THE HISTORY OF MAN AND BREAD
On a quiet Sunday after church when I was ten-years old my Dad drove us to the darkened restaurant he had recently opened. It was a massive English-style manor home set back from the road betwixt patchwork farmland in a quiet, bucolic town in northern Utah. We often played with the geese and chickens that ran free on the restaurant grounds, or tended the pheasant coop or visited the quickly growing pig in his pen (unlike Wilbur, this one went to the chopping block). As part of their religion my parents chose not to operate their business on Sundays, so it seemed out of place that we would be arriving at his work. But all six of us kids grew quickly ecstatic when my dad announced we were there for dinner. It didn't matter that I was only ten, and the youngest only two, my dad made all eight of us a full half-pound, medium-rare, cooked to perfection angus beef hamburger on made-from-scratch garlic buns with freshly-fried, thick-cut English style chips and a gourmet salad. There was a lot of leftovers.
That day in the dim restaurant our family eating together in the giant industrial-English kitchen all to ourselves was one of my fondest memories. Our food culture growing up was often like that, my parents supplying us with a never ending gourmet sampling, no small feat for a lower-middle class family of eight. Of course there were lots of Lucky Charms and macaroni with hot dog slices, but my favorite food growing up was my father’s fresh-baked bread, which rarely lasted long enough to cool down, eaten with huge slabs of butter normally accompanied with “that's too much.”
I have often cautioned against the consumption of grains, not as an edict, since life without pizza and chips can be admittedly boring, but as a generality. As humans we have not really evolved to be efficient consumers of grain. There are long histories of dietary plagues cause by grain-based diets like the Pellagra epidemics in the early Southern United States, where white settlers ignorantly consumed incorrectly processed corn as the cornerstone of their niacin-poor diet. Native Americans long understood the need to process corn with lime (not the fruit lime, this is referring to limestone and the high-calcium content) to make it edible, the irony their assistance would have been to those who murdered and displaced them clearly karmic. But in fact nearly every grain traditionally consumed by the entirety of our ancestral predecessors involved some kind of processing. Our grandparents didn't make white bread because they were slothful and ignorant, they made white bread because the phytic acid contained in the hulls of whole grain caused (and still causes) malnutrition. Of course they didn't know the science of it, only that they faired better when things were done a certain way. In fact, most of humanity which has existed before us contained a richness in food smarts we in the western world have complete ignorance of. An ignorance which has cost a great many lives and compromised the standard of living for even more. While many modern agricultural practices have enabled the improvement of feeding so many people, key lessons learned by those who have come before us are having to be relearned, sometimes painfully.
“Well, what about bread?” Is often a response I get after cautioning against the consumption of grain. This is a legitimate question, one for which I finally have a definite answer. I often wondered the same thing. Why does bread, which my ancestors have eaten for a thousand generations, give me such horrible stomachaches and illness? I found out serendipitously when in my mid-twenties that the constant sinus infections I suffered was caused by gluten. It didn't take much effort to give it up after that, the relief was so quick and complete. And yet I missed bread and wheat. Once in a while, after going months or years without eating it, I would indulge one or two meals only to be reminded exactly why I had stopped in the first place. Gluten, I would come to learn, was the reason for my sinus infections, the undigested proteins causing systemic inflammation and deterioration which also shut down my immune system, and the fortified iron, unnatural to traditional bread making, caused the severe stomach discomfort and seizing.
But gluten was in bread when my ancestors ate it. Did they all have those horrible reactions? Unlikely. And gluten is a protein, so why isn't it digested into amino acids? What changed? The 70’s, to be exact. In 1974 a very well meaning scientist helped hybridize wheat so it could be more easily grown in more parts of the world and help feed more people (and make more money). This hybridization has been used often in our agricultural history. Corn, for instance, used to look more like a stalk of wheat, dainty and grass-like. Over time it was bred by Native Americans (and further bred by modern Americans) to produce bigger and better fruit (seeds) and thus more food. But when common wheat was hybridized it did something to the gluten. It made it tougher, more resistant to deterioration and thus, digestion, preventing the gluten proteins from breaking down, especially in people with compromised digestion, and causing havoc in the body. The addition of iron, which I have discussed previously, merely added insult to injury, inflaming the inflammation and cementing the great gluten avoidance craze that has now gripped western civilization.
