Spring 2014: Creating Complete Proteins from Plant Foods


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“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global…and should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity…


Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and [yet] its potential contribution to their solution is equally large.”


Livestock’s Long Shadow, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations



This newsletter was inspired by the current pressure on family food budgets brought about by the recent cutbacks in food assistance programs and by the severe 2013-14 drought that has caused cattle farmers to trim herds to a 21-year low.  It is also inspired by today’s serious environmental concerns and the threat of global warming.  But, while the confluence of cutbacks in food assistance, rising meat prices, and global warming challenge us, they also offer the opportunity to return to the basic nutritional wisdom of prior generations.  Traditional cultures instinctively knew how to combine plant foods for good nutrition.   By understanding how to construct complete proteins from plant foods and exploring American and ethnic recipes, plant-based complete-protein meals can become economical favorites that enable us to play a role in preserving the environment, right in our own homes.


On November 1, 2013, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ended.  As a result, benefits for SNAP households were cut significantly—by $36 a month for a family of four, to a level where SNAP now provides an average of just $1.40 per person per meal.  Meanwhile, an eight-year drought and higher grain prices have forced farmers to trim herds, putting another pressure on food budgets.  According to the USDA, in January 2014, retail beef prices were at or near record high inflation-adjusted levels.  And, as farmers now hold back cattle to rebuild herds, beef prices are expected to increase again, by 10%-15% this year, as well as throughout 2015.


The Environment.  At the same time that trimming herds squeezes pocket books, it also brings with it a clear short-term plus by slowing climate change.  This potential is easy to see given livestock production’s large footprint on our global ecosystem, as well as its huge contribution to our greenhouse gas problem:  Through grazing and the raising of feed crops, livestock production worldwide accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the earth’s surface.   And, with respect to global warming, the FAO conservatively estimates that livestock production explains for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, measured in CO2 equivalent—a share greater than the entire worldwide transportation sector.  [Jess McNally of Stanford points out that, depending on how the figure is calculated, instead of 18 percent, livestock may explain as much as 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO 2 equivalent.]  According to the FAO, livestock production also accounts for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times the global warming effect of CO2, as well as (largely through manure) 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which carries 296 times the global warming impact of CO2.


Apart from greenhouse gasses and global warming, other major long-term environmental impacts of the growth of livestock production include deforestation, especially in Latin America, as forests are cleared to create pasture and to raise feed crops; depletion of the water supply (two-thirds of the world population are expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025); and accelerated threats to biodiversity.   Clearly, these problems will not be resolved by short-term, drought-related cuts in livestock production.


 Chart 1a & 1b



Nor can we count on the worldwide livestock production/environmental picture to brighten in the future:  With expanding populations and incomes, global demand for meat is projected to double in the 50 years 2000-2050.  This makes it all the more important that we find greater environmental efficiencies in livestock production; rely more on animal proteins like poultry and fish that have less of an environmental impact; and shift to more plant-based proteins in countries that overly rely upon meat and have a protein-margin to do so.


Omnivore’s Dilemma?


With the current pressure on household food budgets and environmental issues, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma of 2006 seems all the more fitting today.   Meat devotees and vegans face off using some of the following arguments…


Meat lovers point to the fact that only animal-based foods supply complete proteins—proteins that include not only the broad array of all 22 amino acids, but also an abundant supply of the 9 essential/indispensable amino acids, those that the body cannot synthesize on its own.   In addition, meat is the only viable dietary source of both vitamin B12 and easily absorbable (heme) iron.  Animal proteins are also easier than plant proteins to assimilate, a factor especially important as people age:  Ruminants act as a kind of “walking processing plant” doing all the grass/grain-to-protein conversion work for us—something our mono-gastric systems cannot easily do.   In favor of eating animals, some advocates of meat may also point to the jaw structure of humans to validate their claim that we are naturally designed to consume animal flesh.


Meanwhile, vegan/vegetarians will argue for a plant-based diet, believing it is more humane, easier on the pocketbook, and less costly to the environment.  In addition, a plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of chronic health issues, particularly obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardio-vascular disease.   Plant foods also provide fiber and a host of micronutrients and antioxidants that work synergistically to support health in a variety of ways, many of which are not yet understood by science.  Another important consideration is that avoiding commercially-raised animal products is one of the best ways to prevent the unintentional, indirect consumption of hormones, antibiotics, food additives, and GMOs (through GMO feed crops such as soy and corn)—all silent elements that are ingested with commercially-raised animal products.


If we look at the animal/plant protein question simply from a health standpoint, it is certainly true that most people feel best consuming a diet that includes some animal proteins, particularly during the growth years and in the later decades of life.   The goal of this piece is not to advocate for a strict vegan diet.  A vegan diet can work well for many young adults who are able for a time to run on what Traditional Chinese Medicine terms “kidney essence energy” (the finite “dry-cell battery pack” gifted at birth).  But as people age, digestive systems tend to weaken, as does the ability to extract vitamin B12 from dietary proteins, so with advancing years, protein requirements can, in fact, increase.   So, for the vast majority of people associated with the aging postwar baby boom, easy-to-assimilate animal proteins (for example, economical foods using bone stocks) may become increasingly important.


Beyond our own health considerations, of course, is the overriding concern posed by the environment, to which our own health is inextricably tied.  Within this context, it seems urgent that people in countries with a comfortable animal-protein margin understand how and be willing to trade some animal proteins for plant-based foods.


Protein and Protein Requirements


The word protein, from the Greek proteos, means “taking first place,” something that points to the long-standing recognition of the key role that protein plays alongside its macronutrient partners, carbohydrates and fats, in supporting good health.   Consuming adequate dietary protein is essential to supply the body with both indispensable amino acids (those it cannot make on its own) as well as nitrogen.  With these as raw materials, the body can then synthesize the many proteins and nitrogen-based molecules it needs for its many vital functions:  Proteins, which are the major component of cells, are used not only in routine cell maintenance and replacement, but also for building enzymes; hormones; tissue and bone; immunity/ antibodies; transport carriers to and from cells; and as buffers to regulate pH.


How much protein do we need?  According to Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the recommended protein daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which translates to 0.36 grams of protein for every pound a person weighs.  This means that someone weighing 140 pounds might require about 50 grams of protein/day; while the RDA for a 180-pound adult would be ~65 grams of protein (package labels on foods can help you with this).   There are no hard and fast rules, however, because protein and amino acid requirements vary from individual to individual depending on age, body type and size, general health, activity and lifestyle.  Also, as a general guideline, at similar weights, protein requirements are about 20 percent higher for males; they are also about 50 percent greater for pregnant and nursing women.  Stress requires greater protein intake, as well, because stress hormones accelerate protein metabolism.


