Sunday, August 10, 2008

Good or Bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So said Shakespeare. When you do think about it, there are some things both bad and good ... some things that are good but thought bad, and some things that are bad, that are thought good. It can be confusing, especially when talking about foods. And thus our topic of the universal food we call bread. The Latin word for bread is ‘pan’ but the Greek word ‘pan’ means all or universal, or composing the whole; pangea (ancient unbroken supercontinent) and panacea (cure for everything), being examples. A pantry was originally a room for the servant in charge of food (literally bread). Interestingly the word ‘companion’ means ‘bread fellow’, from which comes the idea of ‘breaking bread together’, whether a religious rite or friends ‘having tea and crumpets’. In English, ‘bread’ and ‘dough’ have the same meaning extending into slang for money, ‘I need some bread’ or ‘I have no dough to buy bread’. Our basic needs in life are spoken of as ‘bread and butter’ with a double meaning.

Bread is one of the oldest man-made foods, made in different ways and from different ingredients , with grains (ground into flour) being the most used ingredient. The other basic items are water and oil (a rendered fat) and perhaps salt. Today, grains are also used to make the cooking oils that occupy prominent shelf space in the grocery store and are spoken of as vegetable oils as opposed to animal fats such as lard. The public has been educated to think of these oils as healthy and saturated fats as bad. Good or bad? Read on.

The use of yeast in bread making is an interesting story going back at least to Egyptian times where the flour and water, perhaps accidentally, were left to sit out until microscopic yeast spores in the air settled in the mixture causing a fizzing action, with the resulting substance added to the dough to create leavened bread. Natural yeasts then have been used in making bread for centuries. In more recent times when commercial yeasts were not available for pioneers they found a way to cultivate a cornmeal, flour, and milk yeast, from which they produced what came to be called salt-rising bread. The cheesy smell from this concoction could lose you a lot of friends. But salt-rising bread, in case you have never heard of it or tasted it, is for many people like myself, a delightful taste experience not to be missed. A few commercial bakers still make it.

In an article, 'Sourdough Bread and Health' (International Medical Veritas Association), it is pointed out that it is mostly unknown today that before the 1950’s, most bakeries ran two shifts of workers because dough was fermented throughout the night with a long and slow natural fermentation process. Bakeries, being businesses for profit, began to introduce the fast loaf, cutting the time to 3 hours, sometimes to 40 minutes, eliminating the night shift. The catastrophic results of this change will be noted later in this paper.

One of the great joys of life is the smell of fresh baked bread. As a kid, walking by the Honey Crust Bakery in my home town of Johnson City, Tennessee, was a delight. I still remember the smell. However, on some days they made salt-rising bread and the smell, quite different from other days, did not go unnoticed for several blocks. As it gradually disappeared from the market, I forgot about it until recent years when my sister, having found it in a local family- owned bakery, began to serve it. It brought back another memory.

Speaking of memories, the model A Ford parked in our driveway was often the fort from which attackers were shot or a boat in which we survived rough seas, or a racing car on the Indianapolis speedway. All of which has nothing to do with bread; except perhaps waiting for mom to call us to come in for egg sandwiches. Memories make up the bread of life. My mother made sandwiches but she didn’t cook very often. My dad was the cook who never had a recipe, but it was a pinch of this and a handful of that. I was the oldest of five children and meals were served in a boarding-house fashion with little regard to manners, though my mother often lectured us on proper etiquette to be followed when in public. At least that is the way I remember it.

I watched dad make biscuits from scratch almost everyday for many years. All of us kids stood by the oven to snatch them out of the pan even before dad could get them to the table. In later years he used canned biscuits. ( I hasten to point out that the aluminum found in canned biscuits is documented to have an involvement in Alzheimer’s but we never heard that word and would not have cared) No one objected to the canned buscuits because it made life easier for dad who was feeding a lot of kids. Morever, whatever he cooked it was irresistible and gobbled down without any thanks or grace being said – unless we had company. Today I am very thankful for all those years and happy memories. After I left home, I went to see my parents at least twice a year for over thirty years and I have boxes of photographs including a picture of my dad at the age of 90 bending over the stove fixing my breakfast at 5:30 in the morning. He would kill a pullet (small chicken) in the morning, dress it, and have it in the skillet in a matter of minutes while the biscuits were baking. Some people would say biscuits are bad, they are fattening. Fattening they were, but until you have had hot homemade biscuits with chicken gravy you have never lived. It may shorten your life but you will think you have died and gone to heaven... and you may.

