Bread is a vehicle.
In a sandwich, it drives other food neatly and with little spillage into a bag or wrapper, into a lunchbox and then to the mouth. Popular at drive-ins, the sandwich can be sort of neatly eaten with one hand while the other hand sort of competently manages the steering wheel. Bread envelops; it absorbs excess liquids; it shapes the contents within for optimal handling. And that’s just for lunch.
Later, at dinner, when eating tends to be somewhat more formal, with possibly some sauce or other potential messiness, sitting on a plate, there is sometimes a desire to wipe up the last drop of liquid with an edible sponge. Again bread serves a purpose.
Lightweight, dry, fresh enough at room temperature at least for a while, bread transports well, and sits neatly on a shelf. No wonder that bread, or similar wheat products, sweetened or plain, is ubiquitous throughout much of the world and the darling of the processed food industry, in one of its many forms: loaf, bagel, donut, muffin, pasta, croissant, fry bread, roll, birthday cake. In these sweetened forms, bread and other wheat flour products are among the most common breakfast foods.
So for the many years that USDA’s food pyramid was dead-weighted with the absurdly large 11 servings of grains and grain products, both the government and the average person took the satire of a diet seriously, and actually ate up all that bread and brought it into every meal, not to mention snacks. Wheat cultivation had spread from the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East through much of the world by 4,000 BC, which until modern food distribution and storage was developed, played an essential role in sustaining populations through long periods between harvests when there was no other food. This in turn enabled nomadic hunter-gatherers to settle into permanent communities and to even trade away excess wheat with outsiders. Wheat’s utility in the problem of seasonal famines has ensured its continual increase in acreage until the present day, when it has reached a peak of cultivated acreage.
However, the wheat that our ancestors ate was different in form, quantity and antigenicity from what people eat today. Until the 19th century, a very recent time in human history, wheat was generally mixed with other grains, beans and nuts. Only in the last 200 years has pure wheat flour with high gluten content been milled to the point of refined white flour. Generally, the wheat that people eat is no longer stone ground from whole meal flour, as even our recent ancestors ate. By now, almost all of us alive today have been given white wheat flour products on a daily basis from a few months of age – before the intestinal lining can properly filter anything other than mother’s milk to the bloodstream.
So now it’s too late
Even if an individual attempts to eliminate all grain from the diet except for stone ground grain, it’s too late. The high-gluten, refined grain that we have all eaten from infancy has created a ubiquitous problem from the gut to the bloodstream to the brain and sometimes to the joints, cardiovascular system and endocrine system as well. The food sensitivity that our food culture has dropped on us has done the kind of damage that leaves no easily identifying marks. Bread inflicts wounds so subtly and gradually that most of us consider ourselves immune to any such damage.
The huge and complex gluten protein, and especially its gliadin fraction, is thought to be the worst problem in the gluten-containing grains. The proportion of gluten in wheat has been enormously increased by hybridization since our distant ancestors first started making food from wild grasses. Gluten is from the Greek word for glue, and its adhesive, elastic property is the very thing that holds the bread loaf or bite of cake together. But when that glue hits the intestines, it interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in the accompanying foods of the same meal. And because it is of almost no nutritional value itself – nutrients having been bred out in favor of the more marketable adhesive properties – little value is gained from that meal. At best, even the person who considers himself immune to wheat allergy is getting a worthless glued-together constipating lump in the gut from what was considered a nourishing meal. At best, a run-down, mildly fatigued feeling is a constant symptom of the adult with the fewest reactions to wheat. And we actually ruin every meal of the day with one of the most antigenic foods on the planet.
At worst, such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and cancers such as lymphoma can result from severe celiac disease or extreme gluten sensitivity. In between are many who may have occasional unexplained diarrhea or intestinal gas and bloating, vague joint pains, infertility or brain fog.
In order to effectively replace wheat you’re going to have to find a way to accomplish some of what the adhesive/elastic properties of wheat flour do. A sandwich thus becomes a lettuce wrap. Or its contents are placed on a plate or in a bowl. Meats, vegetables and fruits play a more prominent role. A spoon is ready to scoop up the last of the sauce on the dinner plate. Lunch goes into a thermos.
You can make a lot of extra work for yourself by going to the supermarket and attempting to replace all of the breads and desserts in a typical diet with gluten-free grains, but you’re still getting a nutritionally depleted meal – poor compensation for spending extra time reading processed food packages for which have gluten and which do not. The whole food solution is the simplest and most nourishing. Shop the produce aisle and the meat counter, and let those purchases alone comprise your diet. It will make you discover new and delicious vegetables that you have never tried before, and it will get you out of the bread trap.