Dig This: Wheat and Sugar – Twin Evils

Eleven years ago Laurie and I returned from Eritrea, Africa.  While there, any morning we could follow our noses to a bakery.  Getting fresh warm whole-wheat rolls wasn’t anything special.  It was ordinary and expected.  Upon returning to the States, we found that almost all the bread, fresh or in the supermarket, had one thing in common: sugar.  One way or another, sweeteners were added.  Often three or more kinds of sugar are put into bread. I wasn’t used to sweet bread.  Doughnuts, yes.  Bread, no.  So, I started baking my own bread.  Lately I’ve been grinding whole-wheat grains. I discovered that fresh flour improves the taste, so I’ve been trying out different grains: spelt, kamut, rye.   In turn I’ve been learning more and more about the wheat I was using, and what I learned hasn’t been pretty.  Cutting out sugar turned out to be half of the trouble with bread.

The other half is the problem of modern wheat. Since wheat accounts for 20% of human calories worldwide, it’s important to know what we’re eating. The USDA has not approved any GMO wheat varieties, but one cropped up this year in a wheat field in Oregon.  The USDA is investigating, but it may be too late; GMO wheat is out. However, modern wheat is the product of genetic engineering (GE), a chemical process called mutagenesis, which is probably worse than genetic modification. One such variety is Clearfield wheat. It’s genetically altered by the chemical sodium azide, which is deathly poisonous if directly ingested by people.  This makes Clearfield wheat resistant to the pesticide Beyond.  It allows farmers to spray wheat fields with Beyond, killing the weeds but not the wheat.  Wonder how much gets into the bread flour we eat?  I’m tired of wondering, so I now bake with organic and old wheat varieties.

William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly, states that modern wheat is at the heart of many health woes including the sudden rise of wheat intolerance. After Dr. Davis’s patients eliminated all wheat and sugars from their diets, many recovered from obesity, type-2 diabetes, reflux disease and a host of other maladies, including high blood pressure and rheumatoid-like pain. Davis points out that any wheat product (yes, whole wheat too) has one of the highest of all glycemic indices as a result of how grain is grown and flour is processed.  One slice of whole wheat bread is about 72 – a teaspoon of sugar is 59 to 65. He backs up his findings with hard science.  (The previous two paragraphs were gleaned from an interview that appeared in Acres USA magazine, April 2013.)

Wait a minute!  I just read in August’s National Geographic that sugar, in any form, is addictive and making us obese and leading us down a slippery slope into illness.

We crave sugar because, once it gets into our bloodstream, it stimulates the same pleasure centers in our brain that respond to heroin and cocaine. A little leads to wanting more and more.

Did you know that the average American eats 22.7 teaspoons of all kinds of sugar each day (that’s about 77 lbs. per year,) most of it in processed foods. Soda contains 10 teaspoons in a 12 oz drink.  In candy, we consume about 25 pounds per person, per year.  The results of all of this sugar: high blood pressure, up from 5% in 1900 to 33% worldwide now; in 1980, 153 million people had diabetes and presently, it’s 347 million.  The main reason is all the added sugar in our diets–in fruit drinks, in bread, in potato chips, crackers, soups, you name it.   Next time read the label of your favorite snack food and count the different kinds of sugar. You might be surprised.

Bread and sugar.  What a blow to my health!  Two of my favorite tastes.  But, I have the knowledge to overrule my taste buds. What to do with these evil twins?   This is what I’m doing.  For wheat, I use organic wheat and some old varieties such as Kamut and Spelt. For sugar (tough one because of my sweet tooth), I avoid all processed food, sodas and commercial pastries. (I still indulge in homemade goodies.)  This may eliminate about 19 teaspoons of sugar a day.

But, I wish we had more help from governmental agencies.  Obesity is more than an individual problem; it’s now a societal health problem that needs both governmental and community help in finding healthy solutions.  In the meantime we can eat the food now that we want in the future.  In other words, be the healthy person you want to be, now.

Wayne Kessler is the former owner of Shambani Organics, former Peace Corps volunteer, and founding member of Growing Local.

Wayne Kessler

Following his grandfather's advice, "Grow food. People always need food," has led Wayne to a lifetime of cultivating and processing food. He spends much of his time encouraging people to become more food independent by growing their own.

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