Is European Bread Better?
Why does European wheat seem to digest better than American wheat?
I work with many patients to reintroduce wheat into their diet. Many of them report that when they go to Europe, they can eat bread without difficulties, but when they consume bread stateside, they have digestive-related symptoms. Why might this be?
Is It Hybridization?
Of course, it is logical to immediately blame the quality of American wheat, compared to the more superior wheat they use in Europe, but the science actually doesn’t support that theory. In Europe, they have been hybridizing wheat in the same way modern strains of wheat are hybridized here.
In fact, intentional hybridization of wheat has been happening for some 12,000 years and the natural hybridization has been taking place for millions of years.1 The reality is that every food we consume has gone through major transformations as a result of hybridization, which makes eating a true ancestral diet difficult, if not impossible!1
Take potatoes for example. Potatoes have deadly solanines, as do eggplant, apples, bell peppers, cherries, and sugar beets. These toxins are not a problem today because of hybridization, as well as only eating ripe versions of these foods.2
In an exhaustive 19-year study in Canada, researchers evaluated hundreds of ancient and modern strains of wheat and found no genetic differences other than slight variations of protein versus starch content, which is an expected and natural finding.3
So . . . if it’s not the wheat, why do so many feel fine eating the bread in Europe, but not the bread here?
Chemicals + Cooked Vegetable Oils in American Bread vs European Bread
Most of the bread consumed by vacationers in Europe is made in local bakeries the old fashioned way—without preservatives or additives. These local bakeries make artisan bread that can take up to three days to make from start to finish, and it may have a shelf life of just one or two days. By the end of day two, the bread is typically hard as rock—which is why, traditionally, bakers were up very early each morning baking the daily bread.
In the US and in a growing number of large supermarkets in Europe, you can purchase highly processed bread that takes only two hours to bake and can sit on the shelf for weeks or even months before going bad or getting stiff. Look at the ingredients of your favorite whole wheat bread and see how many chemicals are added to a so-called “healthy” bread.
While the laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients is bad enough, the killer (literally) is the cooked vegetable oils used in these breads. These are added to preserve the squishiness and so-called “freshness” of bread. In their natural state, these oils are very prone to rancidity, so manufacturers bleach, boil, deodorize, and refine them to preserve them. They are so highly processed and refined that they cannot go rancid—which means that no bug, bacteria, or microbe will eat them.
That is the definition of a preservative: no bacteria can or will consume it. When these oils (sometimes even expeller-pressed oils) are baked or boiled in the process of making bread or pasta, they oxidize and trigger production of other dangerous oxidizing agents.4
Since the large majority of all the cells in the body are microbes, and microbes do the heavy lifting for nearly every physiological function, it makes sense that we should choose foods that they can actually consume . . . don’t you think?
The science here is clear. In one study, processed foods were linked to 141% increased risk of Metabolic Syndrome, a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, low good or HDL cholesterol, and increased belly fat. In the same study, when whole foods were eaten, including whole wheat, a 38% reduction of these symptoms was seen.5
In other studies, and there are many, when whole wheat is compared to refined or processed wheat, there are significant reductions in:
- Type 2 diabetes risk5
- IBS-related symptoms6,7
- Obesity + weight gain5
- Cognitive decline or brain fog
- Intestinal inflammation6,7
Rest + Digest Response
When we are on vacation, we are typically in relaxation mode. Our daily hustle and bustle and high-stress lifestyle are replaced with the exact opposite. There are no alarm clocks, beds to make, meals to cook, or deadlines to meet. We are on vacation time!
Over the years, in addition to folks being able to digest better in Europe, I have had numerous reports from patients that their blood pressure, anxiety, and depression were dramatically reduced while in Europe.
Eating on the run or while stressed out has a powerful effect of literally turning off the digestive process. When stressed, the degenerative fight-or-flight nervous system predominates, which is more concerned about saving your life than engaging in a digestive process. On the other hand, when you sit down, relax, and enjoy a meal European-style (which is also an important Ayurvedic principle), the rest-and-digest or parasympathetic nervous system engages, and we have all hands on the digestive deck!8
In Europe, all meals are, in general, freshly prepared and served in an environment that forces us Americans to sit, relax, and enjoy the simple process of eating. Then, just after noon, many shops close down and the restaurants fill up with locals stopping in for their two-hour midday meal break. Circadian science now supports this idea, as studies show that we are meant to eat our largest meal when the sun is high. When the sun goes down, so does our digestive strength.9
We RecommendHow Circadian Rhythms Impact Your Microbes
Bottom line: Eating while stressed or in a hurry is like attempting to paddle a canoe upstream. It is unsustainable!
The American Wheat vs European Wheat Conclusion
Make no mistake, gluten sensitivity is as major a problem in Europe as it is here. In fact, my book Eat Wheat has been translated for a handful of European countries.
The digestive difference is not the wheat, but how the pasta or bread is prepared or processed.
Most Americans have been consuming excessive amounts of highly processed, pesticide-laden foods for decades. This has made it more and more difficult for us to properly break down and digest dense proteins, like those found in wheat, dairy, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans.
Taking all of these foods out of the diet is not the solution—it simply offers temporary symptomatic relief. The key to digesting more easily is to accomplish the following:
- Avoid processed foods.
- Eat organic seasonal foods. (Sign up for my free monthly seasonal lifestyle guide here.)
- Relax when you eat.
- Troubleshoot your digestive system for weakness. This is one of the main premises of my book Eat Wheat. I take you through a step-by-step process of finding your digestive weak link and then teach you how to repair with whole foods and plant medicines.
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