Thursday, April 24, 2014

Should We Consume Wheat Bread?

Bread has been an essential food since prehistoric times. Some archeological findings imply that the earliest discoveries date to 30,000 years ago, when for its production were used various types of wild grains. After the domestication of wheat in Turkey and Egypt 8,000 BC, bread became a staple food of many Neolithic civilizations. Due to its practicality, solid shelf life (depends on the type), good carbohydrate and protein properties, as well as inexpensiveness, bread is today unavoidable part of diets worldwide.
In some countries, bread is still made according to ancient recipes. Some of the best examples are Mexican tortilla, Indian chapati and roti, Greek pita, or Ethiopian injera. Although wheat is a pre-dominant ingredient, breads are also made of corn (tortilla, arepa), rice (bánh mì), potato (lefse), cassava (bammy), etc. It is estimated that wheat products fulfill 21 percent of world's calorie resources, as well as a major portion of protein intake. In the United States, among all the consumed grains, wheat measures approximately 70 percent. Such proportions demand a transparent view on the present-day production advantages, or drawbacks.
Through its history, bread has been a symbol of survival, necessity, and even profit. In ancient Egypt, workers were paid with rounds of bread. A Greek philosopher Plato considered bread a food which would in his 'Ideal Society' sustain longevity. Although its usage is far from being diminished, in recent times there are more and more questions raised in regards to the effects of wheat on consumers' well-being. These arguments are most commonly referred on the account of gluten sensitivity, as well as the drastic changes in the production system. A meticulous research shows that these two aspects are interrelated.
Gluten sensitivity
Wheat, rye, oat, malt and barley flours contain a gluten protein, which in some people may cause autoimmune condition such as celiac disease. Although a level of allergy reaction varies, it is considered that approximately 1 of 133 people suffer from this critical indigestion disorder. Furthermore, based on a research conducted by Dr. Alessio Fassano (University of Maryland), 6 to 7 percent of the United States population are knowingly or unknowingly affected (negatively) by the gluten containing foods. Some nutritionists go even further claiming that gluten should be avoided by everybody. They suggest that three weeks of gluten food abstention can improve energy level, immunity, and health overall.
Interestingly, disorders caused by gluten increased dramatically since the mid-20th century. The cause of that could be found in the modernization of the wheat production, where the process of manufacturing is significantly quickened, wheat yields are being enlarged, grains are bred stronger (in order to withstand a modern machinery), fertilizing has been reinforced, etc. The studies also proved that longer fermentation process can significantly lessen gluten levels. Due to mass-production needs, fermentation is nowadays shortened to the minimum.
Modern wheat production
Although genetically modified wheat has been developed, and trial crops already cultivated in Europe and the United States, authorities claim that GM wheat is not yet approved for the regular production (this data is from the early 2014). In his bestseller book Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis (cardiologist) explained that since 1950's wheat grain has been laboratory modified to such proportions that is likely to trigger serious health complications. Among numerous alarming claims, Dr. Williams stated that current wheat contains entirely new sets of proteins, and the crops have been compromised with deadly poisonous azide. He continues that, due to inherited resources, even organic wheat is not clean of such toxins. Dr. Williams also remarks that wheat we use today may promote obesity, it contains addictive agents, and that the present gluten levels are notably higher due to modernization in manufacturing.The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) answered to this allegations contesting that, although wheat grain underwent apparent adaptations, it is undeniably safe for consuming. NWIC's affirmation, however, did not address Dr. William's claims in regards to implementation of certain toxic agents.
Whole grain
Historically, white (wheat) bread had been considered more exclusive, however, due to a progressive health awareness, dark bread is gaining its popularity. Whole grain, or whole wheat bread is today widely identified as a healthier option. Many studies show that whole grains indeed bring a plethora of beneficial properties, including vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, antioxidants, starch, and various healthful phenolic components. A traditional whole grain production method, however, was quite different from the present one. Instead of milling/grinding kernel in its wholeness, the modern system firstly separates its components (endosperm, bran, germ), and than it recombines them together. The question is: How much this procedure unbalances the original nutritional values?
A selection of breads available today is expanding. Due to a growing awareness of disparate health effects of commercially available breads, food companies are encouraged to shift their approach towards more, high-quality and well-being favorable products. There is no doubt that organic, as well as whole food products are safer and better choices, however, this does not appeases all the raising concerns. Until there are no all the answers: Stay informed and consume moderately!