the glycogen that you've just spent on the workout.  I am definitely curious about the intersection between post-workout induced insulin sensitivity and the fact that, I mean you obviously have done your research on this, but overall insulin sensitivity seems to decline throughout the day.

I mean our metabolism seems to slow down as the evening hours approach.  So that's interesting.  The way that I use carbohydrates is I use, I know that post-workout, those carbohydrates are gonna be put to good use.  Otherwise, if I'm sitting around working, or writing, or in the editing bay all day with my film, for example, and I'm eating lots of carbohydrates, those carbs have nowhere to go but into my fat stores.  And before they do that, they are glycating my proteins.

Ben:  Right.  Gotcha.  So you too would agree, like you save it for that post exercise scenario?  For that insulin-sensitive scenario?

Max:  Yeah. Because I think the worst thing to do is to carb load for a desk job, and I think that that's what many of us find ourselves doing.

Ben:  I think that most of our listeners would probably agree with you on that, and would probably be aware of that.  Now, I'm curious.  I wanna return back to this idea of not all bread being created equal, and this idea of like slow fermentation or long fermentation, which you'll find with many traditional bread making methods where fermentation, like when my wife makes bread, it's sitting out for 18 to 24 hours, and that is pre-digesting you know a lot of this gluten, significantly lowering the gluten content of it, lowering the glycemic index, and again to give credit to what you mentioned, it's still capable spiking blood sugar, but the glycemic index is lowered, and you get a more nutritious brand and germ when you're fermenting it for that period of time as well.  In terms of something like that, would you say that there are benefits to eating that type of bread?  Or would you even say like long fermented breads would be something that you would avoid?

Max:  I mean, truthfully, I avoid all of them.  Because, again just going back to the fact that we have finite appetites and finite stomach real estate, I really try to build my diet around vegetables and healthy sources of fat, but mostly vegetables which are fibrous and provide my microbiota with fermentable prebiotic fiber.  That's really where my focus goes.  A lot of people turn to bread because of the promise of an easy source of fiber, but most of the, when we're talking about whole grain wheat, the vast majority of fiber in it, upwards of 95% of the fiber in wheat is insoluble fiber which provides nothing to the gut bacteria.  So I think that, especially when making dietary choices through this new lens with which we have to assess all of our nutritional choices now because of just the role that gut health plays in the health of our brains and our brain function, I think that's really where I try to put most of my focus.  I mean I'm sure you're wife's bread is amazing.  Honestly, I would love to try it.

Ben:  I'm definitely going to have to hook you up with a loaf of her bread.  She makes it about every week, so I may be able to convert you when it comes to the slow fermented bread.  There's definitely a difference.  I mean to be frank with you, all joking aside, I notice a difference.  Like I don't do well with many forms of bread, even some of the fancy sprouted stuff at the grocery store.  It seems to be different versus like a fresh fermented traditionally-made bread, and there are other considerations.  Like she gets a traditional red wheat berries from here in the Palouse that's a non-GMO grain that doesn't have a lot of herbicides and pesticides added to it.  And so even the starter material is pretty different as well.  And of course, there's a social component and there's even the positive energy component, right?  Bread that's made with a lot of love in a house consumed with the kids and the wife versus say, like a sandwich consumed at the flier at the office, or like a Subway meal.

Now I wanna return to the bad side of bread though.  Let's say someone is not consuming my wife's bread and they've had like a Subway sandwich, or they're eating Wonder Bread, or they're having any of these other forms of “healthy bread” that you'd find at the grocery store, how long does bread have an effect on your body?  When it comes to this inflammatory effect, whether it's a gut inflammatory effect or a neural inflammatory effect, how long does this stick with you?  Like could you eat bread once a week?  Shoving aside the blood sugar issues and just looking at the inflammation issues, what can you get away with when it comes to bread?  Like how long does it stick with you, this effect?

Max:  Yeah.  That's a great question.  I mean the estimates range.  I'm not sure that the work has been done in humans without celiac disease in terms of sort of a chronological basis from which to accurately answer that question, but I think they've shown something like six months in patients with celiac.  That's how long…

Ben:  Holy cow.