As a health care consultant I can only justify what I have just said by saying that it is important to enjoy your food, even if it is not the healthiest. It promotes good digestion.

Ah, bread: the stuff in the grocery store that passes for bread is an American disgrace. Even cockroaches won’t eat it. That didn’t seem to matter when I was a kid; the peanut butter sandwich on white bread, still a good memory, was always a standby when there was nothing else in the house to eat. Bread was ten cents a loaf, half a loaf only five cents. During 'the depression' you filled up on what you could find.

Most Americans don’t have any idea what good bread tastes like; all they know is the mushy fluff that is labeled 'bread'. Only in the big cities where you have old world bakeries does one find bread that would make you celebrate. A real Italian loaf could be eaten by itself with delight. Try to find a hoagie shop using only real Italian bread and you have found a destination spot.

But I digress somewhat like the preacher who after his sermon on the evils of distilled spirits which, he said, should be poured into the river, and then closed the service by having the congregation stand and sing the hymn, Shall we gather at the river, with the refrain: “Yes, we’ll gather at the river.....

I have spoken of the joys of good bread but now I want to go to the other extreme and call attention to the book, 'Life Without Bread', by Christian B. Allan, PhD. and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D. Before you go ballistic, I call your attention to the subtitle which reads, How A Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life. The first sentence in Chapter One will give you pause, “Contrary to current popular wisdom, it is carbohydrates, not fat, that contributes to many dietary related diseases.”

Without a long discussion on the chemistry involved I will point out a few pertinent quotes on dietary issues. Regarding proteins, “The name protein comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning “of first importance”. Proteins are a source of essential amino acids which can only be obtained in the diet. The body does not produce them. Meat is a protein source and the authors point out that, “people who do not eat animal foods run the risk of deficiencies in essential amino acids.” Knowledgable vegetarians, of course, are aware of that possibility and have managed dietary ways to compensate.

As to fats, again, “Contrary to popular wisdom, saturated fat is actually very healthy.” This topic is too long for a discussion here but it is extremely important to recognize that many of our dreaded diseases are caused by the very thing ‘health experts’ recommend to keep us healthy, namely, unsaturated fats. Those are the cooking oils that came on the market after the demand for them in the production of explosives for warfare subsided. No longer lard but vegetable oils became the item touted for health and lower cholesterol. In the old days, lard, a saturated fat, was the standard cooking oil. Heart disease was almost unheard of. While coincidence does not prove cause it is interesting that heart disease, which according to Dr. Dudley White, Eisenhower’s doctor, was not even a topic of discussion when he went to medical school.

"See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921 and I never saw an MI patent until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920 the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word 'corn' oil."

Yet heart disease went to the top of the list of major health problems with the introduction of polyunsaturated oils (vegetable oils).

