The bread of life

If Fibromyalgia or similar long-term health challenge is part of your experience, its likely that you also experience some degree of food intolerance as the two seem to cross over so very often. In my own case, I have gradually come to notice (and acknowledge) in myself a degree of intolerance to gluten; and then to recognise similar – if less pronounced – traits in others who haven’t realised this yet; the gluten in our modern diet seems to have flagged itself up as an issue demanding attention. However, its so important not to throw the baby out with the bath water here and, before giving-up one of the food-types you probably love, you might want to explore whether your reaction is all down to the gluten or just the way it is packaged.

For the last three or four years, I had steadily moved my way along the road that seemed to leave most bread options behind, with just the occasional dive into bread as a treat at the weekends, punctuated by the occasional relapse into more regular bread-eating, with noticeably dire consequences every time. More recently, I made the switch into fully organic bread but even that lay heavy on my system and left me disappointed with the flavour, texture and versatility of what was available in the shops. In short, bread became a compromised experience; both a nostalgia for what I used to eat and – in its current form –  a disappointment (and its amazing how sad that made me feel).

fieldsA couple of months ago, I had the urge to get back into making my own bread, the pastime I thought I had thrown out along with most of the gluten from my diet, and what I discovered was a revelation to me. The standard bread that I make two or three times a week, using organic stoneground wholemeal flour, doesn’t seem to trigger my intolerance symptoms like any of the commercial breads…with the caveat that I still avoid gorging on it and pace my bread meals to at most once a day and preferably a day or two apart, saving my toast for the weekends. Having baked all my own bread for over two months now, I am now able to enjoy bread with lovely texture, aroma and flavour once again (in fact, its far nicer than anything we’ve found in the shops) – how brilliant!

If I was in any doubt about the fact that gluten wrapped-up in commercial products still triggers me, I ran out of my usual (lovely) gluten-free pasta yesterday and served up standard organic pasta for dinner. The symptoms that followed were the incredible bloating (what I have seen referred to as “wheat belly”) that started almost immediately, an acidity that felt body-wide (not just in my stomach; leading to widespread muscle pain and stiffness by morning) and yet, though I was bloated, my body was also mimicking extreme hunger pangs before I even went to bed and starving-hungry by morning, just like I get at times when sugar (including alcohol) slips back into my system and creates a sugar-high followed by a crash just a couple of hours later – the classic reactive hypoglycemia symptoms of Fibromyalgia. It only really occurred to me at 4am, when I was feeling almost hung-over with the effects, that the pasta was the culprit. Commercial bread (especially white bread) used to do this to me too – all the time!

So why is it that commercially prepared bread behaves so differently to the kind of bread we get to make at home? Well, there are a variety of ‘healthy’ bread options presented out there these days but close scrutiny of the ingredients will, likely, turn up an array of ingredients that you probably wouldn’t add-in at home, ranging from sugar to various oils to preservatives, flavours and colour-enhancers. If you are lucky enough to find an organic wholewheat bread with nothing but flour, water, healthy oil, a pinch of top-grade salt and yeast you are very fortunate indeed and if you’ve ever tried gluten-free bread, you’ve probably come away extremely disillusioned as its pretty awful stuff and nothing like high-grade conventional bread. The alternatives are the various non-wheat bread options, which can be interesting to try out (preferably toasted, in my experience) but, well, they don’t really taste like bread at all and they are impossible for a sandwich.When it comes to wheat flour, an essential point is that not all flour is created equal.

imageMy bread (left) consists of what I list above – good organic stoneground wholemeal flour, water, yeast, fat – including a good pinch of pink Himalayan salt, and I use either organic butter or, an entirely viable option, coconut oil. Either way, it turns out perfectly every time. There are a number of quirky alternatives to standard stoneground these days – I recently tried organic Einkorn flour (Einkorn, or triticum monococcum, was the original wheat, developed over 20,000 years ago and produces a slightly denser, but delicious, rustic bread) and I have a bag of Dove’s Farm KAMUT ® khorasan flour (originally grown for the pharaohs in Egypt, naturally high in protein and minerals such as selenium) just waiting to be sampled. There’s a lot to suggest that the reason so many people have developed issues digesting the gluten in modern food is down to the way wheat has been (over)developed for the mass market and getting back to these earlier versions can be a worthwhile experiment in re-finding the joy of bread – in fact, I have just read that a lot of people struggling with gluten-intolerance are finding they can tolerate the KAMUT branded grain. Another ancient grain, Quinoa, is already a staple part of my vegetarian diet.

I also add other ingredients (walnuts, sundried tomatoes, olives etc) to the mix for special occasion bread…but my standard loaf takes three minutes to load into the bread-maker, now I have it off to a fine art, and then three hours to bake a large loaf, filling the house with the most incredible aroma and producing a consistently satisfying bread that my body can actually tolerate!


And for a real treat…

A close-cousin of the yeasty bread I make is banana bread, which uses no yeast, is super-quick to put together and produces a satisfying and healthy mid-meal snack that has the advantage of using up all the over-ripe bananas – in fact, the riper the better. No recipe required for this one; in fact it evolves and alters slightly each time I make it, but the fact I can just throw everything into the oven without weighing is one of its most appealing things.

Basically, I take a few ripe bananas – typically three to five – and mush or chop them roughly into a bowl, add at least the same volume of flour or maybe a couple of extra shakes to make a bigger loaf, one and a half (ish) teaspoons of baking powder, a good heaped dessert spoon of coconut oil and whatever flavourings and extras I feel like adding. Cinnamon is lovely and a wonderful natural sweetener (just be aware that it can contribute to hypoglycemia in those of us prone so don’t be too heavy handed, or just leave out, if you have this tendency), fruit and/or nuts (vine fruits only if you can tolerate them…I find they can act like pure sugar on my system so I have to be careful not to overdo them), maybe a dash of vanilla essence or maca (entirely optional). Walnuts and pecans are my favourites, with a small handful of dried fruit…but just play around with the flavours to suit yourself and be reassured, this bread needs no added sugar as it is wonderfully sweet all by itself.

Whisk all this up in your processor, add a dash or two of your preferred milk (I use coconut or almond) until it is cake-mix consistency and tip it into a lined and coconut-smeared bread tin – just roughly scrunch some oiled lining paper into the tin and the weight of the mixture will press it into the sides. Bake in the oven on 180 degrees until the top is golden and it feels firm enough to tip out – about half an hour or so depending on size – and if it still feels a little moist, pop the loaf the other-way-up into its tin and leave in the warm oven (now switched off) until you’ve made the tea or been for your walk or whatever you are doing…when you come back to it, you are in for such a treat and with no added sugar or egg; I have even managed to avoid the wheat using a mix of coconut and rice flour – which made a lovely but much denser, more textured loaf (the standard version is very moist). Just play around with it and you will have created a mid-afternoon pick-me-up that keeps the sudden energy dips at bay without resorting to commercial snacks. I now make this loaf a few times a week and the family literally cheer when they come home to find I’ve been baking it.



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