Max:  Yeah.  Something, I mean crazy like that.  I think that the reaction also has to do with your overall gut health and the health of your, for example mucin, where really the rubber hits the road in terms of the interface between the microbes that live in a large intestine and the layer of cells, the epithelial layer of cells that divide the interior contents of your intestines from circulation.  I think that you can do well to protect yourself by, again, eating a diet that's really high in dietary fiber, especially soluble prebiotic fiber to sort of keep those bugs happy, which once starved will actually attack and eat the mucin.  So I think that definitely goes a long way in terms of maybe mitigating the damage that you might potentially do when consuming gluten.

Ben:  Yeah.

Max:  I also think it's important to bring up, so one of the researchers that we interviewed for Bread Head who is one of the most prominent researchers in this space, Alessio Fasano, who you know is up at Harvard.  He is the founder of the Center for Celiac Research.  It's his opinion and he discovered zonulin, which is that mechanism, that protein that mediates this permeability at the level of the gut.  He'll go and say that gluten is something that's toxic for everybody, but not everybody will get sick from it the same way that your body is constantly fighting an invisible battle between hundreds of potential pathogens, if not thousands or millions of potential pathogens, and it's invisible to you, the host, because we have these fairly robust immune systems.  So you can consume gluten and never be getting overt, you can never develop overt disease from it perhaps, but that doesn't mean that there's not something like low-grade happening below the radar that, again when speaking strictly in terms of like optimal health and minimizing your risk for long-term neurodegeneration which is my focus, I think it's better off avoiding.

Ben:  Yeah.  And when it comes to this gut issue, I do know that in healthy people, you do get some amount of cellular turnover.  Your gut epithelium, this gut lining, you have these enterocytes that migrate up to the top of the villi that are in your gut epithelium every one to four days, and it generally takes about three to five days for all of those villi cells to get replaced.  And when you look at the cells that migrate towards the bottom, what are called the crypts in the small intestine where those villi kinda stick out from, those have a longer life span of a few weeks, like two to three weeks.  So from what I've looked into, a healthy person will have an entirely new intestinal lining every two to three weeks.  And then when you look at an unhealthy person, it can literally, I think there was one study that, as you alluded to, has shown that it takes as much as six months for actual cellular turnover to take place.  Obviously it's gonna be pretty dependent on your genetics, on your gut flora, your probiotic intake, and how healthy your gut is.

But yeah, I mean from what I can tell, we'd be looking at like three weeks up to six months, depending on your tolerance to gluten, when you're consuming like these highly concentrated gluten-rich foods as far as how long they can have an effect in your body.  And obviously, that's just the gut.  I'm not quite sure about the nervous system or neural inflammation.  I know that, as you mentioned, Max, when it comes to blood sugar, glycation can be almost permanent.  Like the amount of glucose you dump into your body over the course of a lifetime and all this glycation, or these advanced glycation end-products that wind up in your brain, those can just be there.  You just have to deal with them almost like plaque in a coronary artery.  I don't know how long neural inflammation actually occurs or the rate of turnover of neural cells, but yeah, ultimately it's definitely longer than the two hours right after a meal, right?

Max:  Yeah, definitely.  I mean, advanced glycation end-products are, the creation of those are accelerated to dramatic degrees in people with type II diabetes, and they're found regardless of the metabolic status of your body.  Meaning even without the diagnosis of type II diabetes in patients with Alzheimer's disease, there's a dramatic increase in the number of advanced glycation end-products found in the brain.  So I think that for that reason, we should be doing our best to minimize these.  And I think, for the most part, they're generated endogenously, meaning in the body as a result of consuming diets that are high in carbohydrates, and even fructose is a major culprit in that sense.

Ben:  Yeah.  Now what if you use, prior to consuming something like bread, a gluten digesting enzyme.  You can find these on Amazon, right.  They're called gluten peptidases and they're actually designed to break down gluten, and like I mentioned, gluten has the composition essentially of like human hair when you consume it in its concentrated format.  Have you ever looked into how these type of supplements interplay with the consumption of something like bread?  Or if they affect bread in a certain way?

Max:  To be completely honest, I have not looked into that so much because I feel like eating bread and then popping in few enzyme pills to me is just as bad as somebody who eats a whole lot of things that disagree with their stomach and then throw Tums on top of that to mitigate the acid reflux, like that stereotype of just the overweight person eating hot dogs from 7/11 and throwing Tums on top of that to mitigate the discomfort that comes afterwards.