While turn-of-the-century mortality statistics are unreliable, they consistently indicate that heart disease caused no more than 10 per cent of all deaths - considerably less than infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. By 1950, coronary heart disease (CHD) was the leading source of mortality in the United States, causing more than 30 per cent of all deaths.
The greatest increase came under the rubric of myocardial infarction (MI) - a massive blood clot leading to obstruction of a coronary artery and consequent death to the heart muscle. MI was almost non-existent in 1910 and caused no more than 3,000 deaths per year in 1930. By 1960, there were at least 500,000 MI deaths per year in the US. What lifestyle changes had caused this increase?
One change was a decrease in infectious disease, following the decline of the horse as a means of transport, the installation of more sanitary water supplies and the advent of better housing, all of which allowed more people to reach adulthood and the heart attack age. The other was a dietary change.
Since the early part of the century when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had begun to keep track of food 'disappearance' data (the amount of various foods going into the food supply), a number of researchers had noticed a change in the kind of fats Americans were eating.
Butter consumption was declining, while the use of vegetable oils, especially oils that had been hardened to resemble butter by a process called 'hydrogenation', was increasing dramatically.
By 1950, butter consumption had dropped from 18 pounds per person per year to just over 10 pounds. Margarine filled in the gap, rising from about two pounds per person at the turn of the century to about eight. Consumption of vegetable shortening - used in crackers and baked goods - remained relatively steady at about 12 pounds per person per year, but vegetable oil consumption had more than tripled from just under three pounds per person per year to more than 10 pounds.3
The statistics pointed to one obvious conclusion: Americans should eat the traditional foods - including meat, eggs, butter and cheese - that nourished their ancestors, and avoid the newfangled, vegetable-oil-based foods that were flooding the grocers' shelves.
[Secrets of the Edible Oil Industry]
Vegetable oils suppress thyroid function making a large part of the population hypothyroid. The heart is dependent on good thyroid and adrenal function. I should point out here that olive oil and coconut oil, while vegetable oils, are two exceptions. They are monosaturated oils. Coconut oil, especially, is the healthest saturated fat one can use, with miraclous, almost unbelievable benefits, and a subject for another time.

Carbohydrates are primarily an energy source but the book, 'Life Without Bread', points out that, “there has never been an essential carbohydrate discovered…As far as food is concerned, carbohydrates are simply different forms of sugar.” Forget the simple, complex carbohydrate debate, sugar is not good for you. Moreover, “Every carbohydrate your body needs can be made from either protein or fat.”

You are allowed, according to the authors, some carbs. The rule is, “Restrict all carbohydrates to 72 utilizable grams per day. Eat as much of any other foods as you wish”.
The word utilizable means, “the amount of carbohydrates that actually get into the blood stream when we eat certain foods.” A 100 gram apple, for example, gives 12 grams of utilizable carbohydrate while 100 grams of while bread ends up as 50 grams of utilizable carbohydrate (sugar). I recommend reading the book for more details.

Since most people will continue to eat bread as they always have there are a few other important facts that should be not be ignored. First let me say that eating whole grain breads will not get you off the hook, though admitedly whole grain bread is much preferred for taste and does have a bit more nutrition. If you read the labels you will see many of the same unhealthy ingredients in most whole grain breads. From the Sourdough and Health article mentioned above we get this warning: "Since bread and wheat products are such an important part of daily food consumption, it follows that such food items be healthy and wholesome. Today's milling, refining, bleaching, enriching, and addition of various chemicals to flour and baked breads cause many scientists and medical workers to question their nutritional quality as well as their safety." Even sourdough bread comes with a warning: "Very basic sourdough bread that had once been fermented for a healthy 8 hours or more is not to be found anywhere except in ones own kitchen today."

Another important fact about commercial breads is a missing ingedient; a fact that goes almost unoticed. Many years ago goiter was common. I remember as a boy that the ‘wash woman’ who came to our house once a week had a very unsightly bulge in her neck. She told me it was a goiter, which was the first time I had heard the word. It was known even then that an iodine deficiency was the cause of thyroid problems such as goiters. The government stepped in and required iodine be added to salt, and goiter almost disappeared. Iodine is an important mineral that prevents many diseases including certain types of cancer, breast cancer especially. Iodine was also added to bread. That is, until a substitute mysteriously replaced iodine in industrial recipes. Bromine was substituted for iodine. The change from iodine to bromine was made without the public being informed.

A group of similar elements in the periodic chart that are referred to as halogens includes fluorine, bromine, chlorine, and iodine. Bromine, next to iodine in the periodic chart, was considered a suitable substitute. Since iodine was also added to bread to prevent iodine deficiency, why was it taken it out? Dr. James Howenstine M.D. , a writer for the internet, News With Views, suggests a reason:

"Forty years ago the food industry decided to remove iodine from baked goods and replace the iodine with bromine. Iodine and bromine appear similar to the thyroid gland and bromine easily binds to the thyroid gland’s receptors for iodine. Bromine, however, is of no value to the thyroid gland unlike iodine and it inhibits the activity of iodine in the thyroid gland. Bromine also can cause impaired thinking and memory, drowsiness, dizziness and irritability. This substitution of bromine for iodine has resulted in nearly universal deficiency of iodine in the American populace. Iodine therapy helps the body eliminate fluoride, bromine, lead, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum and mercury. Could this substitution of bromine for iodine have been carried out to increase diseases and thus create more need for pharmaceutical drugs? "

If you think he is far a field in this suggestion, perhaps you need to read up on who controls and sets the standards for medical practice. Follow the money. Follow the control system. Nothing in political economics happens by accident. Add to that the use of bromiated vegetable oils in citrus flavored soft drinks such as Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Squirt, and Mello Yellow. Why?

