Obviously, an occasional sandwich won’t kill you (unless you are deathly allergic to an ingredient). However, a steady diet of bread, rolls, buns, tortillas, crackers, cereal, cookies, pancakes, pastries, pretzels, waffles, cakes, biscuits, pizza crust, donuts, toaster pastries, muffins, bagels and the like might speed you toward poor health. Most cultures in the world that are healthier than us do not eat much of that kind of stuff. The baker’s dozen list of problems I give below is not nearly complete, but it is a start.
- Blood sugar. Refined grains (even whole grain bread is processed grain) create unstable blood sugar and begin to wear out the insulin system. That is a step on the road to diabetes. Read more about that.
- Yeast. Intestinal yeasts (fungus) are very damaging to our health. They can result in a wide range of symptoms from rashes and headaches to joint pain and perhaps even cancer. Starches and sugars are their favorite foods. Read more.
- Mycotoxins. In addition to crowding out our beneficial bacteria, much of the harm from yeasts comes from the poisons (mycotoxins) that they create. Molds (fungus) grows on grains stored in silos. Commercial grain can stay in silos for as long as 5 years…organic grain only 1 year. These poisons cannot be cooked out. Doug Kaufmann’s TV program Know the Cause is a great source of information about yeasts, fungus and mycotoxins.
- Chemicals. I ran across a study about methods for detecting residues of 405 pesticides in grain! That doesn’t count herbicides (like Roundup) and fungicides. None of these need to be listed on the food label.
- Gluten. The media and some “experts” paint those of us who avoid gluten as silly fad followers. They do acknowledge that folks with celiac disease need to avoid gluten, but they usually underestimate the number who have it. I’m one of many who have specific non-celiac sensitivity problems with gluten. This substance is found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten may bother everyone to some degree because it leads to the creation of zonulin. That can loosen the ties between cells that line the intestinal tract causing leaky gut. Leaky gut can lead to food sensitivity and even autoimmune conditions. Most gluten free substitutes for the “foods” listed in the opening paragraph have many of the same issues. For example, there is concern about arsenic contamination of rice. Sour dough bread has been touted as an answer to gluten sensitivity. This linked article sheds some light on that theory. If it is truly fermented for a long period the old fashioned way it is indeed better. But, to avoid some of the other 9 reasons it should start with whole grain organic flour, not have additives and be eaten in moderation.
- Lectins. These are substances created by plants to keep animals (like us) from eating them. They are among other things, hard on our gut bacteria. Gluten is a lectin, but not the only one in wheat. and maybe not even the worst. Steven R. Gundry, MD writes in The Plant Paradox about wheat germ agglutinin WGA that, being smaller, can wiggle through the gut barrier to cause trouble. Surprisingly, whole wheat is a bigger problem than white. Incidentally, bacteria have lessened the lectins in sourdough bread.
- Food additives. There are a slew of chemicals that can be used in making flour. None have been tested to my satisfaction and certainly not in the infinite variety to combinations. DATEM is one I was recently asked about.
- Effects of baking. When exposed to high heat, carbohydrates formacrylamide which is toxic to nerves. It is also being studied for a possible role in changes that lead to cancer.
- Bad company. The end products using grain often contain, sugar, corn syrup, bad fats, emulsifiers, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Most of those are bad for our beneficial bacteria and some contain traces of mercury and other heavy metals.
- Addictive. Can you eat one pretzel or just a smidgen of the crusty french bread the waiter brings? Worse yet are the cravings we can get seemingly out of the blue.
- Fattening. Can you eat one pretzel? Grains are fed to farm animals to fatten them up. That roll of fat over our belts may have been dubbed “Muffin Top” because that is what it looks like. But, also, eating muffins will help build one.
- Phytic acid. This is a constituent in grains. It binds up minerals making them hard to absorb.
- Low Nutrition. Most of the starchy items listed at the top have had the nutrition refined out of the ingredients. While we are eating those, we fill up room that could be used for better foods that contain more vitamins, minerals, plant antioxidants, polysaccharide, and polyphenols as well as protein and good fats.
But aren’t the grains a good source of fiber? The main role of fiber is to feed our intestinal bacteria. Those critters prefer vegetables, seeds, nuts and some fruits. Grains are best when organic, whole and used in something like tabbouleh. Better yet, sprouting or fermenting whole organic grains reduces many of the issues as noted under gluten. Here is information on those methods.