I don't think that that's the answer, but to be honest I have not spent a lot of time researching that.  I know that that's a means of profit for supplement companies and things like that, so I haven't really delved into that research necessarily.  Again, what I try to do is I just try to avoid gluten containing grains and even more insidious places that gluten can lurk, like I don't eat soy sauce or anything like that.

Ben:  Yeah.  I looked at a couple of the studies that looked at these gluten peptidases, and for example, in one of the studies that at the end of the abstract, it says that the researchers concluded that by combining these gluten peptidase enzymes with normal digestion, it should be possible to increase what they call the safe threshold of ingested gluten.  And they even say that it would reduce the need for a highly restricted diet for celiac patients, meaning that they're actually allowing for the gluten to be broken down.

And I agree with you, it shouldn't necessarily be used as an excuse to eat a bunch of crap, or to have Subway for lunch every day.  But there are certain, to be frank, like a lot of people will go to a party and then they'll have n-acetylcysteine, and glutathione, and milk thistle extract to help to cleanse the liver, and perhaps go to sushi and have tuna, but then consume something like activated charcoal or chlorella to help to bind a lot of the toxins, or to help with a lot of the metals that they might get exposed to after eating tuna.  And so I think that to a certain extent, you could certainly say the same for something like gluten peptidase.

Like let's say you wind up at a party where you're eating a little bit of bruschetta, or something like that, and you have these enzymes on you, and you pop a couple of them, now personally I don't do that, I'm the guy who scrapes the mozzarella cheese and the tomato off the top of the bruschetta and tends to throw the crouton away, but at the same time I think it's intriguing this concept of using gluten peptidases to at least mitigate or control some of the damage.  And there's some research that it may help with celiac disease.

Max:  Yeah.  I think it's very interesting, but to me it sounds like a Band-Aid and I would again, I'm like you I will scrape the food off of the bread and really go to great lengths to make sure that I'm not consuming gluten.  But I also think it's important just, while we're spending so much time on gluten to say that certain other lifestyle aspects can do the very same thing that gluten does.  So if you're, for example, avoiding gluten and binge drinking on weekends, for example, alcohol, even in healthy people, non-alcoholics and people without non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol can do the same thing to the gut lining.  So gluten is not the only instigator of this permeability of the gut.  Certain foods, as you know, have been shown to facilitate the translocation of various microbial products that can induce inflammation across the epithelial cells of the gut.   And so gluten is…

Ben:  Like which type of foods?

Max:  Well, few people in the Paleo community like to talk about this, but saturated fat is one of those things that has been shown to induce this translocation of LPS, lipopolysaccharide, across the gut lining, which is an inherently inflammatory process.  I think that the answer is not avoiding saturated fat necessarily, I think it's making sure that you are consuming a diet that's really high in omega-3, which have been shown to prevent that translocation. But that throws into question the whole idea of whether or not we should be consuming butter at every possible opportunity, or throwing bacon into our smoothies, for example.  Knowing that other foods can do this at the level of the gut I think is really important.

Ben:  Yeah.  And they did a similar study on coconut oil and they found that coconut oil in high amounts and even in the amounts that exceed two tablespoons per day, which I know a lot of people who are doing fat coffee and stuff like that are consuming, that that can cause a similar type of inflammation as you just alluded to.  They did this study in mice where, and we wrote an article about this on bengreenfieldfitness.com,

I had a bio medical researcher assist me with this article, and it turns out that what they found out was that in mice who did not have enough fiber in their diet, and especially enough butyric acid, or butyrate, they actually experienced inflammation from coconut oil consumption, whereas the athletes who had this type of fiber present did not.  And again, I'm not arguing, to allude to last week's podcast, that the consumption of an extremely, extremely high-fiber intake diet, 'cause that can cause gut issues all on its own, but it would appear that for folks eating saturated fat, like you said, Max, they should be taking fish oil or using a lot of omega-3s.  And for people eating a lot of coconut oil, they should be consuming a lot of fiber.