The Standard American Diet (SAD) presents little risk of protein deficiency.   For industrialized nations like the United States, per capita consumption of both meat and dairy is more than twice the global average, a multiple that is expected to remain the same through 2030 (Table 1).   On a per capita basis, the industrialized world consumes almost 10 times the meat and dairy of protein-deficient South East Asia, for example.  South East Asians are typically people of short stature, a trait that is partly linked to their heavy reliance on grains, which lack lysine (lysine is important for growth).  The tall stature of most Americans is one measure of our protein affluence.  A simple test of protein status, no matter your height or build, is to assess the condition of hair, nails, and ease of wound healing.


Table 1



While not enough protein can undermine health, so, too can too much since excessive protein can lead to an overly-acid condition of the blood.  Large amounts of high-protein, acid-forming (low pH) foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese (and soft drinks) without adequate intake of alkalizing (high pH) vegetables and fruits to buffer the acids from high-protein foods force the body to find its own alkalizing buffers.  As a last resort to deal with acidic conditions, the body will tap into its precious stores of calcium and magnesium, minerals housed largely in the bones (think osteoporosis).   [Excess acids are normally excreted through the kidneys via urine, but the system set up long ago by Nature whereby the pH of urine is unable to dip far into the acid range means the body has a hard time dealing with the Standard American Diet of today.  Urine can only do so much to correct for the excessive acid-forming foods that characterize the Standard American Diet...leaving the body to top into its mineral stores to deal with the rest.] 



Comparing Animal Proteins and Proteins Created by Combining Plant Foods


As mentioned above, consuming adequate dietary protein helps supply the body with the 9 indispensable amino acids that it cannot make on its own, as well as with nitrogen, the building block that allows the body to synthesize the remaining complement of 13 amino acids.   The quality of protein provided by a food is most importantly set by its profile indispensable amino acids (IAAs), both in terms of the overall quantity of IAAs that the body requires, as well as the proportions of IAAs needed in relation to each other (see Chart 2).  Protein quality is also affected to a lesser extent by its digestibility, a quality that is somewhat controversial, because it can be measured in a variety of ways.  Regarding the digestibility of proteins in foods, it is best to use large ranges and think of figures as rough estimates.  Also as a side note, the assimilation and digestibility of plant-based amino acids as found in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is hampered by phytates, a defense inherent in seeds to protect their vital essence.  Grains and legumes need to be soaked to diffuse phytates, which would otherwise block the body’s ability to utilize selected enzymes and their vital minerals.


Chart 2


Animal proteins (except gelatin, which lacks tryptophan) are complete proteins because they include all the indispensable amino acids in sufficient amounts to meet the body’s requirements.   In contrast, proteins found in plant foods are incomplete, with the exception of soy and the grains amaranth and quinoa.


Plant foods are incomplete because they have too little of one or more of the indispensable amino acids.  Protein synthesis requires a perfectly-matched, complete set of indispensable amino acids.  The least of any indispensable amino acid—termed the limiting amino acid—limits the role of all the rest, no matter how abundant (see Chart 3).   The three primary limiting amino acids in plants foods are lysine (deficient in grains); methionine (lacking in legumes); and tryptophan (shy in corn).   In this example, a deficiency of lysine (10 rather than 38 in the example below), something that characterizes a grain-based diet, limits the effectiveness of all other essential amino acids that are present.


Chart 3


The principle of limiting amino acids makes it all the more important to understand some of the simple principles for constructing complete proteins from plant foods (see Table 2 constructed below, as a guide).  Successful plant food combinations can be constructed using Table 2 as a guide, by combining foods that together include “plus signs” across the first three columns of Table 2.


Table 2


Some of the more successful combinations of plant foods are legumes with whole grains (e.g., beans with rice; lentil soup with whole-grain bread); legumes with seeds (e.g., hummus made with chickpeas and sesame seeds); and whole grains with selected nuts/seeds—sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; cashews and peanuts (e.g., whole-grain bread with tahini or peanut butter).


Because corn, unlike other grains, lacks tryptophan it is best combined with legumes and selected seeds or dairy (a taco with beans and cheese).  Dairy can also be paired with whole grains and legumes to round out the amino acid profile required by the body (e.g., oatmeal with milk; yogurt with granola; black bean soup with sour cream; chili with cheese topping).


Bridging Some Gaps: Vitamin B12, Iron, and Antioxidants and Fiber


Of course, in concentrating on food combinations to build a good balance of amino acids, we should not lose sight of some of the body’s other nutritional requirements.


Vitamin B12.  Key ideas to remember are that familiar plant foods are not good sources of vitamin B12  and also that vitamin B12 becomes more difficult to extract from animal protein as people age.  In addition, vitamin B12 is a critical vitamin both for brain and cardio-vascular health:  Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to brain dysfunction and memory loss.   Vitamin B12 also partners with vitamin B6 and folate to contain homocysteine.  Homocysteine is a by-product of metabolism that is linked to inflammation, blood clots and cardio-vascular disease.   It follows that strict vegans who do not supplement with vitamin B12 can suffer from cardiovascular disease, just as people often do who consume large amounts of animal proteins.  Some plant-based foods/supplements that do contain vitamin B-12 include brewer’s yeast; some sprouts; fermented soy products; and spirulina.


Iron.  Heavy reliance on plant proteins may also result in iron deficiency because the non-heme iron of plant foods is of lesser quality and more difficult to absorb than heme iron found in meat.  But, no matter whether you obtain iron through plant or animal foods, it is good to remember that iron is best absorbed when accompanied by vitamin C, as well as with traditional fats (since fats assist the absorption of minerals).  Good plant sources of iron include whole grains; legumes; nuts and most seeds; leafy greens; dried fruits; and unsulfured molasses.


Antioxidants and Fiber.  While fruits and vegetables cannot be counted on to supply protein requirements, they are, unlike animal proteins, rich sources of antioxidants and fiber.  Antioxidants and fiber promote longevity and health and are essential components of a balanced diet.  Plant foods are a rich source of three primary antioxidants—vitamins A, C, and E—along with a broad array of other vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients.  These work together to counter free radical damage, something that is the by-product of many kinds of environmental pollution as well as normal metabolic function.


A Note on Soy.  While we might think from Table 2 that soy is the ultimate plant protein choice, keep in mind that most soy, about 80+ percent, is genetically modified.  Also, soy is difficult to digest because it inhibits the digestive enzyme trypsin; it also inhibits the absorption of iron.  The best soy products are those that are fermented and/or spouted, such as tempeh, tofu from sprouted soy, and miso.   Many soy products, like soy milk, soy protein powders, concentrates, and isolates often contain denatured proteins without adequate cofactors needed for proper assimilation and metabolism.   If you eat soy, try to use it sparingly as a component within a balanced diet.


Constructing Complete Proteins, Concluding Comment


Constructing complete proteins from economical plant sources—to meet at least some of the daily protein requirement— is not only cost-effective, but also efficient, because with a little planning, practice, and the right equipment, it can save time and effort in the end.  Most recipes that use plant-based protein combinations, such as split peas and brown rice, can be cooked in large batches, frozen, and later defrosted for easy meals when you are in a hurry.  Beans and grains can also be cooked in large batches and frozen in individual servings, to be defrosted and used to create an infinite variety of practically instant nutritious meals.


