Gluten intolerance is one of the most common food sensitivities. With more information emerging about this condition, there’s been a significant rise in patients seeking help to find out if they have it and if they do, how they should treat it. Turns out they might not need to completely eliminate bread from their diets. In many cases, eating sourdough bread will not result in any adverse symptoms.
Because this type of bread uses fermentation--a longer, more traditional process--it is shedding light on the real reasons why so many people have trouble digesting other breads and baked goods. Here are a few surprising facts sourdough can teach us about gluten intolerance.
Gluten may not be the culprit for symptoms.
Food intolerance is not yet well recognized or understood, partially because symptoms can vary greatly with the individual and their exposure to a specific food. That’s why it’s important to stay away from labels like gluten-intolerant and find what works for you as an individual.
In one study, 86 percent of individuals incorrectly thought they had non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Similarly, naturopathic doctors who see patients claiming to have gluten sensitivities have found that sometimes it is not gluten, but fructans, oligosaccharides, or other compounds in foods that are causing symptoms. If someone is getting only partial benefit from a gluten-free diet, it might be a good time to consult with a naturopathic doctor. There may need to eliminate different foods or work on other areas of their gastro-intestinal health.
Modern processes make bread less nutritious and harder to digest
Increased food sensitivities may be due to the unhealthy way bread, cereals and other baked goods--largely those with flour--are made today. To produce these foods, various nutrients including fiber are often taken out. While nutrients are sometimes added back in, it is typically in lesser amounts and in a less natural profile than the original food, so the health effects are not the same.
Another issue is the ingredients themselves such as food preservatives or additives, which can have a negative impact on health. In small amounts, these additives are safe but if your diet is high in ultra-processed foods over a lifetime, those add up. And even if you’re not personally sensitive to these compounds, over time these foods alter our ability to appreciate the natural foods our bodies need.
The fermentation process is highly beneficial for the gut
Fermented versions of foods, like sourdough or yogurt, are often better tolerated than the original version. This is due to the presence of the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics, which can help strengthen the gut microbiome. The fermentation process also works to lower the amount of substances that normally cause adverse reactions.
When eaten regularly, fermented foods enhance digestion and immune function, lowering the potential for further food reactions as well. In addition to sourdough, other beneficial fermented foods include sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso and some aged cheeses. If bought at a store, these foods should include “live cultures” or “active cultures” on its label.
Bread can actually have health benefits
With carb-free diets and gluten intolerance becoming more of a trend, bread has gained a bad reputation. Some might think bread has no place in our diets, but there are in fact health benefits. Bread has been a staple of many food cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. Traditionally made breads that are fermented can enhance our ability to absorb the nutrients from wheat and other grains. Whole wheat and the foods made from it contain fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, there is consistent epidemiological evidence that whole grain foods substantially lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They can also play a role in body weight management and digestive health. Recent studies in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine and the British Medical Journal have made similar conclusions.
Most of the negative health effects that come from carbohydrates are associated with refined carbs, which are stripped of their nutrients. If you include grains in your diet, it is best to choose ones with the greatest possible health benefits like whole grains and fermented grains.
Preparing food at home is becoming increasingly important
While fast food and other processed meals provide convenience, they often include harmful ingredients you might not be aware of. Therefore it is becoming increasing important to make your food at home, particularly baked goods like cakes, bread, even granola bars. That way you know exactly what you’re eating.
It’s important to note that while some bread loaves at the store can be labeled sourdough, they often just include a sourdough taste and aren’t actually fermented. Making your own sourdough bread at home is the best way to ensure you’re getting the real deal. This recipe can help get you started. Otherwise, you should ask the store or the company that makes the bread how long their sourdough is fermented, if at all.
How a naturopathic doctor can help
There are various ways a naturopathic doctor can help those having adverse reactions to certain foods. Naturopathic doctors (ND) always start with a comprehensive history and physical exam, which can uncover how a sensitivity may be affecting the patient’s life and health. To screen for gluten and other food sensitivities, an ND may also perform lab tests.
Alternatively, NDs use elimination diets to assess reactions to food. With this process, they take out the most common foods that cause food sensitivities, such as gluten or soy, for several weeks. Then those foods are added in one at a time, and reactions are observed. If a food causes symptoms, it is taken back out. At the end of the process, the patient should have a workable diet that is free of their personal reactions.
Just because gluten intolerance has become a heavily marketed trend doesn’t mean everyone should jump on the bandwagon. In addition to eliminating gluten from our diets, there are other ways to decrease adverse reactions to food. Rebuilding gut health is especially important and can be done through lifestyle and diet changes along with help from botanical medicines, supplements, probiotics, and other treatments. A naturopathic doctor is specifically trained to walk patients through this process.
To learn more about gluten and other food sensitivities especially those specific to you, make an appointment with a naturopathic doctor at the Whole Health Center.