Category: Nutrition

Can you avoid grains and gluten on a vegan diet?

On my Facebook page, an ever-increasing number of people have asked me about whether or not a gluten-free and grain-free diet, the Grain Brain diet, is compatible with a vegetarian and/or vegan one. Many interpret my call to avoid grains, something that has become a staple in vegetarian and vegan diets, as an endorsement of the meats, proteins, and fats individuals on these types of diets avoid. However, though I may not be a vegetarian or vegan, there is certainly no reason one can’t be a vegetarian/vegan and on a Grain Brain-friendly diet.

In fact, it’s quite easy to be on a vegetarian or vegan diet that is gluten-free and brain-friendly. All that separates the average vegetarian/vegan diet from one that is Grain Brain-friendly is the elimination of all grains. The key is, in doing so, to make sure that there are still adequate sources of fat, vitamin D, and vitamin B-12. If there aren’t, your body will be running at a nutritional deficiency that could lead to greater health problems.

How do you manage this? Try working in those ingredients that have a nutritional profile similar to what I outlined above. Whenever possible, use coconut oil when making a soup or stew (or maybe even in a smoothie) for a flavorful (and fatty) addition to your meal. Mushrooms, particularly shittake mushrooms, make for a great source of vitamin D.

However, when it comes to B-12, it can a bit tougher for vegetarians and vegans to find powerhouse sources of this vital nutrient. Most of nature’s richest sources of B-12 are meats, such as shellfish and beef, and are, naturally, avoided by those on a vegan or vegetarian diet. The sources of B-12 that most of these individuals turn to are things like kelp or tofu, which certainly has some B-12, but are nowhere near as rich in B-12. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may want to consider adding a B-12 supplement to your daily regiment.

For more information, order your copy of Grain Brain today and join Dr. Perlmutter’s email list.

  • Arorsa

    Dr. Perlmutter, in your new book you recommend against eating beans and legumes, in addition to grains and other carbs. Please advise how a vegan would be properly nourished if omitting all of this. There wouldn’t seem to be much left to eat (just vegetables and nuts?)! Where would protein come from, if not beans and legumes? I believe you said that garbanzo beans and quinoa are okay, but leaves the diet quite void of variety. I am also interested in specific research you may have done or are familiar with that proves that rates of Alzheimer’s decline with reduced consumption of carbs, and more specifically, whole-food carbs versus refined carbs. I did not see any specific studies cited in your book that are clear on this point — perhaps I missed something. Thank you.

    • David Perlmutter

      Arosa: Thanks for asking. Beans, lentils and peas can certainly be enjoyed in moderation. Chickpeas and hummus are a great addition to your diet and can be eaten at will. Nuts and nut butters are also an option for protein. Spinach and broccoli also make for great options.

      With regard to your question on studies, I suggest your browse the “Science” section of my website, which you can visit here: http://www.drperlmutter.com/learn/studies/

      • Arorsa

        Thanks so much for the response. If I can ask one follow-up: Would you advise folks with fasting glucose in the 75-90 range to further reduce glycemic load? Or is that type of reading alone enough to be comfortable that the current glycemic load is appropriate? Thanks again.

        • David Perlmutter

          I would advise to look at the bigger picture and get away from just focusing on the fasting glucose. A more comprehensive understanding of sugar dynamics will be afforded by looking at fasting insulin level, as well as hemaglobin A1c.

      • I still am not convinced there will be not enough fun/variety/enjoyment left on the dinner table for we vegans, and would like, if you have the time, to see an entire week’s vegan menu proposal before proceeding. Thanks.

        • Don’t worry about the B12 for me… Just give me something tasty every day please.

          • la

            Dan,
            I agree with you, an entire week’s vegan menu is a must to understand what is left for us vegetarians. With the guides and the comments I still think there is not place for me on this brain maker diet.

  • bet

    Dr. Perlmutter: are you differentiating between a significant reduction in carbs from grains and a significant reduction in carbs from other sources, like nuts, lentils, fruit, veggies, et al?

  • bet

    add-on from bet:
    I am referring to your comments about carbs being poison to the brain.
    thank you

  • Jan in KW

    Dr. Perlmutter,
    Do you have a recommendation regarding the daily amount of protein intake? I’ve read 1 to 1 1/2 grams per kilo is a good measure….would love to hear your thoughts. My current diet is low carb (<40 net carbs per day), high healthy fat and moderate (or so I think) protein.

  • sarah shockley howell

    Dr. Perlmutter,
    I cannot thank you enough for your fantastic Grain Brain. My only true fear has been that I will die like both of my parents of Alzheimer’s. I watched both suffer and wither away, although both were extremely” healthy eaters and avid exercisers”. My mother suffered heart disease and open heart surgery and became the world’s best low-fat dieter. Four years after surgery, exercise, and strict diet, she died horribly of Alzheimer’s. Dad weight trained and ran everyday; ate mostly oatmeal and whole grains with little meat to lower his risk of heart disease. His numbers were fantastic. He died at 89 with Alzheimer’s and colon cancer. I was caretaker to both and watched the horror of two vital, brilliant people who did “everything right” for the knowledge they had, die with no known treatments or cures available. I had promised myself that I would not live to burden my children with the same fate; to watch their “healthy, exercise driven, healthy- eating mother die the same way. I am a spiritual person; and your book, along with the scientific evidence therein, sang to my soul to bring me peace to know that there is something I can do to change my fate. That day, I changed my diet for the rest of my life. I mourn with you to know that had I had this knowledge 20 years ago, like you with your brilliant father, maybe I could have prolonged my parents quality of life and longevity. Thank you again for your work and your message.

