“My problem is that I eat too much bread”
“I love bread but I know I shouldn’t eat it”
“Grains are the enemy!”
I have lost count of the number of times over the past year that clients, friends and family have voiced their fear of bread. For it is fear that is the driving emotion behind the current anti-gluten trend. It is being blamed for weight gain, poor digestion, poor bowel movements, bloating, flatulence and, on that note, must surely be held at least partially responsible for global warming. So how did the humble loaf become so denigrated?
Musings on the war on wheat
We humans love anything new and even if the old served us well, we dismiss it because well, it’s old now. Take food and diets, for example. For the most part we know what to do to maintain a healthy weight and yet, we often choose not to apply this knowledge and instead we continue to worship at the altar of Silver Bullet, knowing this to be a false expectation. We put our hope and hard earned cash into the latest trend or diet because surely this time, if we really manage to stick to it then we will lose those pesky extra pounds. Enter Paleo. Chow down on half a cow and knock it back with a bulletproof coffee but for goodness sake don’t darken your door with a hunk of bread.
Now, I may be stirring the pot a wee bit here. Let me say now that I have nothing against the Paleo diet per se, if it works for you. For those who are new to this way of eating, the Paleo diet takes its approach from the belief that we should be eating according to our Paleolithic ancestors and, as such, in line with our genetics. The diet has garnered a lot of attention (& followers) because it promotes eating lots of full fat meat (amongst other protein sources) and cuts out all grains and legumes because of the belief that these were not widely available and therefore our bodies have not genetically adapted to digest them properly. It should be noted that the diet also includes eating plenty of vegetables.
Now, last time I checked, planet Earth consisted of a wide variety of landscapes from lofty mountains to arid deserts, verdant pastures to salty seas and everything in between. If we think of the indigenous populations of these areas and how they eat we would probably not be surprised to learn that their diets are equally as varied. For example, the African Masai and Arctic Inuits both eat a high fat diet, high in animal products and very few vegetables.
At the other end of the scale the Peruvian Incas follow a mainly high carbohydrate diet based on corn, quinoa (all hail that mighty grain!) and tubers with some game meat whereas the pastoral community of Toda who live on the isolated Nilgiri plateau in southern India are purely vegetarian.
These tribal people all eat traditional diets that are relatively healthy and have minimal incidences of CV disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity etc. Surely then, we are nothing if not adaptable to our surroundings.
Back to the bakery
I believe we’ve become lost in the minutiae and that we are micro managing our diets and have lost sight of the bread for the gluten as it were. Gluten free sales have gone stratospheric and yet the current stats on those who have been formerly diagnosed as gluten intolerant are comparatively low. So what has prompted this? I think the current trend against carbohydrates has a lot to do with it. Carbs are the enemy at the moment just like fat was during the 80s. Suddenly we were eating fat-free everything willy nilly (technical jargon) with ne’er a glance at the ingredients to see that all that juicy, tasty fat had been sucked out and replaced with sugar. And we wonder why we we’ve been getting bigger and bigger.
According to a survey done by US company Packaged Facts in 2012, people buy gluten-free goods because:
– they believe they are healthier: 35%
– to manage their weight: 27%
– they are generally low-carb: 21%
– a member of their household has a gluten or wheat intolerance: 15%
– a member of their household has celiac disease: 7%
Take something away and something else has to fill the void. If you take away carbohydrates the balance has to be redressed elsewhere which usually means overeating in other areas.
We get caught up in thinking that in order to lose weight we must deny, deny, deny. If cutting out an ingredient has an impact then slashing a whole food group must be the key!
Bread is not evil nor fattening
It doesn’t come with pointy horns and a big stick with which to ladle fat onto your stomach. Sandwiches can be merely a convenience food, a lazy lunch that we eat mindlessly every day. Or, a freshly made sandwich on sourdough, pumpernickel or rye bread filled with cream cheese, smoked trout, cucumber, crisp lettuce and dill, with a squeeze of lemon can be a nutritional feast.
So go on, use your loaf and ask yourself if bread really is your enemy or is it more likely that you are generally eating and drinking too much of everything and that is what is causing your symptoms. If you are still unsure, one mouthful of gluten-free bread will be sure to have you begging at the bakery door before you can say hot cross bun.
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Photo credits: Chance Agrella, Pramshree Pillai, Dachalan