I think, and it's funny, my wife actually said this had dinner last night as we're having a discussion, we were eating pork and we were talking about meat and cancer, and she basically said, “Hey, you know what, everything in moderation,” and she talked about how she'll go days without eating meat, and she fasts, and she does all these protocols, but then she'll sit down to a nice pork dinner every now and again, and I don't think she's too worried about getting cancer from something like that.  So it's a really good point.

Now what foods, Max, other than bread, which you also say might be something that folks should consider moderating or eliminating if they wanna avoid a lot of these neural inflammatory issues or gut inflammatory issues that bread could cause?

Max:  Well, definitely what we wanna do is eliminate the more overt sources of sugar, particularly fructose.  I think that there's never any reason to consume a sugar-sweetened beverage.  That's just, those are I think the most blatant offenders.  Sources of fructose include table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and fructose obviously can wreaking havoc in the body.  I like to say that we have the instruction manual in our genomes for handling excess amounts of glucose.  We'll first go to re-glycogenate our muscles.  If not that, then it goes to our fat stores which will help us get through the impending famine, which the 21st century number seems to come.  But fructose consumed in the quantity that it's consumed here in the West, as part of the standard American diet, begins to promote disease right away.  And this is highly problematic.

I think the latest estimates are that people consume about 30 pounds of fructose per year, and that's really deleterious.  It has a number of unique villainous roles in terms of brain health, and so I think that we'd be best to avoid things like that.  A lot of people are sold on the idea that juicing is really healthy.  Many of the healthily marketed green juice smoothies that I see, even at Whole Foods or other stores that promote an overall healthy lifestyle, are just loaded with sugar from fruit without any of the fiber that it's normally packaged with, and I think that that's majorly problematic.

Another thing that we should definitely be avoiding if optimal brain health is something that's important to us, which I think it should be for everybody, are sources of oxidized oils.  The brain is made of fat, and particularly a kind of fat called a polyunsaturated fat, and DHA in particular holds the lion's share of polyunsaturated fat found in the brain.  And certain fats can actually cross the blood brain-barrier, polyunsaturated fats are a kind of fat that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier for that reason, and that it provides the building blocks for brain.

Saturated fats actually don't cross the blood-brain barrier, but it's for this reason that it's really important that the polyunsaturated fats that we're consuming, which are the most vulnerable kinds of fats to oxidation in the diet, are unadulterated.  So making sure that the fish oil that you're consuming is actually fresh and non-oxidized oil, it that's really important.  I actually like to crush fish oil pills that I'm taking in my mouth and to taste them, because you can actually taste, generally speaking, rancid fish oil.

Ben:  Yeah.  You can even smell it beforehand.  Like I'll open the bottle and smell it, and if it smells like fish, that's often a good enough sign that it's been oxidized or been exposed to air or heat.  My kids use this, the really expensive, like the Blue Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil, and I had to get on 'em the other day because they were putting it back into the refrigerator with the lid off.  And I explained to them that even when you're using your fish oil, you should take the lid on and off pretty quickly.  The less you can expose it to oxygen, the better.  Any type of a very fragile oil like that.  So, yeah.  I completely agree with you that those type of oxidized fragile oils can be a real issue.

Was there anything that you found when producing this documentary “Bread Head,” were you finding that there were hidden sources of gluten, or hidden sources of these inflammatory food compounds that people weren't aware of?  ‘Cause we all know the loaf of bread from the grocery store might be an issue, but what about things like soy sauce, or coconut milk?  Are there other things that you would say are our biggies that folks need to watch out for that they might be consuming?

Max:  Yeah.  I mean, I definitely don't consume soy sauce.  I have a bottle in my fridge of organic tamari sauce, which is essentially soy sauce without the wheat.  Wheat is a major ingredient in soy sauce.  Few people realize that.  But when I order sushi, and I'm a huge sushi fan, I will throw out the soy sauce that they give me and I will use my own organic tamari sauce, which is gluten free.  This is a switch that literally requires zero effort and tamari sauce, to me, tastes exactly the same as soy sauce but you're avoiding the gluten, which I think is worth doing.

