GLUTEN, WHEAT and BREAD: Nourishing or Nasty?
Unpleasant experiences can become fashionable. Being pale and tubercular in 19th century England was thought to signify an artistic and soulful nature. In Imperial China foot-binding presumably made women more delicate and desirable. Similarly, some people take on restricted diets out of narcissism and status hunger. “Look at me. I am different and therefore more worthy”. It can be no more evolved than insisting on a designer bag with a small dog inside.
At the other end of the dining spectrum are those who say they won’t be dictated to by specialised regimes or trends. The ‘eat anything I like’ approach is usually controlled instead by multi-national corporations. Highly processed, nuance and nutrition-free fodder is plucked from supermarket isles without personal or political scrutiny. Scarily, only 12% of New Zealanders say they read food labels: a practice helpful to looking beyond industry hype and deeply implanted family, peer and cultural assumptions.
Holidays can shake people out of ruts and inspire them to question norms. Pretend you are on vacation in an exotic land. The climate is different; the customs are different and of course the food is different. In this country the main staple is pumpkin. From its starches, sugars and proteins they extract and highly process components to produce pumpkin breakfast cereals, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pastry, muffins, cakes, filo, cookies; crackers, pasta, pizza bases; flour, crumbs, batters, stuffings, coatings; chips and other flavoured snack foods; packet and tinned food; vegetarian and meat luncheon, sausage, pate; protein powders; free-flow agents for spice, salt and herb mixtures; MSG, soy sauce, Marmite, stock, malt (syrup, extract and vinegar); flavoured coffee and tea; beer, whiskey, gin, vodka; baking powder and icing sugar; sweeteners in confectionary, jams, syrups, chocolate, snack bars, ice cream, other chilled and frozen foods; many medications, supplements, toothpaste, lipstick and lip balm.
At first this is novel to you as a visitor, but after awhile you find it odd. You have a great vacation but are glad to return home to the familiar. A diet where everything appears varied but is similarly and predominantly made from one ingredient: WHEAT.
How Can Ancient Staples Be Harmful?
Foods such as bread can have positive personal and cultural associations. In many traditions bread and the wheat it is made from have been honoured as healthy basics for centuries. The modern supermarket versions may seem similar, but are they really? Since the industrial revolution food has been more about commerce than sustenance. Hunter-gatherers used to eat annually from a range of over 200 foods. Most urban-ites now partake largely of only 10. This taxes digestive resources. Farmers used to grow several varieties of grain for their own use. Now wheat predominates internationally. Grains are heavily treated with agrochemicals, even genetically engineered.
Historically there were once 100s of types of wheat; now 3 strains dominate worldwide. These have been bred for high gluten content as its stretchy structure traps in gases to produce fluffy, high-rising results. No longer are batters and bread dough lengthily fermented, which would make them more digestible. Instead a long list of additives ups the speed, storage time, profit margin – and compromised digestion. Natural constituents such as coarse bran may be extracted, and other high-tech components added according to trendy concerns, rather than a true comprehension of wholesomeness. Modern foodstuffs are as distant from their original predecessors as our lifestyles are compared to ancient forbears – yet biologically we remain virtually identical.
In consequence to this dietary overexposure, limited nutrition and toxic practices, some people have mild to severe allergies to the gluten fraction, the entire wheat grain or all its related family. Gluten is a protein highest in wheat, next rye, then barley, with a small amount of a similar protein in oats. Dr Rodney Ford, Christchurch gastroenterologist, estimates 1 person in 10 has a wheat sensitivity. A ‘fixed’ allergy is one which might be determined by a skin-prick test or an IgG blood test. This type of response is often easy for lay people to observe and is usually immediate upon contact with a food, topical agent (eg wool), or airborne agent (eg pollen).
Many more people have a ‘masked’ or ‘cyclical’ allergy, intolerance or sensitivity. These are challenging to observe. Response to a substance can take 1 or 2 days to manifest and might only develop in the presence of other triggers such as stress, tiredness, illness or menses. Masked reactions are best determined through hair analysis done by a highly qualified lab (contact this office to arrange a test). There are no internationally agreed definitions for all these types of allergies.
Coeliac Disease is an auto-immune disorder, not an allergy. Incidence estimates vary from 1 in 40-100. Blood tests are indicators but only a biopsy can confirm. Gluten must be avoided lifelong or the immune system produces gluten antibodies which attack the gut leading to malnourishment. Physician Dr David Brownstein notes that people with poor Thyroid function (TIPS; affecting vitality, weight, temperature, immunity) may also have high gluten antibodies that can normalise with 6 weeks of dietary avoidance.
Poor wheat or gluten tolerance (among other foods) can be misdiagnosed as IBS; or result in chronic skin or sinus problems, asthma, joint pain, behavioural issues or miscarriage. When food allergies are not identified Your Gut (TIPS) can become damaged or less efficient at absorbing key nutrients. Low iron levels that don’t resolve despite supportive diet and supplements can be a clue. Sadly for Coeliacs (and many others) the time between symptom onset and correct medical diagnosis has averaged 20 years.
Are You Intolerant? What to Look For
When you eat standard bread, cakes, and other foods listed above, minutely observe your reactions especially 10-30 minutes after intake. The most common adverse symptoms are first of all changes in mood (often heightened pleasure followed by irritability, or depression is especially common with wheat or gluten intolerance); changes in mental function (brief initial sharpness then worsened memory, ability to focus); and vitality levels (often a rise upon consumption followed by a sustained slump).
If you note an adverse reaction to some of these foods then other factors may additionally be involved – or the disguised sole culprits. It may not be wheat or gluten but the yeast, sugar, dairy or additives commonly consumed with them. However, overtime the body is less able to vigorously summon a clear response upon ingestion (TIPS: Pain). Instead you experience chronic problems that appear unrelated: mood, skin, weight issues; fatigue – Inflammation (TIPS) of any kind.
This is why expert testing is so helpful. Each individual food can contain hundreds of constituents. If someone is intolerant to most members of a food family there may be many factors – other proteins for instance, not just gluten – which are not broken down efficiently. Or the problem may be sugars and starches in grains and other plants known as GAPS or FODMAPS. Grains are technically grasses, so if you do not address an initial intolerance you may become overly sensitive to other grasses such as corn and cane sugar – both used extensively in processed foods.
Technicalities and the Oats’ Debate
The term ‘gluten’ represents the composite proteins gliadin and glutenin in wheat; secalin in rye; hordein in barley; and avenin in oats. Current laboratory tests for gluten cannot measure avenin as it is a slightly different protein. So stating that oats are ‘gluten-free’ is technically true, but misleading.
Several prestigious studies published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition report that the health of most (but not all) coeliacs benefited with daily intake of oats, even over 12 weeks exposure. One large Swedish study was of coeliac and non-coeliac oat-eating participants who achieved increased levels of bilirubin. This is a significant blood test marker. Low levels indicate damage to the endothelial gut lining, as well as higher risks for cardiovascular disease. However Dr Robert Anderson – Melbourne gastroenterologist and Patron for Coeliac New Zealand – sites research that approximately 1 in 5 coeliacs reacts to pure oats.
‘Food challenges’ can test foods and reactions (contact this office for a personal programme). Discuss oats with your registered nutritionist before experimenting. Oats are usually mixed with gluten as they are processed with other grains. North America and Europe have oats certified contamination-free. New Zealand companies will soon follow. ‘Gluten-free’ is a growing billion dollar global industry. But big companies don’t usually ‘get’ the issue. They just remove the offending fraction and add highly processed, low nutrient, low fibre replacements. A balanced wholefoods diet is required. Its absence is the reason these problems have developed. Ironically in New Zealand, intolerance to dairy products (often in bread, its additives, spreads) is many times more likely than gluten.
Flour and grain commonly containing wheat, gluten or avenin: barley/malt, bran, bulgur/burghul, cornstarch (may be wheat based unless maize is specified), cracked wheat, couscous, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, faro, graham, kamut, matzo, oat, oat bran, orzo, panko, rye, seitan, semolina, spelt/dinkel, triticale, udon, wheat bran, wheat germ, wheat starch. For cooking/baking options see The Shape Diet.
Flour and grain commonly without wheat, gluten, or avenin (read all labels): almond (chestnut and other nut) flour, amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat/kasha, cassava/tapioca/manioc/yuca, chia/salba, coconut (and other ground seed) flour, corn (cornmeal, maize, polenta, hominy, flour/starch), kudzu, legume flour (pea, mung, chickpea, soy, peanut, dhal, gram, besan, chana), linseed/flax, millet, potato flour/starch, quinoa, rice (white, brown, red, wild, black, glutinous), rice bran, sago, sorghum, taro, teff.