Remember that beans and grains are best soaked before cooking to remove phytates.  This is easy to do, either by drawing water and allowing legumes and grains to soak overnight or by doing this in the morning before leaving the house for the day.  Once you develop the habit, it seems easy.  Planning ahead is the hardest part, something that becomes second nature with practice.


If you are not familiar with recipes that use legumes and grains, the following short Recipe Section may help get you started.  I will follow up soon with more plant-based, complete-protein recipes to suit different tastes, budgets, and styles of cooking.



Reading Resources:

Lavon J. Dunne, Nutrition Almanac

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Livestock’s Long Shadow

Sareen S. Gropper, Jack L. Smith, James L Groff, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism

Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition

IHE Delft, Virtual Water Trade

Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet

David and Marcia Pimentel, Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment

PBS.org, “Is Your Meat Safe?”

Jeanne Yacoubou, Factors Involved in Calculating Grain/Meat Conversion Ratios



February 2010:  Investing in Stocks [Bone Stocks]

May/June 2012:  A Chicken with Gratitude–the Food Chain–And the Hidden Dangers of Soy

April/May 2013:  Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease




Recipes:  Combining Animal- and Plant-Based Proteins


Success in the kitchen is often rooted in having the right time-saving equipment, knives, and pots and pans of good quality.  A large stock pot, a no-fail rice/grain cooker that can be set in advance, and a slower cooker (even better, several of varying sizes) can save you time, effort, and allow you to cook in large batches and freeze for easy convenience.


The first two recipes below are delicious, economical family favorites.  They combine animal- and plant-based proteins and work as good transitional recipes for people who expect animal proteins in every meal.  With time, the proportions of meat to grains and the amount of vegetables can be adjusted to suit the family budget, tastes, and protein needs.  The last recipe for M’judra is vegetarian; it is economical, delicious, and just plain fun! 



Bistro White Chili (Makes 15 cups, serving 15)

1 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoons ground cumin or to taste

1 pound ground turkey

2 pounds skinless boneless turkey breasts, cut into ¾ inch cubes

2/3 cup pearl barley

2 one-pound cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon minced bottled jalapeno pepper (wear rubber gloves) or to taste

6 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

½ teaspoon dried savory, crumbled

1 ½ tablespoons arrowroot, dissolved in ½ cup water

1 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 pound)

½ cup thinly sliced scallion

  1. In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the oil over moderately low heat, stirring until the onion is softened; add the cumin, and cook the mixture, stirring for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the ground turkey and cubed turkey; cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring until the turkey is no longer pink.
  3. Add the barley, chickpeas, jalapeno pepper, broth, marjoram, and savory and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
  4. Stir the arrowroot mixture, add it to the chili, simmer, uncovered, stirring, for 15 minutes.
  5. Season the chili with salt and pepper, ladle it into heated bowls, and sprinkle it with the Monterey Jack and scallion.

Easy, Economical, and Hearty Vegetable Beef Barley Soup (12 one-cup servings)

½ pound lean ground beef

½ cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

7-8 cups low-sodium beef stock, or 7-8 cups water and 2 low-sodium beef bouillon cubes

One 14 ½ oz. can unsalted whole tomatoes, un-drained, cut into pieces

½ cup pearled barley

½ cup sliced celery

½ cup sliced carrots

½ teaspoon basil, crushed

1 bay leaf

One 9-oz package frozen green peas; or frozen mixed vegetables

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, brown meat.  Add onion and garlic; cook until onion is tender.  Drain.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients except frozen vegetables.
  3. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add frozen vegetables and cook 5-10 minutes until tender (less if using peas).

Additional water can be added if soup becomes too thick upon standing. 



2 cups lentils

1½ cup brown rice

6 yellow onions, chopped

4 cloves fresh garlic, diced fine

3 teaspoons high quality sea salt

8 cups high quality water

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

  1. Rinse lentils and place in soup pot with 5 cups water and 1½ teaspoons sea salt. Cover pan, bring to a boil. Turn down and let simmer until lentils are tender. About 45 minutes – 1 hour. Drain lentils and return to soup pot.
  2. Rinse rice and place in separate saucepan with 3 cups water and 1½ teaspoons sea salt. Cover pan, bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer very low (without opening lid) for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before opening. Open pan and fluff rice with a fork. Add rice to lentils.
  3. Sauté onions in coconut oil and caramelize. Just before onions are finished cooking add fresh garlic and sauté. Do not burn garlic. Add onion mixture to lentils. Stir everything together and serve with chopped onions on top or with fresh avocado and red pepper seeds.

Source:  Today’s Abundant Living

                                                                                                                Copyright 2014 Pathways4Health.org

Winter 2014: A New Year’s Guiding Star

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download New Year’s Guiding Star


The North Star (Polaris) marks the direction north and has long been used both on land and sea to guide travelers because it retains its place in the sky while the entire night sky revolves around it.  Though not the brightest star in the nighttime sky, it is a dependable guide which can be found even under cloudy skies or a full moon.1


Working on boards and committees with my good friend and writer Amira Thoron, I often think of Amira’s expression ‘North Star’ to mark the themes we define to guide and focus our efforts.  Today, after the holiday season and with the ever-present confusion created by the array of food creations in our modern supermarkets, let’s focus on some concepts for healthy eating, some North Star guideposts for the New Year. 


In the last few months, I have started to think more and more about how our current dietary and lifestyle habits have grown far from what they were just a few decades ago; how eating outside our evolutionary norm is affecting our health and well-being; and, how we might define some simple, common-sense guidelines that can fit every situation when we face choices about what to eat.


For some North Star questions to ask ourselves, I would propose:


Could this food be grown on a traditional farm? 

Could bacteria in the environment break it down and decompose it?

Could the food be (or have been) prepared in a typical family kitchen?


To eat foods that stand up to these North Star tests is the best strategy to assure that we are eating within our evolutionary norm and walking within our biological footprint.


Modern foods in an evolutionary context.  Experts mark the start of homo sapiens at perhaps 40,000 B.C., so for almost 42,000 years our ancestors lived by the seasons; ate foods that were local and seasonal; and, consumed whole foods, first those caught or foraged, later adding more varieties that were cultivated on the farm and prepared in a traditional kitchen.


It has only been in the last century or so, with the development of the light bulb and electricity, the exodus to cities, women joining the labor force in great numbers, and the creation of convenient, commercially-prepared foods that we have strayed from the  traditional lifestyle and dietary patterns that for centuries set our biorhythms, metabolism, and digestion/assimilation.


Today, the food industry and we as consumers rely on refined food ingredients because they are cheap and have a long shelf life.  But these, which include sugar, refined flour, and refined vegetable oils, are inflammatory and foster chronic disease.  Have you ever stopped to think what we are doing to our bodies when we consume foods with a long shelf life—foods that do not/cannot go rancid? If bacteria in the local environment cannot break down these foods, how can we expect our digestive system, which is designed to break up and assimilate whole foods from nature, be expected to do so?


