March 17, 2016
I haven't consumed gluten in almost 4 years. If you've read my story, you know that I was not the healthiest a few years ago. I followed a very Standard American Diet - lots of processed grain products and sugar that wreaked havoc on my body. I had, what I thought was, adult-onset lactose intolerance. After eliminating grains from my diet (especially gluten), I experienced vast improvement in my health. My gut was healed, and after a few months, I was able to tolerate dairy again without issue. Since then, I've avoided gluten like the plague. I cook at home everyday and we generally eat out less than once per month. On those infrequent occasions that we do eat out - I'm careful. When something I don't agree with is somehow mixed in - I notice. The effects have sometimes lasted over a week. I enjoy doing things myself, and I think most food tastes best when I make it. I'm really not strict paleo or primal, and I don't like labels anymore. I feel great eating as balanced as possible, and sometimes that does include gluten-free grains. If I had to label myself, I'd just say I like the "real deal" - home prepared meals that have been touched by my hands, whose wholesome beginnings originated in my mind. So why would I ever entertain eating gluten again? Well, I've recently started watching Michael Pollan's series on Netflix, titled "Cooked." If you have any interest in food - you cannot miss this. The first couple of episodes focused a lot on sourcing meats and our obsession with convenience foods - two subjects that I already had a fair amount of previous knowledge on. One of the most intriguing episodes, for me, focused on bread. Much of the show follows people in other countries who painstakingly harvest wheat, grind it on a centuries-old millstone, and expertly shape perfectly, imperfect loaves of bread for their families to enjoy daily. The lengths that these people go to, in order to consume something that I so ardently avoid, is awe-inspiring. Pollan argues that over the past 6,000 years wheat has been a staple of our diet and our actual "bread of life" - how could we just now decide to demonize it? I often asked this question related to dairy - as my European ethnicity usually lends itself to dairy tolerance. As it turns out, I am very tolerant of dairy when my gut is healthy and at full digestive capability. Could the same be said for gluten? After watching the show, I can't disagree with any of the points he makes. And honestly, I haven't missed bread very much at all, until now. Perhaps we've gotten this gluten thing all wrong. As a person who doesn't have diagnosed celiac disease, I absolutely hate to hear people minimizing my issues with consuming gluten. If it were any other protein or ingredient, people probably wouldn't bat an eyelash on me avoiding something because it didn't make me feel well. The show does not minimize the struggle of those who experience distress when consuming gluten - it actually tries to explore why it's happening. Instead of feeling insulted, I'm opening my mind to the possibility that I'm not the problem, and neither is gluten. The problem is more deeply rooted in our industrial food system that works against the grain of nature. I'm not sure that I've ever had properly prepared bread in my entire life. Properly prepared bread, according to Pollan, is what we consider "sourdough bread" that only has three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. These ingredients combine with the unique microbiome of your kitchen - to bubble, rise, and bake to crusty, sourdough perfection. It's a process that takes days to complete and is very energetically expensive for the baker. This study even found that properly fermented bread contained <20 ppm of gluten, enough to be technically considered "gluten free." What about the bread that I've consumed in my life? The bread that makes me feel sick? Well, first of all, it's not fermented. Second of all, it contains so many superfluous ingredients, including but not limited to: dough conditioners, commercial yeasts, gums, fibers, industrial oils, lecithins, corn derivatives, and more. As explained in the series - these additives are part of our convenience culture of wanting to make bread easy, quick, and accessible. Well, the process of making real bread is none of those things. Real bread involves a painstaking process that we are opting out of - at the expense of our health. Choosing to eschew the traditional methods changes the composition of this food entirely. Lastly, the wheat we primarily use today is completely different from the wheat of the past. We've bred it and engineered it to be mass-produced and make millions of loaves of chemically laden Wonder Bread. The wheat is not harvested the same, it's not dried the same, it's not ground the same - and it's certainly not "thrashed" or sprouted. One of my favorite people to listen to, Joel Salatin, has an awesome interview on this very topic here. I'm interested in learning more about this idea of "real bread" - and learning more about myself. It took some pretty drastic n=1 experimentation 4 years ago to get to a point where I felt and looked healthy, and the experiment is still ongoing. If the fermentation process (that we are completely missing out on from the time the grains are harvested to the time they enter our kitchen in a bag of Gold Medal), could break down the gluten and make bread digestible to me - would I try it? Maybe. Would I trust someone else to do it for me? Absolutely not. First of all, I'm too much of a control freak for that. Second, if this is a true experiment, I need to be completely sure of the methods. If I can tolerate this bread, will I start feeding myself and my family gluten ad libitum? Absolutely not. I know I will never (knowingly) consume commercially prepared products containing gluten ever again. And as for my children, that's a decision they can make when they're old enough to make it. I also know that, for me, any grain products will never trump good quality meats, vegetables, and dairy products. But, if I was open minded enough to succeed with grain elimination, it's feasible that I could give this a try. Check for updates on this experiment, I'll keep you posted. I'd love to hear your input on this. Have you watched the show? Would you try "real" bread after years of avoiding it? Want to subscribe to get email updates when I post something new? Click here!