Is bread really the stuff of life?

Caribbean news. Since I last wrote, a number of food issues have surfaced or in some cases resurfaced: issues with sugar and the amount that we eat on a daily basis continue to occupy the news media. There’s been some action on the horse meat scandal with a Dutch businessman Jan Fasen being the first person to face charges.

Then there’s a report that suggests that sleep deprivation in children is one of the major drivers of our current obesity epidemic. As attention grabbing as these stories are this is not what is currently occupying my thoughts on healthy eating. For a while now I’ve been wondering whether wheat, the food stuff that is ubiquitous in the modern western diet, is something that we should consider eating less of. While I’ll happily acknowledge that I have an almost obsessive love of bread I now have to accept that I feel less than 100% if I eat too much of it.

Photo courtesy thepolitricks.com

Photo courtesy thepolitricks.com

While the jury is out on whether we should be concerned about the amount of wheat in our diet I now know a growing number of people who have either decided to abandoned eating wheat or at least put limits on their intake. What’s more there are some notable celebrities who have opted for a gluten free diet: tennis player Novak Djokovic, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Miley Cyrus. All of these celebrities have claimed that taking wheat or more specific gluten out of their diet has given them more energy as well as  make them feel fitter and healthier. I’ve no doubt that these celebrities can all afford to pay for a good nutritionist so here’s hoping their nutritionist has offered them some very good advice.

For those of us who can’t afford to pay for a personal nutritionist I’d say that you should at least rely on advice from the medical world or base your thinking on solid scientific research. In terms of advice from the medical world I can offer you these words from UK National Health Service:

“Many people do not tolerate wheat very well. Intolerance to wheat can cause a variety of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea or constipation and abdominal discomfort. Some people may have an allergic reaction to wheat which causes immediate and severe symptoms, such as a swollen mouth or throat.

Depending on how you react, it may be sufficient to just reduce the amount you eat or you may need to strictly avoid all sources of wheat; your doctor or dietitian will advise you on your individual restriction.”

While there are no numbers attached to the NHS’s comments there is at least a recognition of wheat causing digestive problems to a significant number of people; why else would they go to the trouble of offering advice. For me a set of questions occur: are, we seeing something new and is this down to the way that food is currently manufactured?

The NHS information leaflet that the above quote is taken from lists a number of foods, some of these might surprise you, that you might want to avoid if you’re trying to reduce or eliminate wheat from your diet, these are stock cubes, burgers, packed or marinated meat products, some varieties of yoghurts and some varieties of crisps.

If, like me, you’ve tried to eat a wheat free diet  you will soon recognise that a vast amount of foodstuffs on our supermarket shelves contain a certain amount of wheat: if you are not prepared to cook you own food then it is highly likely that you’ll either be forced to go hungry or temporarily change your diet intentions.

At the risk of contradicting myself I feel the need to point out that it is easy to get carried away with the idea of wheat being bad for you. However we need to remember to take account of scientific thinking rather than jumping to conclusions.

Let us consider a row brewing on the Harvard Medical School website: according to Holly Strawbridge, author of an article on going gluten free, “If you are determined to go gluten-free, it’s important to know that it can set you up for some nutritional deficiencies.”

Ms Strawbridge, as can be gleaned from her statement is cynical about the idea of going wheat free as a lifestyle choice rather than because of a medical condition like coeliac disease. Fair enough you might say, especially if you know that Holly Strawbridge was the former editor of Harvard Health and from that surmise that she should have access to sufficient health research to be able to form an opinion based on good evidence.

Yet it is the reactions to Holly’s article that for me is revealing, not because many of these rail against anything that smacks of supporting the vested interest of big business but because of the sheer number and range of people who are convinced that there is something in the notion that it is a good idea to reduce your wheat intake. Consider if you will one the posters, James Buch PhD, reacting to Ms Strawbridge’s article by quoting figures from www.celiaccentral.org which suggests that there are 2,259,000 people in America with celiac disease.

I can’t help but wonder whether if rises in cases of Coeliac disease is a recent phenomena and if so why. The BBC Health News website back in May ran an article with the headline ‘UK coeliac disease diagnoses ‘up fourfold’ over 20 years’ The article stated that  experts put the increase down to better methods of diagnosis rather than more people developing the condition.