I have to wonder if the current prevalence of allergies, wheat intolerance, hyperactivity, and psychological and emotional issues is not related to our modern diet that so often centers on these long-shelf-life processed foods.   It is a known fact that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined flour feed bad bacteria in the gut and fuel inflammation, while refined vegetables oils upset metabolism and also foster inflammation and chronic disease.


With a host of gut-related ills plaguing our society today, many of which we treat with antibiotics, we might take away a cautionary lesson from the modern, commercial cattle industry.  Feedlot cattle tell us a lot about what happens when we eat outside our evolutionary footprint:   Cattle that are moved from traditional pasture grazing into crowded feed lots where they are fed GMO corn require a steady stream of antibiotics to keep them standing, and hardly long enough to fatten for slaughter.


The “Big Three” Ingredients in Modern Foods that Dominate our Modern Diet and Push Us Beyond Our Evolutionary Norm


With the thousands of refined, denatured and chemical food ingredients used by the food industry to make foods exciting, attractive, and “timeless,” our North Star list of verboten foods would be long, indeed.  So, let’s focus just on the Big Three—sugar; refined flour; and refined vegetable oils.  These three ingredient dominate the convenience, processed foods sold today.


  • Sugar does indeed have a long history, but it was never widely used nor a major component of traditional diets.   A product of tropical environments, it was geographically out-of reach for most and also too expensive to produce.  To extract pure crystals of sugar, the chemical C6H12O6,, from the cane’s tough network of fiber, water, and minerals, required massive manpower and capital equipment.


From the way nature packaged sugar inside its tough husk of cane, we can guess this was a natural, inherent safeguard for overindulgence:  More than a foot of sugar cane is required to produce one small tablespoon of sugar.  So, in its natural form, we would be hard pressed to consume a tablespoon of sugar in one sitting.


Yet, in its denatured, concentrated crystal form, the food industry makes it easy for us to rather thoughtlessly consume the equivalent of a foot of sugar cane over breakfast, or our morning coffee break, or just about any time we grab a snack.   Take the time to read the early histories of sugar that describe the process, slave labor, necessary equipment, and the lives lost and you will come away with a real sense of how unnatural a product sugar, in its pure crystal chemical form which is now cheap and widely available, really is.


While sugar has been around for centuries, albeit in limited amounts, we can assume from the modern ills linked to sugar that our bodies have not yet adapted to sugar, particularly in the vast amounts we consume today.  Sugar elevates blood sugar to foster diabetes and obesity; leaches valuable minerals from our bodies, especially from our mineral storage “banks” located in our bones and teeth (think osteoporosis and teeth problems); feeds bad gut bacteria; and supplies empty calories that “crowd out” nutrient-dense whole foods.  Sugar is also linked to depression and hyperactivity.


Alternatives:  Maple syrup, maple crystals, coconut sugar, date sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses, honey.  See June 2009, Natural Sweeteners and Kicking the Sugar Habit.


  • Refined flour as we know it today also lies outside our evolutionary footprint.  The reason is not only because currently most flour that we consume is refined, but also because the kind of wheat that we eat is a new-fangled hybrid high-yield, high-starch, high-gluten variety developed only within the last 50 years—something called “dwarf wheat.” The high amylopectin starch content of dwarf wheat makes it super-fattening and promotes insulin resistance and diabetes.  In addition, the genetic engineering of dwarf wheat creates an extra chromosome set with more and different gluten proteins than exist in traditional wheat varieties like Einkorn and Emmer.  These new, untested wheat proteins are linked to wheat allergies and celiac disease.


The prevalence of obesity and diabetes as well as gluten intolerance suggests our bodies are having a hard time adapting to dwarf wheat, particularly in its refined state—this is not something that we can blame on the amount of wheat that we eat today:  In fact, the typical American now consumes one-third less wheat than a century ago, a time when wheat allergies and celiac disease were hardly known.


Traditional cultures were sustained by whole-grain flours.  These were largely derived from wheat of heirloom varieties.  Wheat was favored because it grows in most climates and is the most nutritious of the grains due to its superior ability to extract nutrients from the soil.   Whole-grain wheat flour used by traditional cultures provided vitamin B and E, as well as essential fatty acids, proteins, minerals, and fiber to offer nutrition; and, the bran (fiber) and germ (fats) that were left intact rather than being refined away helped moderate the blood sugar effect we currently associate with refined flour products.


Today, modern refining techniques separate the starch from the bran and germ to create white flour, a long-shelf-life product that does not go rancid.  White flour is a pure carbohydrate that spikes blood sugar at an even faster rate than does sugar.   Like sugar, refined flour is inflammatory and taps into the body’s store of minerals when it is metabolized.


[As an aside, Island Grown Schools of Martha’s Vineyard, with the guidance and support of Kay Rentschler and Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, as well as scientist and seed-saver/activist Gary Paul Nabhan, is now planting four heirloom New England grains in its school gardens.  We are grateful for the farmers, gardeners, seed-savers, and others who are part of the ongoing movement to support crop diversity and heirloom foods.   As Gary Nabhan notes, in 1984, there were only 99 vegetable, grain, legume, tuber, and herb varieties listed in North American seed catalogs; by 2004, there were 8494.  Seed libraries and seed banks are growing and the internet opens up all kinds of opportunities for future growth and development of traditional, heirloom grains and foods.  Stay tuned to this movement and join it if you can!]


Alternatives:  Whole wheat pastry flour, heirloom whole wheat flour, barley flour, oat flour, and whole-grain non-gluten flour.


  • Refined vegetable oils echo much the same story as sugar and refined flour.   Commercial refining that involves expensive capital equipment is the food industry’s way to create cheap, denatured oils with a long shelf life.   Refining vegetable oils requires not only elaborate equipment, but also chemicals, high pressure and extreme temperatures.


Refining oils sings the familiar chorus heard above regarding refining sugar and refining wheat:  In refining, fragile oils are first separated from the seed using high-heat mechanical pressing and solvents.  In the process, oils are stripped of vital nutrients, such as lecithin, chlorophyll, vitamin E, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.   Then oils are refined, bleached, and degummed, where at each stage they are subjected to chemicals and extreme temperatures.   But, because high temperatures make oils go rancid and take on odors, they are then bleached with chemicals such as benzene and hexane and deodorized at high temperatures approaching 500 degrees.  In the process, some omegas, especially fragile omega-3s, become transfats.


By the end of the refining process, there is nothing left to taste foul or go rancid, so you never know if refined oils have spoiled.  But, stripped of their natural antioxidant protections, they are vulnerable to free-radical damage.   Missing other nutrients, these inflammatory oils are linked to cancer because their denatured state makes it hard for the body to break them down.


Vegetable oils fuel inflammation, upset metabolism, contribute to weight gain, and are linked to cancer and other chronic disease.    As products of the postwar food industry, refined vegetable oils are untested food ingredients that lie outside the footprint of evolutionary experience.  Degumming, stripping, bleaching, deodorizing, and pressure-heating vegetable oils were never part of family farming/food preparation traditions.