  • Being

    Dr. Perlmutter,
    I didn’t notice in your book the mention of Greek yogurt, what is your take or suggestion of use on this?
    Thank you your book and the work you are doing.
    PS Have you heard of The World Peace diet by Dr. Will Tuttle? His research is also interesting on the collation between the depression/anxiety in our animals as a reflection/mirror to our own.

    • David Perlmutter

      Greek-style yogurt can be used sparingly in recipes or as a topping.

  • larry

    7th day adventists eat grains and veggies and eggs and are probably mostly very healthy. There could be a relationship between eating meat and cancer. I don’t believe there is any proof that gluten sensitivity is as widespread as you are alleging. There are people sensitive to eating eggs too! Just a few thoughts…

  • Madeleine Long, MD

    …thank you for your book…i follow the Hippocrates Health Institute life plan of food, mainly sprouts, nuts, seeds, avocados, fruit only twice weekly…and cut my olive oil down to almost none….getting most of my fats from olives and tha above foods i mentioned…..i sprout chickpeas, lentils and fenugreek…drink wheatgrass juice daily and a green drink daily….what is your take on flaxseed oil….many at Hippocrates say oils in this form are processed and rancid…..i value your opinion…??? thank you

    • David Perlmutter

      Like olive and walnut oil, flaxseed oil is rich in Omega-3s!

  • John

    Dr Perlmutter,
    Dr. Campbell, of “China Study” fame, did research showing that animal protein promotes cancer. Please tell me how to reconcile that with your suggestion to eat fish, fowl, and meat.

  • Bonnie

    I am gastric bypass out 18 months. Can I absorb the supplements that you recommend or do I need larger doses? Since my food goes into a “pouch” will the probiotics be effective? Also since I can only take in so many ounces of food, will I be able to get enough nutriients.

  • Chris Attaway

    How can a vegan stay below 40 net carbs or even 60 net carbs a day when most of what they eat are carbs?

    • Chris, I am a vegetarian and I am recording everything I eat. It is possible to remain under 40 net carbs but you have to switch your approach. I am building my meal plan with higher quantities of protein, moderate amount of suggested vegetables (see the book) and moderate fat. I believe in time more people will speak up and request better guidelines for vegans and vegetarians. Others have asked, and the replies are not addressing it enough. I had planned on giving this book to my 6 siblings as holiday gifts, but several are vegans. I am using supplements but that is not something that really looks good on my dinner plate…

      • Chris Attaway

        Lorraine – Thank you for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate your kindness. I am sure your family members will also!

  • Can you please answer how to stay under 40 carbs daily as a vegetarian? I am a grandmother of a child with P.A.N.D.A.S. and know how radically effective feeding the brain can be. I am struggling with finding options as a vegetarian to stay under 40 carbs daily. Please advise – thank you.

  • jan

    Dr. Perlmutter, I love your book and I am following the diet. Please let me know what you think abut Carob. I know you suggest cocoa but I’m wondering what you think about carob. I have read that there are many benefits and some better and different than cocoa. I respect your thoughts on this. Thanks, Jan

  • jan

    Dr. Perlmutter, I took the ALCAT test. There are usually healthy foods such as artichokes, brussel sprouts and egg yolk that they say I’m sensitive to. It’s hard to give up eggs. What is your thought on the ALCAT test? Thanks

  • Janet

    Dr. Perlmutter,
    As a vegan, I use Nutritional Yeast as a B12 source and also for it’s cheesy taste. Do you know if it has gluten? Would it be okay to continue to eat Nutritional Yeast and remain brain-healthy? Thank you so much for your book and web site!!

  • ELI

    dear Dr. Perkmutter,

    I would be happy to hear your opinion on Fenugreek.

    I make salad from Fenugreek.

  • Paige Wheeler

    I would like to be vegan but am also allergic to coconut oil. I also am grain-free. Thanks for any suggestions .

    • ocean

      Hello Paige. What would your concerns particularly be about?
      Nutrition wise? Taste wise?

  • ocean

    high carb, low fat (no oil!), grain free, mostly raw vegan here! and i dont eat mushrooms either! healthier than ever. it is truly possible

    • Jaclyn

      For now

      • ocean

        Believe me, the doctors are surprised (& as you, the dont believe me either haha oh well)

        • Ralf

          If your carbs are mostly from raw vegetables, it doesn’t sound wildly unhealthy to me! Congrats.

  • Charles Davy

    Personally I eat around 3 servings of Wild Salmon a week.
    The rest of my diet is vegan (I don’t eat grains either). I do a vegan diet for health not moral reasons so Im fine with eating a little fish to easily get those minerals/vitamins Im missing.
    It makes it so much easier than trying to eat an incredibly varied diet to get those few nutrients I lose by not eating grain or other animal products.

  • Cathy Leonard-Chase

    Five years ago, I gave up grains and processed sugar and lost 65 pounds (never gained it back) but my cholesterol was still very high. So I went vegan and that cleared up that issue very simply. Now I am both grain/soy free and plant-based –and never have a problem with variety. I eat very simply and only bother with two recipes in my repetoire: one for baked beans and another for salad dressing. Otherwise, I eat baked white or sweet potatoes with cooked vegetables or beans (baked navy or seasoned black beans) and once a day have a tremendous green salad with lots of different vegetables and some pumpkin seeds. I kick off the day with an almond milk smoothie that includes frozen chopped kale, banana, berries, cardamom, tumeric, cinnamon and sometimes powdered pea protein and dark powdered cacao (just to change it up). I don’t care to try to cook up something to make it look/taste/feel like its animal-based counterpart. I enjoy the simplicity and freedom. I enjoy the taste of whole, plant based foods. Eliminating all grains is a huge component to my overall health and well being.

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