However on BBC Health News website page published in Novermber last year an article appeared with the headline ‘Child coeliac numbers in Scotland at ‘record level’. Within this article there is confirmation of a  “of a need to look further at factors influencing why we are seeing more patients with Coeliac disease.

Most notably the article went on to explain why there was a need for further research into rises in Ceoliac disease by saying, “It is not only because people are more aware of the disease nor is it thanks to our improved test” These comments are attributed to Dr Peter Gillet of Edinburgh University’s department of Child Life and Health and for me they are significant because they contain the suggestion that there is something more malevolent at work.

Whether or not you are convinced that you should avoid eating wheat altogether I believe that there is at least some benefit to reducing your intake. The road to achieving wheat reduced diet doesn’t have to be a difficult one, especially if you buy into the idea that cooking at home and cooking from scratch is the best way forward.

Flaxseed Bread – Gluten & Wheat Free Bread

I’ve chosen this recipe because it means so much to so many of us, the UK sandwich market alone is currently worth £2.9 billion, yet it is likely to be the first foodstuff that makes us aware that we have a digestive problem. So regardless of whether you are a true Coeliac or just wanting to cut out wheat from your diet it is always nice to find a bread alternative that doesn’t taste like cotton wool.

Clearly this recipe will require some time and attention but providing the outcome is successful, making your own bread is so much more satisfying. If your are concerned about the time it takes to make bread then you could try investing in a bread maker, which means that you’ll only have to put all of the ingredients together in the correct order and then let the machine do the work.

In terms of getting the ingredients there shouldn’t be anything here that should give you a problem but you might have to visit a specialist food shop for the flaxseed.

Recipe for Baked Macaroni & Cheese With 3 Cheeses

I’ve included this recipe in one of my previous features but thought I’d use this to suggest a different way of going wheat free.

For those of us who have been dealing with reducing wheat from our diet will know that there are two types of wheat free pasta: that is wheat free pasta and wheat free pasta that is not worth bothering with. What I look for in wheat free pasta is that it doesn’t turn to mush when cooked and has a flavour approaching the real thing. To date I’ve found Dove’s Farm wheat free pasta is one that ticks all of my requirement boxes, though it will however break up if over cooked.

If you haven’t tried wheat free pasta this dish is a straight-forward way of getting started and comes with a guarantee of added flavour. Doves farm pasta may not be available to you but with research and experimentation you should find a pasta that suits you.

Jerked Chicken & Breadfruit Croquettes with Christopher Martin

This video is presented by Grace Foods in the familiar format of having a celebrity showing off their cooking skills while being interviewed but for me this isn’t the main attraction: it’s the inclusion of breadfruit, an ingredient that is said to be the food of the future. The reason why breadfruit is being spoken about so highly is not just because it is deemed to be capable of solving the world hunger problems but because it is rich in a broad range of essential nutrients.

Now I’ll readily put my hand up to not having a high regard for breadfruit when I first tasted it but I’ve learned that the secret to getting breadfruit to be tasty is all about what you add to it. This recipe is not only easy to follow but guarantees flavour from the chicken if there isn’t enough in the breadfruit croquettes.

Breadfruit shouldn’t be too difficult to get hold of but if you’ve never bought one I’d advise that you start with a Caribbean food specialist but make sure that you find one that genuinely wants to sell you a quality product.

Jamaican Bammy Two Ways and Rajan Bajan Cooking Guide – Cassava/Yucca & Codfish.

I’ve decided to roll together two recipes that make use of a root vegetable that is gluten free and therefore great for anyone with coeliac disease. One thing that must be paid attention to, is the preparation method as cassava can’t be eaten raw as it is poisonous: cassava must be peeled and then cooked to make it safe to eat.

Jamaican Bammy Two Ways

Rajan Bajan Cooking Guide – Cassava/Yucca & Codfish

Here’s one of those dishes that if you are determined to learn how cook Caribbean food you should master and what better time to add it to your recipe list than if you’re looking for wheat free alternatives. In essence cornmeal porridge is a breakfast meal but I’ve known people eat it morning, noon and night as it is quick and easy to make and will keep a hungry belly filled for hours.

I’m not going to say much more about this dish and the presentation of the cooking method as the video is presented by the ‘Cook Like a Jamaican’ label whom I’ve featured before so you know that the presentation standard is sufficient to make it a worthwhile listen.

As for sourcing the ingredients there is nothing here that you couldn’t find in any major supermarket chain and in some cases your local shops.