Alternatives:  Butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and selected unrefined oils.


Throughout time, peoples were fed by the earth (not by factories) and were guided by the stars.  In the New Year, as we navigate the grocery isle and restaurant menus of our modern world, we can take comfort that we are eating within our evolutionary footprint and honoring our biological limits when we choose whole, nutrient-dense foods, particularly those grown close to home.  Doesn’t it feel like overreaching to do otherwise?


Reading Resources:

April 2009:  Sugar, A Depleting Chemical; and Is Sugar Toxic.

June 2009:  Natural Sweeteners and Kicking the Sugar Habit.

September/October 2010:  Defending Wheat; Restoring Wheat.

November/December 2013:  Smoke Points and Canola Oil; Other Pathways4Health article on oils.

Peter Macinnis, Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar.
Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.


Recipe:  Mulled Cider for Winter Cheer


This is a very simple recipe that will fill the house with a festive aroma, which itself can convey a sense of warmth, lift spirits, and viscerally satisfy sweet cravings.  While any fruit juice consumed alone will elevate blood sugar, a small serving may fulfill some of the normal cold-weather cravings for sweets, saving calories in the long run.  Consuming some nuts, cheese, or other foods that contain fats and proteins can moderate the blood sugar effect associated with drinking this or other fruit drinks in isolation.  And, cinnamon added to any recipe not only provides the illusion of sweetness, but also helps curb the blood sugar effect of sugars and other carbohydrates. 


1 orange

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cups (1 quart) apple cider or organic apple juice

  1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove long strips of zest (the orange skin but not the white part underneath) from half of the orange.
  2. Put the cinnamon sticks, orange zest, and cider in a pot and put the pot on the stove.  Turn the heat to medium-high and heat until it is steamy—about 7 minutes.  Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Source:  Adam Reid and Edible Vineyard.



Copyright 2014, Pathways4Health.org

[1] www.earthsky.org

  1. www.earthsky.org []

November/December 2013: Smoke Points and Canola Oil

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Smoke Points and Canola Oil.


Bad fats and oils will destroy your health faster than sugar.

They cause more problems1 than any other class of food.”…Paul Pitchford


Fats and oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature) are vital to support health and sustain life.  They are also indispensable in the kitchen where they are used to tenderize foods, enhance flavor and texture, and provide a sense of satiety and satisfaction.   In addition, cooks rely on fats because they make it possible to cook foods at temperatures well above the boiling point of water.   This is because, unlike simple H2O molecules that quickly vaporize with heat, fats are large, complex triglyceride molecules (3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol).  They tend to knit together at points along their long carbon chains, so a substantial amount of heat is needed to break their bonds and dislodge them from one another.


The temperature at which a fat visibly breaks down is called its smoke point.   Smoke points vary, ranging from 225oF for flax oil and unrefined canola oil to nearly 500oF for refined canola and clarified butter (see table, p. 2).  While damage to oils does occur before a fat begins to smoke, at its smoke point a fat vaporizes, leaving behind a liquid byproduct of bad-tasting, carcinogenic chemical residue.   The fat no longer acts as a lubricant so foods begin to burn and stick; in addition, the remaining toxic chemicals spoil a food’s flavor and can be harmful to health.


What Determines a Fat’s Smoke Point?  Several factors in the natural makeup of fats influence the temperature at which they will breakdown and smoke.  These include a fat’s saturation, molecular length, and the amount of free fatty acids (fatty acids not attached to other molecules) it contains.


Butter (technically butyric acid) is a saturated fat and therefore reasonably stable, so you might think that it would have a rather high smoke point.  Instead, two factors work against its heat resistance:  butter’s short molecular length (only 4 carbons, the shortest of all fat molecules) and its composition (included are some proteins and carbohydrates, which burn at relatively low temperatures).  Butter’s 350o F smoke point can, however, be elevated by heating and removing these substances.  The result is clarified butter which is far more heat- tolerant (see table below).


A fat’s profile of free fatty acids also affects its smoke point.  The more free fatty acids, the lower its smoke point.  Animal fats and unrefined oils inherently contain more free fatty acids than refined vegetable oils.  This is another reason why animal fats and unrefined vegetable oils are not generally used for high-temperature cooking.


Smoke Pts, NoText



The freshness and purity of a fat also affect its natural smoke point:  Heating/reheating and the accumulation of food particles and impurities will quickly reduce a fat’s smoke point.  A fat that is heated repeatedly to high temperatures and/or contains residual food particles (as in fast-food deep-frying) will be damaged and smoke at successively lower temperatures every time that it is used. As a general rule, the fast food industry fails to take this into account.


Commercial Refining and Health.  Commercialrefining is, of course, the food industry’s standard way to artificially and dramatically elevate smoke points, while also creating cheap, denatured oils with a long shelf life.  Refining essentially doubles the smoke points of vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, and canola.  This magical transformation requires elaborate equipment, chemicals, high pressure and extreme temperatures:


In refining (see diagram, p. 4), fragile oils are first separated from the seed using high-heat mechanical pressing and solvents.  In the process, oils are stripped of vital nutrients, such as lecithin, chlorophyll, vitamin E, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.   Then oils are refined, bleached, and degummed, where at each stage they are subjected to chemicals and extreme temperatures.   But, because high temperatures make oils go rancid and take on odors, they are then bleached with chemicals such as benzene and hexane and deodorized at high temperatures approaching 500 degrees.  In the process, some omegas, especially the fragile omega-3s, become transfats.


The Processing Steps from Seed to Refined Oil



By the end of the refining process, there is nothing left to taste or go rancid, so you never know if refined oils are bad.  But, stripped of their natural antioxidant protections, they are vulnerable to free-radical damage.   Missing other nutrients, these inflammatory oils are linked to cancer because their denatured state makes it hard for the body to break them down.2


Concluding comments:  I personally believe that all refined vegetable oils should be avoided.  They fuel inflammation, upset metabolism, contribute to weight gain, and are linked to cancer and other chronic disease.    As products of the postwar food industry, refined vegetable oils are untested food ingredients that lie outside the footprint of evolutionary experience.  Degumming, stripping, bleaching, deodorizing, and pressure-heating vegetable oils were never part of family farming/food preparation traditions.


As far as cooking goes, there simply are not many healthy options for high-heat cooking.  Our healthiest strategy is long, slow cooking at modest temperatures using traditional fats—butter, unrefined coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.  This is easiest to do in a slow cooker or a moderate oven.   For stove-top, high temperature applications, clarified butter/ghee is a reliable and traditional choice (see recipe, p 7).   But, because heat can damage oils well-before they smoke and because high-heat cooking can create carcinogenic acrylamides, foods cooked at high-temperatures are best eaten in moderation.


Canola Oil (a GMO Derived from Rapeseed) in the Context of Smoke Points


Because rapeseed is very adaptable to genetic manipulation, plant breeders have been able to develop varieties [such as canola]…Because of its high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, canola is partially hydrogenated for many applications…Unhydrogenated canola oil that has been refined loses a substantial portion of its omega-3s.” ((Mary Enig, PhD, Know Your Fats, 120.))


