To Your Health

The Search for the Holy Grain

Part I in a series on bread and the body.
The Search for the Holy Grain
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How we love our bread! There are so many varieties and styles representing different cultures -Indians have their chapatti and naan, Europeans their rye, Americans our Wonder bread! Although we are able to sample many different ones in restaurants, specialty shops and farmers markets, we are also now suffering from a range of intestinal ailments, which have never been seen before. Problems like gluten intolerance, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), ulcers, cancers of the digestive tract, allergies etc are running rampant in our society.

Humans have been eating grains for a short time in the order of our existence on earth.Ten thousand years ago agriculture began and exotic grains like spelt and emmer(an early ancestor to wheat) were cultivated. It took 4000 years for the grains to make it to Central and Western Europe, and for the past 200-300 years we are eating the more refined read:grains that have been significantly modified from their natural composition.

Three millennia ago, healthy natural “bread” contained hand-ground whole beans, and lentils (Ezekiel 4:9). This wholesome, nutritionally diverse food was called “the staff of life.” Its recipe and amount one should consume was recorded in The Bible, and thought to have been a directive from the ‘word of God’. Large numbers of people survived for long periods on nothing but nutritious bean cakes and water.

Making early breads was particularly successful when wild yeast from the air combined with the flour and water, This started a fermentation process which resulted in a slightly raised the crust, giving the new bread a more pleasing texture and enhanced taste.

Throughout history peasants ate more unrefined nutritious forms of bread by default, made from dark rye or barley flour. The more refined (read: stripped of the bran husk) grains were reserved for the nobility and wealthy classes. This “white” bread was made from milled wheat, a process that entailed rubbing the grain between two flat stones to create smooth, finely ground flour. It quickly became prized as a status symbol, and the desire for the whitest, most refined bread continued through the modern era. Later advancements included sifting of the flour to remove the bran and the germ and bleaching the flour itself to make it even whiter. It is only recently we have come to appreciate that whole grain breads contain all the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need to function healthfully.

In 1961 a new method of making breads was discovered in England and became an overnight sensation on this side of the Atlantic, called the Chorleywood Process.  This process used new high-yielding varieties of wheat, which were more elastic and required less than half the time to rise, enabling bread to go from flour to a ready loaf in about 3 ½ hours.

Along with this “improvement” came a tradeoff for our health for two main reasons:

The old wheat with its higher protein was less elastic because it contained less gluten. Gluten is a pliable substance that binds with the molecules in the grain.  We now know that in the human body it sticks to the sides of the intestinal wall and interferes with our digestion. Recent research has suggested that this wheat, designed to work with the artificial fertilizers and pesticides used in intensive farming, has fewer minerals and vitamins than traditional varieties and more of the proteins that cause "leaky gut" type conditions.

In addition, when dough is left to ferment for longer periods of time, naturally occurring beneficial bacteria work to make the bread more digestible, nutritious and tasty. Fermenting dough for six hours as opposed to 30 minutes removes around 80% of a potentially carcinogenic substance called acrylamide found in bread crusts. Longer yeast fermentation periods conserve the highest levels of B vitamins in the breads made from them.

In stark contrast to ancient “Ezekiel Bread,” today’s bread is in no way even remotely similar to the old.  This new product is definitely is NOT the ancient “staff of life.” The next part will discuss some new ways to deal with the health epidemic we are confronting.


To your Health!