Gluten, also potentially known as your worst nightmare, has become our go-to explanation for countless health conditions and complaints, including obesity, IBS, colitis, constipation, poor skin, and difficulty focusing — you name it, and gluten has been cited as the culprit. Gluten-free signs and symbols are everywhere these days, often on packages of food products that never would have had any gluten in them in the first place. It seems almost trendy to have a gluten intolerance lately. And while I myself tend to avoid gluten, as I notice I feel bloated and uncomfortable after eating too much bread or pasta, I know that would probably be the case with any kind of bread or pasta.
I should clarify: Celiac Disease is a real health issue that is estimated to affect about 1% of the population. It is a severe allergy to gluten, and people who have this should be sure to stay away from it, otherwise they risk developing various health problems, including anemia, infertility, intestinal cancers, diabetes, and neurological conditions. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also real, but in your best interest, and for the love of bread and fresh pasta, you should probably bite the bullet and get a food sensitivity test.
Where Does That Leave The Rest of Us?
For the rest of us, gluten might not actually be the enemy. After watching a series on Netflix called “Cooked,” my eyes have opened up to this possibility. If you’ve seen it, you probably know what I’m talking about (and if you haven’t, do yourself a favour and check it out). But I will explain. Author of the bestselling novel The Omnivore’s Dilemma and well-known food activist Michael Pollan is behind this captivating series, and in one episode he offers some eye-opening insight into gluten sensitivity.
First of all, bread is an absolute staple for many countries worldwide and has been for an estimated 10,000 years! It’s hard to imagine that something that is so intrinsically connected to our heritage could just, all of a sudden, begin causing so many of the health problems we are faced with today. I’ve often just assumed that it must be the overly-processed and genetically modified wheat, which is sprayed heavily with pesticides, that caused this gluten epidemic. I certainly notice that products made with refined white flour and even whole-wheat flour are more difficult to digest.
So Here’s What Michael Pollan Had To Say
“Gluten is bad for some people, but I think a much smaller number than we think,” he said. “There are people that have a genuine gluten intolerance, and then I think [there are] a lot of people who think they do.”
The show explains that the biggest difference between the bread we’ve been eating for centuries and the bread we are eating now is the natural fermentation process. Bread used to be made more naturally, composed of essentially just ground wheat, water, and air; all that was needed was a little time for natural yeast to form from the air. This begins a natural fermentation process which results in a sourdough bread.
Fermented foods in general have been found to extremely beneficial for gut health, so this idea makes a lot of sense.
But is this the reason that we could so easily digest the wheat before? Nowadays, foods are made cheaply, quickly, and easily, and this need for efficiency largely undermines the ancient techniques that have worked so well for us in the past. In order to be able to make bread more quickly and more conveniently, and in order to increase its shelf life, manufacturers started adding quick active yeast, which essentially skips the fermentation process altogether. According to Pollan, this missing step is the reason have such a difficult time digesting modern breads.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is only a theory. I believe the genetic modification and over-processing of wheat has also played a major role in the gluten intolerance epidemic, but as Pollan says, the way we prepare breads may be causing more problems than we realized.
“[The] tradition of fermenting flour with sourdough breaks down the peptides in gluten that give people trouble,” he said. “Anecdotally, I’ve heard from lots of people that when they eat properly fermented bread, they can tolerate it.”
Again, if do you have Celiac Disease, I wouldn’t try this unless you consult with your doctor first. But this is an interesting theory nonetheless and I think worth testing for yourself. At the very least, it has inspired me to look into bread making!
Has anyone had experience with making sourdough bread? What are your thoughts and opinions? Share in the comments below!
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