Our Daily Bread

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These days, bread gets a bad rap. While I’m not about to defend today’s version of “bread”, I did want to dive into some reasons why gluten is an issue, how we got here and how we can go back to a time when gluten wasn’t the enemy.

Chris Kresser, a highly respected clinician and educator in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health, explains: “The pervasiveness of refined flour in the Western diet exploded in the 1970s when the U.S. government released its low-fat dietary guidelines. These guidelines promoted an intense fear of fat and, in turn, an increased intake of carbohydrates to take the place of fat in the diet. Between 1980 and 1999, flour and cereal intake rose 36 percent in the United States. Over 85 percent of the grains consumed in the current U.S. diet are highly processed refined grains such as refined flour.”

No matter how you look at it, the consumption of refined flour raises blood sugar and insulin, causing metabolic dysfunction and replaces more nutrient-dense options with products depleted in nutrients. To go even further, today’s crops are sprayed with ungodly amounts of glyphosate, a toxic pesticide which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (Isn’t any amount not okay?). The sandwich bread, cereal, granola bars (and more) you see in the grocery store are some of the items that have been tested (and failed).

If you’re dealing with symptoms like headaches/migraines, bloating, skin issues, joint/muscle pain, autoimmune disorders, brain fog (and more), I highly suggest you take notice of what’s on your plate. Eliminating gluten for a few weeks will give your body a chance to re-set so you can notice any changes. Chances are, those “changes” will be improvements! Just be careful not to replace everything with “gluten-free” alternatives which are often loaded with sugar, preservatives and highly-refined oils.

People ate bread years and years ago with no problem, so what’s changed?

The bread we’re eating today is not the bread that was eaten years and years ago. Not only is there a heavy use of pesticides on grains, the addition of harmful fillers and sugar doesn’t do our body any good either. To add, it’s no news that our soil today is not as nutrient-rich as it once was, producing lack-luster crops. These reasons alone would give anyone problems. However, perhaps the most stark difference between today’s bread and the loaves our ancestors ate, is the following.

“Until the industrial revolution, almost all bread was fermented long and slow using wild yeast: lactic acidosis bacteria and stoneground flour. Then, almost overnight, everything changed as technological advances in the agricultural, manufacturing and baking industries happened simultaneously. Modern bread making uses fast acting yeast and rolled milled flour. The entire process takes about 1.5 hours. Without lactic acid bacteria, none of the component parts of flour are broken down. The magic is in the fermentation and the acids that are produced are key to predigesting the bread, making it more nutritious and easier on people with digestive malaise. The processed bread on our supermarket shelves is completely dependent on petrochemical-derived, synthetically fertilized and adulterated wheat, routinely treated using carcinogenic, chemically produced herbicides. The wheat used to make the bread is stripped of its nutritional properties; the bread is packed with preservatives, emulsifiers and enzymes before being packaged in wasteful plastic bags and transported long distances.”

Vanessa Kimbell, The Sourdough School

We switched to convenience over quality and digestibility. Baking bread this way takes time. It’s supposed to take time. Time is what helps the starter culture ferment and “pre-digest” the gluten and creating more available enzymes. While there’s definitely a learning curve, it’s one incredible way to get back to how our ancestors did things — when we weren’t so sick or dependent on convenience, instant gratification and consumerism. If anything, it makes those times of enjoying a slice of bread more intentional and special. Think about it — grains were a seasonal crop so it made sense that it was only consumed seasonally. Today, you can make waffles, cake or a loaf of sandwich bread any time of day or night, let alone buy it at the grocery store.

It also doesn’t hurt that many people with gluten sensitivities (or need to avoid it due to an autoimmune disease, like me!) can actually enjoy a real, naturally leavened loaf of goodness because of the fermentation process. As mentioned earlier, both time and the live bacteria (in the starter) are our friends here: most of the gluten is actually broken down, or pre-digested, at this point so our bodies don’t have to do so much work.

Gluten and our guts:

While the term “leaky-gut” has become more understood nowadays, you might not be familiar with it just yet. As silly as it may sound, it’s a very serious problem that many of us are dealing with.

The main cause of leaky-gut, or intestinal permeability, are inflammatory foods. Thanks to the Standard American Diet full of processed, packaged food, our gut lining (the small intestine to be exact) has seen better days. Our gut acts a bit like a gate, in the sense that there’s a time and place for letting things into our bloodstream, or not. Digested food gets released into our bloodstream, which is how we get our nutrients, and the other stuff that doesn’t belong there gets eliminated further down the line. However, when undigested food gets into our bloodstream, our body sees this as foreign invaders and mounts an attack on them. Since they don’t belong there, our body creates anti-bodies against those foods. Do you have a long list of food sensitivities? It’s rarely the food that’s the real issue. It’s more often your compromised gut letting undigested food into the bloodstream and your body doesn’t like it, making you sensitive to just about everything. This is an auto-immune disease waiting to happen! Take it from me.

Gluten actually stimulates the release of zonulin, a protein responsible for loosening those teeny tiny holes in our guts. It’s like a key that gets stuck, allowing anything and everything through. As you can imagine, this is why gluten is a very serious culprit of leaky-gut. Other factors that can lead to leaky gut are toxins, medications like antibiotics and Advil, stress, sugar, etc.

Why you can’t just buy “sourdough bread” at the store:

I know it might be encouraging to hear this and think “I’m allowed to eat bread!” and run to the nearest grocery store and look for a loaf labeled “sourdough” but I have some tough love to share. Unless you’re blessed enough to be near a health foods store that actually sells a naturally leavened loaf of sourdough (like Prager Brothers in San Diego!), the “sourdough” you’ll see at the store just doesn’t cut it. Sure, it has a sourdough flavor, but that’s not what we’re after. If you turn it over and look at the label, you’ll likely see plenty of words you can’t pronounce (additives, fillers, flavors, sugar) and yeast, which is a sure-fire way to tell you that they took a short cut. Commercial yeast makes things rise fast (so they don’t have to let something ferment for hours and hours) which means all of the benefits that come with time, mentioned above, doesn’t exist. This is all that bread needs: Organic flour, filtered water, unrefined salt and a starter culture. Anything more is not only not necessary but a sad attempt at the beautiful, traditional way of making bread. If you have a local farmer’s market or artisan bakery that sells sourdough, make sure you ask them what the ingredients are and how long they actually ferment the bread. You want at least 24 hours to get all of those amazing benefits.

If you’d like to try your hand at making your own sourdough, here are some resources I recommend:

The Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimbell - the book

The Sourdough School - online resource

My Daily Sourdough Bread - online resource

Food Bod Sourdough - online resource