Canola remains the rising star of the food industry, but as a new food ingredient and a genetically- modified oil, it is my least favorite of all the refined vegetable oils.  I hate to come down too hard on canola because I have many friends in the food and nutrition field that use it often, but I feel  that it has gained the spotlight due solely to the self-serving interests of the food industry.   If canola can be banned from infant formula, am I being too harsh?  While corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and peanut oils are inflammatory omega-6 oils, at least they are derived from real plants with centuries-long histories—something that canola cannot boast.


Canola’s Story.  Rapeseed, the mother of canola, has no historic roots in Western dietary tradition.  In its natural form, rapeseed is a most unlikely food because of its high concentration of glucosinolates.  Glucosinolates are bitter-tasting natural toxins that interfere with proper metabolism.  Rapeseed also contains problematic levels of erucic acid, a substance that is linked to heart disease.


Using selection-mutation breeding and DNA technology, botanists in the early 1970s were able to reduce the glucosinolates in rapeseed and transform most of its erucic acid into omega-9 fatty acids.  The result was a low-erucic acid oil (initially named LEAR oil) plant that could be successfully grown in the colder climates of Canada and the United States.  The first genetically modified varieties were quickly adopted by Canadian commercial growers, who renamed the oil “canola,” short for “Canada low-acid oil.”


The U.S. food industry quickly recognized the money-making potential of canola as the economical substitute for olive oil.  Using its political clout, Big Food successfully convinced the USDA to bypass its normal years of research and testing to grant GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to canola in 1985—hardly 10 years after its initial development and a good 10 years before it began to appear on grocery store shelves for widespread use and real-life testing by the general public.


Once canola could be made somewhat palatable and won USDA approval, it did not take the food industry long to turn it into a major cash cow.  Not only could canola be grown in the cold, inclement climates of the United States and Canada where other crops could not, but it could also be promoted as the healthy alternative to other vegetable oils, particularly since it ranks highest in omega-3s.  In addition, canola welcomed genetic manipulation, allowing scientists to create varieties to suit just about any commercial farming preference, engineered to just about any “need” imaginable.  By inserting transgenic genes into rapeseed-derivatives, scientists have been able to create Round-Up Ready, Liberty Link, Clearfield and other canola varieties.3  With the strong marketing support of commercial farmers and the food industry, canola has come from nowhere in the last decade to account for about 10 percent of all edible oils sold in the United States today.


Canola—All things to all people?  The food industry promotes canola as the healthiest, most economical choice among vegetable oils because, of all the oils to choose from, it is the lowest in saturated fat (7%) and highest in omega-3 essential fatty acids (10%).   Many professional cooks and dietitians are also told to use canola because it stands up to heat; it has a neutral taste that does not interfere with the natural flavor of foods; and, it remains liquid when refrigerated so it works well in salad dressings and marinades.


When we hear these claims particularly within the context of what we know about smoke points and unrefined versus refined oils in general and canola in particular, we need to ask, “Which canola are we talking about?”—the one with a smoke point of 225oF or refined canola with a smoke point of almost 500oF?  As much as the food industry would like us to believe that canola can simultaneously satisfy both claims, good sense tells us otherwise.


Canola cannot be both a rich source of healthy omega-3s and stand up to intense heat.   Unrefined canola, a potential source of natural omega-3s, is too bitter, too fragile, and has too short a shelf life to claim supermarket shelf space.   Only refined, damaged canola is marketed widely and readily available in grocery stores.  The canola we buy is a manipulated byproduct of a very fragile, highly unstable oil composed of omega-3s that have undergone intense heat and chemical manipulation.  The result is an oil that not only withstands heat but also contains transfats.


Some experts estimate refined canola contains 4.5% transfats.4  Transfats are linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and infertility, to name a few.  The food industry gets around labeling transfats because a serving can contain up to 0.5% transfats and still be labeled “0% transfats.”  But, since serving sizes stated on labels often understate how much we actually devour at a sitting, it is easy to consume a harmful level of transfats when eating processed and/or fast foods.


Concluding, summary comment.  Canola is a GMO, untested by the USDA, and has no real-life track record.  Unrefined canola is also high in omega-3s, making it a very fragile oil with a smoke point on par with flax oil—an oil that we would never use in cooking.  Due to it fragile nature, scientists tell us not to heat unrefined canola above 120oF.  How, then, can virgin canola be refined at high temperatures and come out on the other end as a safe oil, free of transfats?


I personally believe that given its genetic status and naturally high content of fragile omega-3s, canola is one of the most dangerous—the highest in transfats and damaged molecules—of any of the refined vegetable oils.


Strategies to Promote Health.  Since canola, like all processed vegetable oils, is used widely by the processed food and fast food industries, it is best to read labels, ask questions in restaurants, and cook at home with known ingredients whenever possible.  When cooking, try to rely upon the traditional fats and oils that have supported good health through the generations:


  • Butter from grass-fed cows, as well as grass-fed butter that is clarified (ghee).  Butter from pastured animals has an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids.  Ghee is a short-chain (4 carbon) fatty acid that is highly saturated and free of other substances, so it withstands heat;
  • Unrefined coconut oil, which is  high in anti-bacterial/microbial lauric acid; 92% saturated for stability in cooking and baking; and free of cholesterol;
  • Extra virgin olive oil, the first cold pressing, to be used at the table and for low-heat cooking;
  • For baking, if you do not want to use butter or unrefined coconut oil, sourdough can be used successfully in some recipes to replace vegetable oil; it provides body, texture and a moist crumb.


Recipe: Clarified Butter (Ghee)


Yield:  1 ½ cups.  Time:  30 minutes.


Because the milk solids are lightly browned, ghee has a slightly nutty flavor.

You can substitute ghee 1:1 in place of vegetable oil when you bake; butter cannot be substituted in as simple a way.


Ingredients:   One pound, unsalted butter

  1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or butter muslin and place the sieve over a medium-sized bowl.
  2.  Put the butter in a heavy saucepan and warm it over a medium
    heat. When the butter begins to foam and splutter, lower the heat and allow
    it to simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. When it begins to brown around the
    edges, it¹s ready.
  3. Pour the hot mixture through the cheesecloth or butter muslin,
    and then discard the strained milk solids. What remains in the bowl is ghee.
  4. Store ghee covered, either in the refrigerator or at room
    temperature. As with butter, protecting it from light will preserve its
    flavor and keeps it fresher longer, for up to several months on the counter
    top or longer in the refrigerator.

