Written by Tara Cristobal-Rivera MSN
Why do I feel different when I eat bread in Greece?
Traveling abroad to learn about different cultures and eat all the fabulous food is what makes traveling fun for me. But I’ll admit, I was afraid to try to certain foods in fear of how it might upset my stomach.
Bread for example. It's the ultimate comfort food for me. But as I’ve gotten older, my days of eating all kinds of bread have minimized in fear of an occasional upset stomach. Until I went to Greece.
Walking through food markets and smelling fresh baked bread is quite irresistible. So, I didn't hold back on eating bread. And guess what?
My stomach didn't get upset!
We humans have been eating wheat and grains for thousands of years. So what's new? Why are more people becoming intolerant to these grains?
The many reasons for the change include the quality of the grain, how it's processed, plant genetics, the health of our gut microbiome, to an increase in testing for wheat allergies and celiac diseases where it is a necessity to avoid gluten.
But, if you are like me and have no medical reason, other than I occasionally feel better when I don't eat certain breads, does that mean I need to eat gluten-free?
And what is gluten anyway?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and wheat-related grains like barley, rye, spelt, bulgar, couscous, farro, triticale, einkorn, and emmer. Gluten offers texture and structure to anything made with wheat-related grains. It helps hold pasta together and allows bread to rise without exploding all over the oven.
Aside from getting to eat gluey pasta and hock-puck baked goods - as my Dad would call them, jumping on the gluten-free FAD diet band-wagon isn't the answer - especially if you've had a rocky relationship with food at ANY point in your life. Unfortunately, people are buying into the wellness-gluten-free-diet trends - literally!
In 2014, it was estimated that over $10 billion was spent on gluten-free diet-related products and only about 1% of Americans have been medically diagnosed with celiac disease.
2,000 years ago, healers focused on treating the individual and not the disease. Today it's just the opposite. And modern-day medicine can become reductionistic, meaning it focuses on one nutrient at a time as either killing you or curing you.
Going gluten-free, when you don't have a medical diagnosis puts you at risk for other nutrient deficiencies, and blanketly recommending gluten-free diets is a form of elitism due to the dramatically higher price points of gluten-free products.
But again, why do I feel better when I eat bread while traveling out of the country than I do here? The answer is literally in my backyard in the Pacific Northwest.
Research continues to develop around why people can feel sensitive to gluten in this country. Studies on non-celiac-specific gluten sensitivity show that folks are sensitive to how the wheat is grown rather than gluten.
It's becoming more clear that people could have reactions to the pesticides and fertilizers used in the mass growing of only 3 types of wheat in the U.S. - also referred to as mono-crop agriculture.
Interestingly, studies have also shown that people can have less of a reaction to wheat-related foods if the grain is grown with sustainable agricultural practices - crop rotations, crop diversity, no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and choosing seeds that will succeed in a given climate with typical pests.
In 1919, Whidbey Island, Washington held the world record for growing 119 bushels of wheat per acre. There's a long history of wheat growing in Washington state and efforts are being made to preserve and increase the farming of grains with particular attention to sustainable farming and plant breeding practices.
Washington State University has created the Bread Lab Plant Breeding Program in where they are researching thousands of grain varieties related to wheat and barley to help educate farmers, bakers, chefs, and local communities on the benefits of choosing sustainably grown grains.
The goal is to grow nutritious whole grains with exceptional flavor, and offer products made with them affordable for all community members. For example, bakers and graduate students at the Bread Lab in Mount Vernon, Washington are working to create a $3.00 loaf of sandwich bread using locally grown and processed grains.
If you're someone who experiences gluten-sensitivity after enjoying your favorite pizza or sandwich, consider seeking out locally grown grains, flours, and bread to challenge your sensitivity.
NOTE: Don't try this if you have been medically diagnosed with celiac disease. Sadly, you and gluten will never be friends, and avoiding each other at all costs is good self-care.
For more guidance on adding previously off-limits foods back into your eating habits, become an Alpine Insider by joining our mailing list. Not only will you get a free guide on how to stop restricting foods you like, but you'll also get weekly newsletters with additional tips, resources, and recipes. Sign up HERE!
Fasano, A. (2014, Jan 21). A spectrum of gluten-related disorders: People shall not live by bread alone. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvfTV57iPUY
Hyman, M. (2018, Sep 26). Should we all avoid gluten? With Dr. Alessio Fasano. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rTAhlJ9PMM
Washington State Magazine. (2020). Wheat: A 10,000-year relationship. Retrieved from https://magazine.wsu.edu/2011/11/03/wheat-a-10000-year-relationship/