Do I need to avoid gluten?
I don’t believe in avoiding gluten for everyone, I believe in avoiding your typical grocery store loaf of bread. Your bread should have four basic ingredients, ie. flour, salt, leavening and water. These ingredients have been used for centuries, and the beautiful simplicity, make superior loafs. The average grocery story bread has something like 16-24 ingredients. There are all kinds of chemicals used in baking of commercial bread-like products that are best to avoid and have no benefit to human consumption. They are there to prolong shelf stability, improve texture and consistency, and for bleaching.
The most dangerous ingredient in bread-making is potassium bromate used to improve and strengthen dough and produce a higher rise in bread. The FDA strongly discourages its use, but it is not illegal in the US, even though it has been banned in many countries outside of the U.S. because it is considered to be a human carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor (1). Other flour bleaching agents, such as benzoyl peroxide (the same as the acne medicine) have also been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It is best to avoid bleached and bromated flour as well as dough conditioners like Datem. Datem is an emulsifier commonly used in commercial baking. It creates a texture that people like in processed bread products. It is an inexpensive fat that is used to replace more natural and costly ingredients like butter. It is a trans-fat but does not have to be listed as a trans-fat on the label because of a loophole in reporting of mono and di-glycerides. The argument being that it is a minimal amount of trans-fat. None the less, trans-fats are clearly associated with elevated bad cholesterol and heart disease and are best avoided. There is no reason to consume bread with these chemicals and if shelf-life is a concern, we have refrigeration and freezers to help with that issue.
In conclusion, commercial agriculture and processed foods including commercialized bread and cereal products are contributing to the health care crisis in America because as part of the standard American diet of processed foods and fast foods, they cause systemic inflammation which leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and neurological disease. The good news is that health can be gained by returning to organic, sustainable and regenerative agriculture and good baking practices such as with limited ingredient, slow sourdough fermented whole wheat bread which leads to a healthful, highly nutritious, anti-inflammatory and digestible food. I look at the unfortunate corruption of bread in the US as a symbol for the wider problem of moving away from natural food in favor of chemically processed inflammatory foods which is detrimental to our health as a nation.
But it is not too late to enjoy bread as it is meant to be, the staff of life. Many conscientious bakers are returning to local grains, milled flours and slow sourdough fermentation baking practices using limited ingredients leading to a delicious and nutritious, healthful and anti-inflammatory bread with endless potential exciting possibilities. Returning to ancient and traditional ways of growing and baking are necessary for us as a culture, and with this awareness growing, both in science and in the public, I believe we can move towards a healthier more natural relationship with bread.
1. Kurokawa Y, Maekawa A, Takahashi M, Hayashi Y. Toxicity and carcinogenicity of potassium bromate--a new renal carcinogen. Environ Health Perspect. 1990;87:309-335.