In my work with the Blue Zones Project, I get to see people in other countries enjoying long, healthy lives and eating delicious, life-promoting foods. Of course, it makes it all the more discouraging to travel around the United States and see people in the most prosperous nation on earth ravaged by disease because their food supply is so toxic.
One of the most frustrating is gluten intolerance. Ten years ago, it was limited to a handful of patients suffering from Chron’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or any of a number of digestive disorders. Today, it’s a billion-dollar industry and it’s getting harder to find people who don’t have to think twice before they eat bread.
Beaten Down By Bread
Some people say the whole gluten intolerance explosion is a bunch of baloney, and that people who claim to suffer from it are either hypochondriacs or just looking for attention. I disagree. Not only has our grain supply been altered beyond repair by genetic modification and increased pesticide use, bakers are now using accelerated rising methods to churn out more bread faster. I believe that the chemicals used to make bread rise faster are harmful to the gut flora.
After leading hundreds of patients through a 28-day detox program that removes breads, white flours, white sugars, caffeine, certain meats, and other foods from their diet, I can say without hesitation that much of the bread being produced in America today is not good for you: white bread is a laughable chemical concoction that should have been outlawed in the 1950s, and even your whole grain breads are full of sugar. My patients consistently enjoy better health when they remove bread from their diets and suffer severely when they put it back.
The problem is, people love bread.
Every few months a new gluten-free bread option hits the market, trying to cash in on the demand, but most of them taste like craft glue or sand (or both).
If you’re a bread lover, don’t despair. There is a bread option that:
- Is good for your gut.
- Tastes great.
- Is actually bread.
Sourdough – The San Francisco Treat
Sourdough bread has made a comeback in the U.S. over the last 20 years. I see it in restaurant ads all the time: they have one signature sandwich that uses sourdough bread. To be honest, I view their “sourdough” bread with the same skepticism that I view their “all-beef” burgers, but that’s for another article.
While sourdough bread never went away in Blue Zones like Sardinia and around the Mediterranean Basin, it’s been relatively obscure here in the U.S. (aside from the San Francisco Bay). People all over the country are starting to “discover” it again, and it’s not just because of its unique flavor. In fact, some people have a difficult time with the strong sour taste of the bread produced by the lactobacillus cultures. I think part of the popularity is found in some of these other benefits:
- Because sourdough is fermented with a bacterial culture “starter” instead of (or in addition to) traditional yeast. Yeast-based breads can rise in an hour or two while sourdough requires 2 to 3 days of fermentation before it’s ready. The longer rise time allows for greater proliferation of lactic acid, which is an important digestive enzyme.
- Regular readers of this blog will recognize lactobacillus as an important component of the bacterial colony in your gut that promotes healthy digestion and acts as the primary weapon of your immune defense system. A good probiotic has plenty of lactobacillus in it.
- Some research suggests that sourdough bread may not spike blood glucose level the way other breads do. In fact, one study suggested that positive benefits of sourdough bread on blood glucose levels may last beyond subsequent meals. In other words, sourdough bread not only maintained a patient’s healthy blood glucose level after a meal but sustained it beyond the next meal as well.
- The sourdough culture not only produces lactic acid, but also acetic acid, which acts as a natural preservative because it prevents (or at least slows) the growth of mold spores in the bread.
- The culture also breaks down the complex starches in the grains through a process of pre-digestion. For people who struggle with digesting grains, this is a huge help. It takes much of the burden off your stomach and small intestine. Maybe more important, the fermentation process also breaks down gluten into its component amino acids, which makes it easier for your gut to receive and process.
This is not to suggest that there is no gluten in sourdough bread (in fact, there are places you can order gluten-free starters), but the process of fermentation helps make it more accessible for people who would otherwise have a hard time with it.
I can’t recommend sourdough bread to everyone globally without some knowledge of every reader’s digestive health history, but sourdough is a promising variety that could work for some people, especially if its made the old-world way.
It grieves me that I have to throw out so many caveats for people to eat normal food, but that’s where we are as a culture with a poisoned food supply. I encourage you to take a look at some of the research Blue Zones has done in places around the world where people live to be 100. You might discover a new favorite food.
If you know someone who loves bread but has a hard time digesting it, I hope you’ll take a few seconds to share this article. It might be a real encouragement to them. In the meantime, have a great day, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow for “Think Right Thursday.”
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas