I definitely do not consider myself much of a baker. To be totally honest, the thought of precise measurements and ingredients scares me. Cooking tends to be more forgiving—you are out of onions? No sweat (or tears!), just substitute with shallots, leeks, green onions, onion powder, or maybe just omit the darn things all together and no one will even know! Baking, however, is a little more complicated. If you are out of nearly any of the key ingredients or happen to miscalculate, you might as well throw in the dish towel, it just simply will not turn out as planned. Or at least that has been my experience.
But something was drawing me towards baking homemade bread. I am talking about REAL bread, the kind that is made from water and flour over the course of a few days, maybe even weeks. The way bread was baked hundreds of years ago before it became so heavily processed and nearly impossible to digest. After working with numerous gluten sensitive individuals with dysfunctional guts, I cannot help but wonder where these sensitivities originated as foods like bread and grains have been a seamless and intricate part of our our diet for thousands of years.
Contrary to what many health advocates believe, I am actually a huge fan of grains and disagree that grains are the culprit for our health concerns. In fact, grains are incredibly beneficial for optimal gut health! The good bacteria in the gut (aka probiotics) thrive on the fiber and resistant starches that many grains provide. Without these vital nutrients, bacteria simply cannot survive in the gut.
The problem with grains, however, stems from consuming them in their not-so-properly-prepared form, like highly processed grains laden with chemicals and toxins that absolutely wreak havoc on the gut. It is no wonder why we are gluten intolerant and have problems digesting these foods. Once you work towards healing the gut lining and repopulating the gut with a healthy balance of bacteria and fungi, you can likely tolerate grains and should incorporate them into your diet, as long as they are in their properly prepared form.
Take for instance bread, everyone’s favorite, right? The bread I baked here is simply made from flour and water, then it ferments over the course of a few days producing a starter or natural leaven that I used to bake. What an interesting process to say the least. I learned so much and actually felt like the starter was beginning to resemble similar characteristics of the gut. Which would make sense, I mean, naturally we are all a bunch of bacteria as the body is comprised of nearly 90 percent microbial cells and 10 percent human cells and the same bacteria that are thriving in my starter also live inside the gut.
But this starter was so forgiving and so human like.
All it needed was a regular feeding of flour and water and a comfortable environment and it flourished. It took some time getting to understand this but once I did, it felt like a symbiotic relationship. When my starter was looking weak, a friend mentioned feeding it twice a day. Genius! My starter was hungry and needed a little more fuel. Then it started looking a little thin and unlively. My friend mentioned slightly increasing the all-purpose flour during feeding as it acts as “caffeine” for your starter. Another brilliant idea. Now, not only does my starter love to eat, but it also loves “coffee”. We are really bonding here.
The most interesting part was when I missed a couple feedings from being out of town, the starter was virtually lifeless and had this dark coating, which I immediately googled out of fear I killed it only to discover it means it was hungry. Whew! Luckily, the starter was quick to bounce back after only a few routine feedings and some pep talks.
This process reminded me so much of the gut.
Say you eat clean most of the time but then there is a birthday or a holiday and you deviate from your normal diet. After studying numerous gut reports and microbiome samples, I can assure you that more than likely your bacteria changed, probably a few bacteria species that generally indicate inflammation increased and maybe even a slight increase in Candida. But then, you revert to your normal diet, and homeostasis is restored. I could not help but think that something similar was happening to my starter on the days I neglected to feed. The bacteria had shifted, and it was clearly no longer thriving, the color had changed, even the smell was different. But the starter was resilient, like the gut, and once it returned to its normal diet, we were back in the bread making business.
After a few weeks of understanding how to create a thriving environment for my starter, I was finally ready to put it to use and bake some incredible bread. Bread that did not make my face puffy or cause my stomach to swell and ache. Bread that did not cause a stuffy nose and itchy skin. This was real bread made from real grains the way our bodies were designed to consume, digest, and enjoy.
Now that we have established that grains are your friend, let’s briefly discuss how to incorporate them into the diet. I first recommend checking out my video on gut health to learn more about healing the gut lining and repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria and fungi because this will have a tremendous impact on how you digest grains. As a general rule of thumb, I typically recommend about 3-6 servings a day of resistant starches depending on your diet. These foods can be in the form of legumes, oats, squash, under-ripe bananas (or banana flour), potatoes, and grains like wild rice and wheat to name a few. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Everything in moderation, including moderation” so make sure you are also including a healthy balance of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, sustainable proteins, and limiting the amount of processed food and sugar. Make sure you are including grains in their properly prepared forms, avoiding anything heavily processed. If you are still having trouble digesting, you can try supplementing with digestive enzymes as well as probiotics. Remember, the good bacteria (probiotics) feed on fiber in the gut and if we have too much fiber and not enough bacteria, the result may be excess gas so supplementing with a probiotic can also be helpful.
When I created Fairy Gutmother®, I embarked on this quest to help spread awareness around gut health, using food as medicine, and consuming nutrient dense foods in their most natural, pure state. Part of that process has been encouraging people to get to know where their food comes from by understanding ingredients and inquisitively reading food labels, talking directly with their farmers and ranchers, and really getting back to their roots by consuming foods in their most natural state. I hope by sharing this story that it gets you to consider more about the origins of your food and return to consuming foods in their purest state which is always the healthiest option.
Ps: Highly recommend the book Tartine Bread which is what I followed for this recipe.