Can You Only Digest European Bread? American vs. European Wheat
Average Reading Time: 5 minutes
I work with many patients to re-introduce wheat back 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 the Hybridization?
Of course, it is logical to immediately blame the 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, the 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?
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 3 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 2 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 that you have likely never heard of that 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 the 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 the production of other dangerous oxidizing agents. (4)
Since the large majority of all the cells in the human body are microbes, and the microbes do the heavy lifting for nearly every physiological function of the human body, it makes sense that we choose foods that they can actually consume… don't you think?
The science here is clear. In one study, processed foods were linked to a 141 percent increase of Metabolic Syndrome – which is 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, they saw a 38% reduction of these symptoms. (5)
In other studies, and there are many, when whole wheat was compared to refined or processed wheat, they were significant reductions in:
- Type 2 Diabetes risk (5)
- IBS-related symptoms (6,7)
- Obesity and weight gain (5)
- Cognitive decline or brain fog
- Intestinal inflammation (6,7)
Rest and Digest
When we are on vacation, we are typically in relaxation mode. The daily hustle and bustle and high stress lifestyle is 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 levels, 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 rather 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 of the shops close down and the restaurants fill up with locals stopping in for their 2-hour midday meal break. Circadian science is now supporting 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)
Bottom line: Eating while stressed or in a hurry is like attempting to paddle a canoe upstream. It is unsustainable!
Make no mistake about it, gluten sensitivity is as major of 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 was 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 is to accomplish the following:
- Avoid processed foods.
- Eat organic foods.
- 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. >>> Learn more here