Processing Wheat

DSC_5746The smallest detail changed my mind. The height of wheat plants.

Genetic strains have been induced to increase yield per acre. The average yield on a modern North American farm is more than tenfold greater than farms of a century ago. Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in genetic code, including reducing the proud “amber waves of grain” of yesteryear to the rigid, eighteen-inch-tall high-production “dwarf” wheat of today. (Davis)

The problem with increasing the yield was that the head of the wheat plant got so heavy, that the stalk broke. I live in grain-growing country. I have seen, but had never noticed, how low the wheat plants are.

DSC_9124Why I never expected to go GF

Our married life began in Humboldt County, California, a mecca for hippie homemade-granola types. We ground our wheat, fried soy burger patties, ate carob, drank kefir, sweetened with honey and seasoned with tamari. There were no cans in our cupboards. (Our food righteousness was suffocating.)

Whole wheat was our banner. We’ve since relinquished (and later revisited) some of our hippie food, but we never abandoned whole grains. I embraced baking our daily bread. I’ve taught a baker’s dozen how to make loaves of bread, persuaded several to buy a wheat grinder. After the decade of teenage boys, in which I shredded six bread machines, we bought a Bosch mixer that has proven itself a great dough maker.

But it goes far deeper. I am a Christian; I regard the Bible as a holy book.  Phrases like Bread of Life, eat this bread, bread and wine, bread from heaven, consecrated bread have nourished my soul.  Why would Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life” if bread is bad for you? Bread is as daily as it gets.

DSC_6326A house in Maine

Last summer we stayed a week in a house at Maine. I love scanning bookshelves, gauging compatibility with the owners. There it was, Wheat Belly. I picked it up and began reading. My interest rose like yeast and I bought a copy once I had returned home.

I decided to do an experiment. I stopped eating wheat for a few days. And I felt good. I stopped eating wheat for a few weeks. And I felt great. Very scientific experiment, don’t you know. So scientific that I reintroduced wheat into my diet. And I felt achy all over. People like me with their anecdotal twaddle drive scientists bonkers. But there it is.

DSC_1812This one thing I know

My family medical history is grim. I have been dodging diabetes for a decade. I have a fasting blood glucose test drawn annually and I attend to my numbers. I keep (figuratively) running, and cancer keeps (literally) chasing me. If/when a doctor looks me in the eyes and says, “Carol, you have cancer” I can imagine being sad, but I cannot imagine being surprised.

One way that I try to keep diabetes and cancer behind me is by eating foods low on the glycemic index. It’s good to cut back on sweets, but it is helpful to know that flour is my sugar, that modern wheat quickly converts into high blood sugar. Whole wheat bread has a glycemic index of 72 (glucose = 100), higher than ice cream or Coke (Harvard  Health Publications, HMS).

101_0089In everything give thanks

I could never reconcile a gluten-free diet with the biblical injunction to “Eat this bread.” I believe we were created to eat bread, but tinkering with wheat has made it unhealthy for people who are insulin resistant and leptin resistant. My husband can eat bread every day. I still grind wheat and still make bread for him.

I understand that I haven’t been diagnosed with a “food allergy.” I just know I feel better when I don’t eat gluten. And I control about 90% of what I am served. When I visit a friend and she serves me a sandwich, I eat it with gratitude. In my case, the laws of hospitality trump my preferences. And the laws of thanksgiving cover it all.

One argument remains for eating bread. It is delicious! Nothing excels the smells of bread. Oh, how I look forward to weekly communion and the yummy amazing bite of bread. I chew and remember and swallow.

If you are interested in pursuing this topic further, I recommend you read Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers (where the dementia/diabetes relationship is explored) and Wheat Belly. Read the arguments and find the flaws. Convince me I’m full of macaroni, would you?

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9 thoughts on “Processing Wheat

  1. I tried a gluten-elimination diet about six years ago and when I started adding stuff back in, only the wheat bothered me. I’ve found that I can eat spelt fine, and a couple of weeks ago I ate something made with organic wheat flour and it didn’t bother me. I didn’t eat a whole lot of it — just one serving at one meal — but still, I didn’t notice feeling any worse. So that’s something you might look into.

    Also, when using whole grains, be sure to soak them first. There are several “anti-nutrients” that are broken down by soaking. The Weston A. Price Foundation has lots of info on this sort of thing. Or you may have heard of the cook book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon — lots of helpful info and full of delicious recipes.

  2. Another friend has recommended Wheat Belly so I plan to look for it when I’m in the U.S. this summer. I, too, make all our bread. I had read in two different health books that sourdough was better since its glycemic index isn’t so high. But from what you’ve written here, the major culprit is the flour itself. Lots to think about.

  3. I was eating gluten free bread and found out that it was the “gums” and “guar” and some other things that were bothering my stomach and influencing my numbers in blood draws. So I went back to fresh made sourdough and it is working fine. I honestly think it is the additives that work against me, so am eating fresh, homemade meals…no prepared packaged food and no dining out. It does make a difference. Praying for you Carol and for your family. Having a history of diabetes and cancer runs in our family, too. love and prayers, jep

    • Wow, that puts the load on you. But what a gift to make fresh from-scratch food. That’s how I was raised and that’s how I cook, too. I’m sorry about the d/c history in your family.Thank you for your love and prayers, my friend.

  4. I’m wondering if the grain and flours over here in Europe have the same issues? I try to cut out bread whenever possible but the pretzels are hard to resist 😉 I think my husband’s caloric intake and constitution are very close to your hubby’s, Carol – Jesse is basically the same size he was when we married almost 37 years ago. I can’t say the same for myself. As a runner, pasta is often on the menu for us. You’ve given me some “food for thought” – thanks! God bless you as you move forward with care and conviction.

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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