This is nice, sitting down in the quiet morning to write. In the oven is a loaf of bread, another on the counter waiting to go in which will be followed by a quiche to make the most of such a hot oven and the energy required to heat it. This tea is in hand as I fight the tail-end of a spring cold. I quickly fly through emails, organize, and relax. I haven’t done this in a while, but the impetus is 2-fold. First, a new puppy which has come into our lives and wakes even earlier than the kids, and an indulgent new habit of baking bread.
But wait, why am I baking bread? Aren’t all carbohydrates bad? Isn’t that what everyone from Dr. Oz to the Paleo craze is telling us?! Well, the answer is complex, so let me help clarify.
Carbohydrates are not bad, rather they’re a necessary source of energy. In fact, a body fed absolutely zero carbohydrates will sooner or later go into starvation mode and feed on stored fat and muscle for energy. While certain degrees of this can be helpful for weight loss and other issues such as epilepsy, a long-term burning of fat and muscle is not recommended nor healthy for most of the population.
Carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables in addition to grains. Clients of mine who are on the most strict of regimens due to digestive disorders consume lots and lots of high-carbohydrate vegetables such as butternut squash to maintain energy levels, without which they may have a hard time. I do suggest that fruits and vegetables are the main source of carbohydrates in one’s diet, but that does not mean there isn’t a place for grains.
Let’s simplify: Some people can tolerate grains. Some people can tolerate gluten. Some people can tolerate more than others. Not everyone can tolerate grains or gluten in any amount. Uh oh… maybe that’s not as clear-cut as I’d hoped! This is because the issues is complex and every person and their digestive systems are different. Are you unsure if you’re able to tolerate grains or gluten? Contact me and I’ll help you find out.
What if you know you function fine on grains and gluten, have no digestive troubles, and/or you simply don’t want to or can’t give it up grains entirely? Here are some basic guidelines. I talk about everything on a spectrum, with one end being the pie-in-the-sky goal which isn’t always attainable, and the other end is the I’d-rather-starve-than-eat-that quality. For bread, here’s what the priorities would be:
- Always organic flour (no GMO wheat, thank you very much)
- True sourdough or sprouted grains, which means no yeast in the ingredients.
- Whole wheat, at least partially
- Fresh from the bakery section, not on the middle aisles of the grocery store
- Should have three ingredients only: wheat, salt, water.
- Homemade is the best way to ensure all of the above!
Now, I realize it can be hard to hit all of these marks. Here’s a tip: if I’m not making it at home, I always ensure I get the top two on my list, and the rest tend to happen automatically.
Why sourdough or sprouted grains, you ask? All grains contain phytates or phytic acid, which is the plant’s defense against consumption. This makes it hard for humans and our one measly stomach to break down (cows have 4 sections in their stomach to break down grains!). In addition, phytic acid is a nutrient inhibitor so when we don’t break down the phytic acid, it prevents other nutrients from being absorbed by the body. If we’re going to be eating grains, then we definitely want to be reaping the nutrients from the bread and also from the other foods we’re consuming along side it, so I always recommend either true sourdough bread or sprouted grain bread, both process break down the phytic acid and renders the final product more digestible and nutritious. This is true for ALL grains including those in processed foods such as crackers and goldfish, so it’s worth paying attention to how-much grains is going into you or your family.
As a rule of thumb in my house, we aim to eat grains no more than 1x per day. This gives our digestive tracts a break and also ensures we focus our meals on more nutrient dense foods. While this can be challenging at times, a little planning goes a long way, as do leftovers from dinner. These days, that one grain is a thick slice of homemade bread slathered with butter.