For whatever reason, the results are the same; bromine in bread and soft drinks is a sure road to ill health. If iodine prevents cancer and has other dramatic health benefits at very little cost, why would the medical community not insist on its presence in bread, a universal food? Fortunately there are a few companies and bakeries that care but you will have to seek out those sources, such as Whole Foods.

Earlier we mentioned how a the change from slow-rise to fast-rise yeast was extremely detrimental. The Sourdough Bread and Health article echoes Howenstine’s warning on bromines.

“Fast- made bread is one of the most destructive implementations into the modern diet…poorly prepared and poorly digested wheat is the chief contributor to the current plague of “gluten-intolerance … only when wheat gluten is properly fermented is it healthy for human consumption. [as in sourdough bread]”.

In an article in the East West Journal, Ronald Kotsch describes why conventionally yeasted bread contributes to disease, “ the starch cells of the bread actually explode. The patterns they form are identical to those of cancer cells… and the bio energy of the dough also is identical to that of cancer cells”. Walter Last, another medical writer, also warns, “Undigested gluten from quickly risen bread can seriously weaken the intestinal wall. Its effect on the tiny absorption villi in the small intestine may be compared to the action of sandpaper on wood.”

Commercially prepared breads are to be avoided but in the real world that is not likely. Eating less of it would be a start. Pressure on bakers to start making non-bromiated breads would be another step. Eating only sourdough bread would be another. Eliminating bread from the diet might be best. But ah, the memories, the smells, that peanut butter sandwich, those hot biscuits with gravy.

Eliminating all bread is tough, but the party pooper has to ask, "Do you want to get well?"

I am trying to put health issues in the real world. Unless you are a ’health nut’ you probably don’t think much about the things I have talked about except in a casual way. If you are in general good health (a very deceptive term) your body can tolerate occasional indiscretions. I know I will be taken to task for this statement but I am trying to be realistic. But if you are sick and want to get well you must give the body a chance to heal itself by a change in life style. meaning dietary changes and avoiding stress.

When I was kid getting a ‘coke’ or a cone of ice cream was a very occasional treat. And a treat is was. A trip to the Chocolate Shop and ordering one of those treats were memorable occasions. Actually the drinks were served in cone shaped cups which looked bigger than they were. With the ice there could not have been more than three or four ounces in that Coke, but the taste was on a par with the biscuits and chicken gravy. Unfortunately, today abundant treats have become the daily fare. When illness overtakes, who connects the dots? Does the doctor?

Few people have any idea how the beverage companies compromised the original taste of their drinks when they changed from real old time sugar to corn syrup. Not only has the taste been altered but the type of sugar is far more destructive to the body. I am not suggesting that soft drinks, even with microscopic units of vitamins added, are a health drink. In the real world an occasional soft drink does not warrant a trip to a detention center; dietary indiscretion will happen, but be aware that the twelve spoons of sugar in a bottle drink robs your body of vitamin C to say nothing of other damages. Today’s young people are drowning in sugar water. Watch as they order super-sized magmas of poison on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that our ‘health care system’ is broken? The example of the dangers in soft drinks, while ignored, is generally recognized. Not so with bread.

What I have written about here are hidden dangers in bread that everyone thinks is a healthy basic food, especially if you eat only ‘whole grains’. One needs to be a biochemist to avoid pit falls, if for no other reason than deceptive labeling. Innocent sounding additives lures one into a false sense of security. “They wouldn’t do that, would they? The government wouldn’t allow it.”

One must take responsibility for his own health and not depend on the governmnet or doctors. Not every one has the time or interest to become a biochemist; however we can educate ourselves to a reasonable and do-able life style.

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