OUR SYMBIOSIS WITH YEAST
So you will be surprised to hear that I have been eating bread again for some time. Yay! But how? It's really obvious if you think about it. My bread is made from wheat that did not go through that detrimental hybridization process (at least, not recent ones). If bread is made from heirloom wheats it means it then contains gluten which we are actually equipped to digest. This eliminates any gluten reaction, unless you are extremely gluten intolerant or celiac, because the gluten is actually digested and reduced to its component amino acids. But this is not the only reason. Unlike plain wheat, bread (real bread) is special because it is processed with the inclusion of yeast. Yeast helps to break down and predigest the starches, proteins, and fats in the grain itself, making it easier for us to digest and is the reason why bread has held such status in the annals of history.
I have mentioned before in articles like Niacin Therapy about the importance of endogenous niacin production. Ultimately the purpose of all variants of vitamin B3 (niacin) is for the purpose of something called Nicontinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), which is extremely important for our biological health but I'll let you look it up on Wikipedia if you want to know more about it. Recently a reader sent me an article about a little known variant of niacin called Nicontinamide Riboside. Where niacin and most variants require a handful of enzymatic steps to make NAD, this Nicontinamide Riboside merely requires one, and guess where a huge source of this valuable niacin variant originates? YEAST. It turns out that the importance of bread and its place it our human evolution hasn't much to do with wheat at all, but with yeast, apparent also to the wide array of fermented foodstuffs which permeate the cultures of man, where bread is less ubiquitous. Bread has the special advantage, however, of being low in lactic acid and alcohol, since it’s baked, and niacin is highly heat resistant. This also explains why other wheat products which are not fermented cause digestive distress, and don't impart as much to health as does yeast-risen bread.
Not only is my homemade bread not giving me deleterious health effects, it is improving it. I have increased energy, brighter skin, and feel fuller and more satiated, because of the type and abundance of vitamins imparted to the bread by the yeast and the mineral and protein richness of the grain which is more bioavailable because of the yeast. It seems in my opinion that we have become the creatures we are, as intelligent and wide spread, for our symbiotic relationship with this simple organism, rather than any other technological evolution, which provides us with a generous surplus of NAD precursors.
So to have bread which improves health instead of destroying it there must be these requirements: made of an heirloom wheat (einkorn, kamut, spelt, etc.) preferably refined but if whole grain should be sprouted/soaked properly (And no, organic wheat is not heirloom wheat. Organic just means it's grown without pesticides. It has nothing to do with the species) and properly yeast risen (most commercial brands of bread raise their dough with chemicals, which then does nothing to predigest the grain nor provide for Nicontinamide riboside). I do make my own bread, and if you can't find this kind anywhere near you, you may have to learn to make it yourself, but it would be well worth the investment.
This bread is especially healthful with grass-fed butter and milk or other calcium source to improve the calcium profile. If digestion is very questionable you may find it helpful to supplement pancreatic enzymes to help break down the gluten proteins. It is also important to know that whole grains contain phytic acid, which binds to and prevents the absorption of many minerals but especially calcium. In serious overconsumption this can cause tooth decay, but more often presents as sleep disturbances like insomnia, or waning metabolism/libido. This is one of the reasons our progenitors refined grains, to prevent these kinds of malnourishment.
Bread does have an important part to play in human health. Just as wolves eat meat and birds eat seed, yeast is essential to human wellness and prosperity. Bread just happens to be the best way to supply it, but to reap those benefits it has to be made right, or we will be doomed to repeat mistakes we have no reason to repeat. Nicontinamide riboside is available as a supplement, but there are far more nutrients in properly made bread than you could ever hope to supplement, and to reduce food to its mere flagship vitamins is to continue suffering ill health. Whole food, prepared correctly, is key to restoring or maintaining normal, robust health. Supplements, in my opinion, are merely to support nutrition, not replace. So enjoy some well-made bread.