Source:  Ellen Arian, ellensfoodandsoul.com


Reading Resources

  • Mary G. Enig, PhD, Know Your Fats
  • Udo Erasmus, Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill
  • Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking
  • Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods


  1. Fats and oils (triglycerides) and phospholipids (which contain a diglyceride molecule) are members of the lipid family.  Lipids repel water.  Traditional fats and oils are the raw materials that the body uses to construct cell membranes of proper permeability, which is an exacting science:  Cell membranes act as “intelligent” barriers between cells and the intercellular environment; and, they act as sentries for what passes in and out of cells.  The body needs an adequate supply of traditional fats to build cell membranes for proper function.  Transfats so cleverly mimic traditional fats that the body can be fooled into incorporating them into cell membranes, a factor linked to metabolic issues, obesity, cancer, and other chronic diseases. []
  2. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 181. []
  3. For a sense of the food industry’s manipulation and marketing of canola, see http://www.canolainfo.org/canola/index/php?page=7. []
  4. Fred Pescatore, MD, PPH, CCN, “The Science of Fats, Fatty Acids, and Edible Oils.” []

September/October 2013: Living with and Experimenting with Sourdough

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Living with and Experimenting with Sourdough (2)


I am just loving feeding, nurturing and using my sourdough starter.
Thank you, Carol, so much for introducing me to this wonderful form of baking

                                                                              …Judy Crawford, Martha’s Vineyard



I love caring for and working with sourdough.  In many ways, my sourdough culture has become my loyal pet now that our family dog and cat are no longer living.  My starter, made of flour and water, is a magical mixture of live yeasts and bacteria feeding on the flour’s starch.  It is fascinating to sense the presence of these invisible creatures that whoosh about in our everyday environment.  I see them at work every time I feed my starter with flour and water and then give it a vigorous stir.  Invisible, yet they leave a visible footprint of their labors:   After each feeding, my starter bubbles to life, rising higher and higher in its “keeping” jar, a tall two-quart canning jar that is now flour-encrusted from use.  To keep it vibrant, I feed my starter and bake with it often.   Baking sourdough bread and experimenting with sourdough in other recipes is a remarkable, whimsical, and endlessly fascinating science.


My fascination with the science and the art of sourdough baking led me last fall to write a newsletter that I called Reviving Culture.1   In that piece, I explored sourdough in its many aspects, including its science, health benefits, and many advantages compared to commercial yeast bread, while also offering a series of tested sourdough recipes.  But, at that time I left out an important piece of my research concerning sourdough’s positive, modulating impact on blood sugar—something that has important implications for the prevention of insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.   I felt then that my experimental results required more testing, and so now I want to share these results with you.


But first, a quick review of sourdough’s other many benefits…


Using sourdough in baking contributes to taste, texture, and extends shelf life.  Beyond curbing blood sugar reactions, our major focus, sourdough promotes good health in a variety of other ways:  Sourdough degrades the phytic acid found in the bran of whole grains which would otherwise block digestive enzymes (pepsin, amylase, and trypsin) and the absorption of the vital minerals found in grains such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.  Sourdough fermentation, like yogurt fermentation, also creates new nutrients—bacteria synthesize vitamins, including B12, while yeasts boost lysine, the limiting amino acid in grains, to help make sourdough bread a nearly complete protein.
Sourdough can also help alleviate digestive issues related to gluten intolerance by reducing gliadin and avenin, two culprits that elicit an immune response in all people.  And, sourdough supports gut health and immunity by slowing the fermentation of fiber; generating polysaccharides which contribute prebiotics; and feeding micro-flora in the intestinal wall.


The Power of Sourdough to Control and Sustain Blood Sugar


One of sourdough’s greatest selling points, and our subject here, is its ability to curb the blood sugar spike and insulin reaction— “metabolic stress”—often associated with the consumption of  carbohydrate-rich baked goods.  It is a well-documented fact that adding sourdough to the dry ingredients of a baked good and allowing these to soak for some hours before baking reduces the glycemic impact of flour.  The scientific reason that sourdough is able to do this is that lactobacilli in sourdough feed on the maltose in flour, producing lactic and acetic acids.  These acids then slow the rate at which starch is digested and assimilated (see Reviving Culture for complete discussion).


What is interesting from my research using a buckwheat muffin recipe to which I added varying amounts of sourdough (see Charts 1 and 2 and related comments on the page that follows) is that in all cases, my blood sugar peaked not at 30 minutes after consuming the test samples, but rather at 90 minutes…an entire hour later than what might be expected.   And, with an extreme ratio of sourdough used in buckwheat muffins, 75% sourdough and 25% buckwheat flour, my blood sugar (line 3, Chart 1) actually dipped initially after eating.  This is probably due to the modulating blood sugar effect not only of sourdough but also of the fat (coconut oil and egg) and protein (egg) in the recipe, since protein and fat also help blunt the blood sugar reaction to carbohydrates.  Note in line 5, Chart 2, for example, how spreading a fat like butter on a muffin will limit and delay the blood sugar reaction.   Incorporating sourdough, or protein or fat for that matter, helps curb and sustain blood sugar to spare the body from sending oodles of insulin to the rescue.  Charts 1 and 2 speak to the power of sourdough to modulate and yet sustain blood sugar; they illustrate in graphic form the satiety and feeling of satisfaction provided when sourdough is added to baked goods.


As mentioned earlier, when I did these experiments last fall, I felt that I should go a step further and test sourdough in isolation to try to confirm the timing of these results.  I wondered how my blood sugar might react on two separate mornings if, as the first morning meal , I tested sourdough starter baked as “bread” against a white “bread” made with the same type flour, with water and yeast added.  Granted, this is not my favorite breakfast, but it was worth giving the time on two mornings, pricking my fingers, and recording my blood sugar reading from a blood sugar monitor to try to answer this question.


Charts 1& 2 Sourdough


Chart 3 - Power of Sourdough to Cub Metabolic Stress

Testing Sourdough Versus White Bread.
  Chart 3 traces the results of my 100% Sourdough versus White Bread experiment.  Both tests were conducted using a fixed two-ounce serving of bread as the first meal after a 12-hour overnight fast.  As would be expected, my blood sugar peaked at 30 minutes (28 points above my starting blood sugar level) after eating White Bread.  And within two hours my blood sugar fell below the zero line (initial fasting level).  Presumably, in reaction to the excessive blood sugar caused by consuming a solitary carbohydrate, my body sent so much insulin to the rescue that my blood sugar then quickly fell below zero.


The White Bread graph in Chart 3 illustrates what can happen to our blood sugar when we do not take time for a well-balanced breakfast.  A carbohydrate breakfast on the run—perhaps a plain bagel, English muffin, or Pop Tart—might trace a similar graphic footprint:  The body would respond to a surge in blood glucose with a round of insulin; we would momentarily be energized, only to soon become light-headed and even hungrier than before eating the breakfast snack.


In contrast to the White Bread experience, the morning that I ate 100% Sourdough “bread,” my blood sugar rose slowly, smoothly, and gradually.  It peaked and leveled off between 90 and 120 minutes at a reading of 19, one-third below White Bread’s peak.  My blood sugar then slowly drifted lower, but it was sustained above its starting point for almost four hours, twice as long as for White Bread.


The test results for sourdough seem to underpin and support the results I first obtained last fall in my test of buckwheat muffins.  They also validate other tests I have conducted in the past with my artisanal sourdough bread.  Friends who eat my sourdough bread tell me they feel it sustains them throughout a busy morning.


