Devil of a bun? Nope. Photo: iStock”Your Hot Cross Buns Could Be Giving You Dementia”.
This was the subject line of an email I was sent this week. Seriously.
“‘s anti-ageing doctor, Dr [Michael] Elstein, says this Easter we should avoid stocking up on hot cross buns, an Easter favourite, as eating gluten could be setting us up to develop obesity and dementia,” the attached press release said.
If you’re not terrified already, read on:
“Research into the claims that gut inflammation caused by foods high in gluten are characteristic of a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases that can manifest into dementia, support Dr Elstein’s warning that this Easter we should ditch the buns.”
First things first:Elstein is not the first to make the gluten/dementia connection (although targeting the attack at the humble old hot cross buns is new).
Neurologist Dr David Perlmutter writes about the apparent link in hisNew York Timesbest-selling book,Grain Brain.
“The biggest issue by far is that carbohydrates are absolutely at the cornerstone of all of our major degenerative conditions,”he said in 2013. “That includes things like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and even cancers. What we know is that even mild elevations in blood sugar are strongly related to developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
Apart from lumping all grains and all forms of gluten into the same bag (highly processed carbs and fermented glutenare absorbed by and affect the body in completely different ways), it is at odds with the latest research which suggests that a Mediterranean diet (which includes wholegrains) can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’sby as much as 53 per cent. Also, such advice fails to see the full picture.
“His book is filled with a whole bunch of nonsense, that’s why it’s a best-seller,” Yale’s Dr David Katz said ofGrain Brainin 2013. “Because that’s how you get on the best-seller list. You promise the moon and stars, you say everything you heard before was wrong, and you blame everything on one thing. You get a scapegoat; it’s classic. Atkins made a fortune with that formula. We’ve got Rob Lustig saying it’s all fructose; we’ve got T. Colin Campbell [author ofThe China Study, a formerly best-selling book] saying it’s all animal food; we now have Perlmutter saying it’s all grain. There’s either a scapegoat or a silver bullet in almost every best-selling diet book.”
I send the scapegoat, I meanhot cross bun press release, to Alzheimer’s . The gluten/brain health linkis still floating around – is there any substance toit, I ask?
They decline to comment, saying “we’re just not aware of any link [between the two]” and point me to their formal advice on brain health. It does discuss how diet might increase or decrease risk of Alzheimer’s, themost common form of dementia, which is not an inevitable part of ageing according to the Florey Institute. “It is an ‘unnatural’disease which begins 30 years before symptoms become so severe that we would say someone has Alzheimer’s disease,” they say in a new study.
But, back toAlzheimer’s ‘s advice, which does mention gluten (in its highly processed form):
“Several studies have found that a high intake of saturated fats, such as those found in meat, deep fried foods and takeaway food and trans fats often found in pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and buns are associated with an increased risk of dementia. So what you eat could affect your brain,” they explain.
“Follow theNational Dietary Guidelinesby eating a variety of foods including vegetables, fruit, fish, grains, nuts, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), and lean meat. Reduce foods high in saturated fats including full fat dairy products, fried food and desserts.”
Seems reasonable. I also send the press release to Dr Rosemary Stanton.
She agrees with Dr Elstein that consuming gluten, in the form of cakes and biscuits, is unnecessary for human health, but that’s about it.
She notes one line from the release stating that “gluten is a non-digestible substance with no nutritional value”.
“Not sure that this Dr Elstein knows what he’s talking about,” Stanton says.
“This is a commonly held view from Dr Google. Gluten is the composite name for proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. For people with coeliac disease – which is about oneperson in every 100 – gluten can damage the villi that line the small intestine. For most other people, gluten is not a problem and is broken down by enzymes to its component peptides and eventually to amino acids. If gluten was non-digestible, it would emerge in stools and I can find no evidence that this occurs.
“For those who don’t have coeliac disease, there is no problem consuming foods made from wheat, rye or barley.
“Dr Elstein says we can get all the fibre we need from fruits and vegetables. In fact, different foods contain different kinds of dietary fibre. It’s a bit like vitamins. Those in some foods are not found in others and having loads of vitamin C won’t provide, say, vitamin E.”
Dr Stanton adds that no evidence from “quality journals” shows that gluten causes dementia or neurodegenerative diseases.
“Again, this is something favoured by Dr Google blog sites.”
Where does that leave us with the hot cross bun – frankly one of the best parts of Easter as far as I’m concerned?
“Frankly, I think a hot cross bun is not a bad food. Sure – eating a dozen loaded with lots of butter would be a problem, but as a once-a-year treat, no problem – except for the 1 per cent who have coeliac or the small number who have an allergy to wheat,” Stanton says.
“Enjoy your Easter and I hope you enjoy a quality hot cross bun!”
First appeared on SMH