A grain of truth

I have the same question asked of me a lot, and that is why are so many people having problems with wheat and gluten grains now in comparison to in the past? It’s an interesting question because it has become a larger issue even in the time that I’ve been practising.

UK consumption of flour reached 59kg per person a year in 2016/17, maybe we are just eating too much of one food ingredient for it to be good for us, you can have too much of a good thing!

97% of UK households buy a daily loaf, and 11 million loaves are sold each and every day. Tesco does point out that 44% of their bread products are wasted so consumption has to be lower because it looks like a lot of bread is never eaten. Now could it be that we are relying on wheat just too much and it’s become a problem due to that factor, or is it that most of the bread we eat isn’t wholegrain it’s actually the highly refined variety called white bread.

Let’s face it, that white bread is great for making toast and in the UK we tend to rely on toast for breakfast an awful lot when we are on the run, we love our boiled eggs and toast soldiers, marmalade on toast, or jam or Marmite. In the UK research has shown that we don’t just eat it for breakfast we use it for snacks as well throughout the day. We love toast so much that Streetband made a song about their little piece of toast back in the 70’s. Beans on toast are a staple for kids, and many adults, we actually eat 90% of the production of baked beans and as an American visiting the UK said to me, you love everything on toast I’ve noticed! He’s right, even Nigella has avocado ‘smashed’ on it. I just mash it, but then I’m from the North of England with fewer innuendoes!

White bread dominates not only toast but also sandwich sales in the UK even with all the nutritional information that is available on how good sourdough, rye, or whole grain would be it still leads.

Did you know that the heel of the bread is discarded by sandwich makers and sandwiches account for 50% of bread consumption.

Most people I find don’t even realise that they are eating the same food ingredient across the day, eating Weetabix for breakfast, a wrap for lunch and pasta or lasagna for dinner means that they’ve eaten wheat at every meal. Add in the break time biscuits, and a cheeky cake, and you can see a pattern that for some of us it has to be linked to over-consumption. So you might see a pattern that our reliance on age-old grains, their usage going back over 10,000 years might be a bit OTT.

Grains have changed over the years, our soils have changed, nutrient depletion is significantly higher, leaving our food nutrient levels lower. Farming methods mean that we spray these grains far more with pesticides, and we are over farming our soils, rarely leaving it time to lay for a season. We refine the grains more than we used to, and we rely on them to bridge a hunger gap. I see more deficiencies now with people who are suffering from stress, B vitamins, in particular, are depleted with high levels of stress, and how many of you know people who suffer from continual stress in their lives? B vitamins and zinc are needed for our stomach acid, and bile acid production, which leaves us unable to digest our foods fully, we then struggle to digest even the most depleted of foods, therefore we are unlikely to be able to replenish our stores.

So is it surprising that if we rely on only one food ingredient in our diet throughout the day that we are going to see a problem with it? It is surprising that with our levels of stress in our society that we are nutritionally deficient, and because our soils are becoming depleted that we are not able to actually eat enough foods that help to resolve our deficiencies to help us digest these foods properly in the first place.

With our increasing reliance on medications that are calming down reflux, it’s clear that we are not only damaging our digestions with our food and lifestyles, but we are not listening to our bodies. Most people’s digestion is terribly out of balance due to the over usage of antibiotics. Bowels which should be moving daily are often slow, or constipated, but we are told this is normal, of course, it will be if we eat too much-refined food that doesn’t give us the nutrients and fibre that we actually need.

We are also damaging our gut flora with medications and our lifestyle, food choices and pesticides, even the chlorine our water is cleaned with isn’t helping our gut flora to survive. This has a knock on effect with how our body absorbs these grains, which also isn’t helping.

Why has gluten become an increasing problem for people? Alessio Fasano had the same question when he moved from Italy where he was studying gluten and celiac disease where he had found it to be prevalent, to America where he didn’t see a single case. He started asking why he wasn’t seeing any cases of gluten be an issue, even though the populations had the same genetic background.

He tested 2000 samples of blood and found that instead of the prevalence of gluten issues being 1 in 10,000 which it was thought to be, it was actually 1 in 250, making celiac disease far more common in America than previously thought. With this under his belt, he extended the research out to 40,000 samples of blood and found that it was 1 in 133 that were affected by gluten. But because the symptoms are not straightforward and are often a very mixed bunch of digestive issues, and autoimmune complaints, the potential is that it just wasn’t being spotted or even considered.

It was always thought that the Irish or North Europeans were susceptible to this gluten issue, but it’s been found across more continents, including Asia and India. What they have seen in each culture is that some people are more susceptible to having a problem with gluten.

So from my perspective, there are a number of reasons why we are becoming intolerant of a food group that has seemingly been fine for years and that could be that we just didn’t know previously how much of a problem it actually was until recently.

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