Ben:  I get a hard time because I travel with two things.  One is this stuff called Aztec sea salt, which is, or not Aztec sea salt, I believe it's just called Aztec salt, but it's like this chunky, non-processed form of salt that can take any food, like a salad you'd buy at the airport, and make it taste absolutely amazing.  And the other thing that I use is a flavor enhancer, and I'll use this for sushi.  This is a little trick I learned from Dave Asprey when he was speaking at a conference I put on here in Spokane.  We went to sushi, and he pulls out his little bottle of MCT oil, and he dumps it on the sushi.  And I thought he was just doing it to increase the fat content, but it turns out it's a flavor enhancer.  And when you put something like MCT oil on sushi, you actually don't even need soy sauce.  And if you double up and you the MCT oil plus the salt, it is an experience that everyone must have before they die, in my opinion.

Max:  I've never tried that, but I'm super into that idea.  So, MCT oil on sushi?  Okay.

Ben:  Yeah.  I order from the Bulletproof website, that little tiny bottles of the Brain Octane, or the MCT oil that you can travel with, and I put those and the Aztec salt in my bag.  And I do get a hard time sometimes from my friends at restaurants when we sit down to dinner, and I order, and then I pull out the MCT oil and the salt, but I'm weird like that.  My wife doesn't prepare me a plate of dinner anymore because she knows that once she's made a plate, I'm always dressing it up with cayenne pepper, and MCT oil, and salt, and turmeric, and black pepper, and all these little super foods.  And so she doesn't even bother anymore.  She just lets me make my own plate.

Max:  Dude, I'm gonna be waiting for my invite to dinner at the Greenfield house.

Ben:  Or else you're gonna get a big chunk of sourdough bread in the mail.  We'll just have to figure out how to get it over to New York as fresh as possible.  Max, I'm gonna link to the Bread Head movie in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead.  And I'm curious if there's anything else that you'd like to share with the listeners in today's episode.

Max:  Yeah.  So the film is still in production, as you alluded to.  I'm in production on it right now, and we're working on it, and it's been an incredibly gratifying process because one thing that really helped the film see the light of day in terms of the production process has been the fact that we did a Kickstarter campaign last year that was really successful.  And documentaries are, they're usually a labor of love.  So people can go over to the link that you provide, and you can get involved, you can join our mailing list, which would be awesome, and people can still contribute to the film at our website which people should do, which is super cool.

Ben:  Cool.  Well I'll link to that, and if you're listening in right now, and you have questions for Max or questions for me about anything that we discussed, or you wanna access any of the resources, such as the Bread Head movie, Max's website, or anything else that we discussed during this episode, then you can head over to bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/breadhead, and you can jump into the conversation or access the show notes over there.  So that being said, Max, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Max:  Dude, it was a pleasure, man!  Really, really awesome.  Enjoyed chatting with you.

Ben:  Sweet.  Alright folks.  Well this is Ben Greenfield and Max Lugavere signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.  Have a healthy week.

You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.  Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.



Confession: I eat bread a few times a week.

Mostly, it’s my wife Jessa’s mouth-watering, homemade sourdough bread.

But lately, I saw a documentary got me thinking a bit more about bread, how much you can “get away” with eating, how often you can or should eat it, and whether it affects parts of your body other than your gut, even if you don’t have something like celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

The documentary is called “Bread Head“, and in it, 33 year old director Max Lugavere explores the impact of our diets and lifestyles on brain health. Max’s “vlogs” have garnered thousands of fans, and in each of these, he delivers bite-sized blasts of easily digestible information on health science topics ranging from intermittent fasting to the microbiome. You can check them out here. He has spoken at both the NY Academy of Sciences and the United Nations, has appeared on multiple top health podcasts and TV shows including NBC Nightly News, and is a Yahoo Health contributor and regular guest expert on The Dr. Oz Show.

During this podcast, you’ll discover:

-What bread has to do with your head…

-Why bread affects a lot of people who don’t have celiac disease and have no gluten-related gut issues…

-How long bread can have a deleterious effect on your body after you eat it…

-How much bread you can “get away” with eating…

-Whether you can eat bread if the bread has been fermented, like traditionally made sourdough bread…

-What if you use a gluten digesting enzyme like gluten peptidase

-Hidden sources of the same type of dangerous compounds you can find in commercial bread…

-And much more!

Resources from this episode:

Aztec sea salt

MCT oil

Max’s Dr. Oz Explanation of Bread & The Brain video

-The BreadHead Teaser (below) and BreadHead movie




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