I invite you to join in the fascination of keeping sourdough starter and to experiment by using it in your favorite recipes.  Several of my own recipes that follow will give you an idea of how you might incorporate sourdough into recipes.  You may want to test your recipes with a blood glucose monitor.   Or, then again, you might simply want to use sourdough for its advantages of taste, texture, long shelf-life, health benefits, and “staying power” and just enjoy how you feel!

Reading Resources:

  • November/December 2012:  Reviving Culture & the Health Benefits of Sourdough 
    • This newsletter includes ideas for purchasing, feeding, and/or growing your own sourdough from scratch.
  • May 2011:  Monitoring Metabolic Stress
    • This article explains blood sugar monitoring in greater detail and blood sugar reactions to a variety of foods, from soda on an empty stomach to balanced meals of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
  • Emily Buehler, Bread Science
  • Karel Kulp and Klaus Lorenz, Handbook of Dough Fermentations.
  • Sara Pitzer, Baking with Sourdough
  • Lisa Rayner, Wild Bread
  • Daniel Wing and Alan Scott, The Bread Builders:  Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens
  • Ed and Jean Wood, Classic Sourdoughs:  A Home Baker’s Handbook

Recipes for Baked Goods Incorporating Sourdough

Buckwheat Blueberry Muffins (or Squares)

  • ¾ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¾ cup stone ground whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • ½ t. salt
  • 6 T. honey or maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil or butter, melted
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1 cup dried wild blueberries, dusted with flour
  • And ½ cup chopped almonds.


  1. Mix the first four ingredients through water and allow to soak for 12 hours at room temperature.
  2. Add the baking powder and mix.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add the remaining wet ingredients through vanilla.
  4. Gently combine wet and dry ingredients.
  5. Fold in blueberries or other dried fruit and nuts.
  6. Pour batter into a 8 ½” square well-oiled baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees 25-30 minutes. Batter can be baked as muffins, reducing the baking time to about 20 minutes.


Gluten-Free Corn/Buckwheat Bread

Follow directions as above, but substitute cornmeal for whole wheat flour.


Sourdough Cornbread

  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup stone ground whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 t. sea salt


  1. Mix together the first four ingredients and let rest at room temperature, 6-8 hours
  2. Stir in baking powder.
  3. Add remaining ingredients
  4. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes.


Sweet Potato Sourdough Cornbread

Follow directions above but add 1 cup mashed sweet potato with Step 3.


Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Sourdough Cornbread with Pumpkin Seeds

Substitute brown rice flour for whole wheat flour. Add mashed sweet potato and pumpkin seeds at Step 3.

  1. See http://pathways4health.org/2012/10/22/novemberdecember-2012-reviving-culture-and-the-health-benefits-of-sourdough/ []

July/August 2013: Summer Shorts…Healing Reactions; Kuzu, a Medicinal Food

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Healing Reactions and Kuzu as a Medicinal Food(2)



“If the patient has been to more than four physicians, nutrition is probably the medical answer.”
…Abraham Hoffer, MD, PhD


Healing Reactions, On the Road to Better Health


Summer’s rich bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables together with its heat, humidity and more leisurely pace invite us each year to lighten up and adopt healthier habits. In summer, we naturally rotate away from heavy anabolic “build-up” foods such as animal proteins and fats to more catabolic, cleansing fruits and vegetables. We may also try giving up sugar or caffeine/coffee, replacing these with more sleep.1


Dietary changes give the body a chance for “housekeeping.” Cleansing foods allow the system to expel toxins and set healing in motion. But, healing often brings reactions, so when we launch into a healthier dietary or lifestyle program, we need to expect reactions and read them as positive signs of healing.
Far Eastern philosophy suggests that true healing requires reaction: Reactions signal the body’s attempts to discharge toxins, both physical and emotional, that stand in the way of healing. Giving up sugar, coffee, alcohol, dairy, meats or fats each has a set of associated reactions, outlined below.

Possible Symptoms
SugarFatigue, sleepiness, depression, lack of coordination, alienation1 to 5 days
CoffeeHeadaches, shakiness, nervousness1 to 10 days
AlcoholTension, inability to relax2 to 5 days or more depending on level prior consumption.
DairyMucus discharge through the skin, sinuses, mucous membranes, lungs, sex organsStarting up to 3 months after the food is stopped, for a year or two.
Meats, Fats, ProteinsFoul body odor, coated tongue,feelings of being toxic, skin eruptionsVaries: 1 to 4 weeks with fats; 6 to 10 months deeper accumulations.

Emotional and physical healing. Toxic experiences and traumas, perhaps dating to early childhood, also come with their own unique set of physical and emotional reactions; these are signs of a more prolonged and complex healing process. Healing reactions present an opportunity to go back through everything not previously resolved in life. Our body carries our personal history.


The nature of a reaction indicates what phase of life is being healed. Reactions feel similar to the original disease or emotional trauma but usually appear in a diminished form. If the reaction is an emotional discharge of anger, the feeling may remind a person of anger earlier in life, even though the present anger may be “caused” by different circumstances. Physical reactions are also reminders of former conditions: If chronic sore throats occurred during childhood, a healing reaction could involve one or two sore throats that eliminate any residues accumulated from the original infection(s).2


Types of Healing Reactions:3

  1.  Tension or pain in the upper back and neck, which may move upwards to the head, downward across the abdomen, arms, and legs, and eventually to the top of the head and to the toes and fingers. Pain may occur in the internal organs, particularly the liver, under the right side of the rib cage. Headache is also common.
  2. Vomiting, particularly bile or various types of mucus.
  3. Digestive imbalances: gas, cramps, diarrhea, constipation.
  4. General fatigue. Weakness, weight loss, sensations of cold and/or heat. Fever, chills, cough, minor hair loss.
  5. Heavy and prolonged sleep; occasional wild dreams.
  6. Possible discharges include boils, pimples, rashes, body odors, nasal and vaginal discharges, coating on the tongue. Mercury fillings may loosen and fall out.


Progressive Order of Healing


In true healing, symptoms of discharge follow a set progression. First outlined by Constantine Hering (1800-1880) and known as Hering’s Law of Cure, such symptoms are used to this day in the field of homeopathy. In a true case of healing, symptoms unfold in the following patterns:

  1. From the inside to the outside; internal heat or toxins can appear as rashes on the skin.
  2. From the upper part of the body to the lower extremities. Medications that affect the liver or kidneys can appear as redness or rashes on the legs or ankles.
  3. For chronic conditions, symptoms may appear in reverse order: Known as “retracing,” someone who in early childhood contracted chicken pox and later bronchitis may experience a period of coughing associated with bronchitis, and later a skin rash resembling chicken pox.
  4. Prior to a healing crisis, a person feels a sense of calm and centeredness.
  5. At a deep level, a person in a healing mode, despite symptoms, feels good.

If the summer season inspires you to make positive changes in your life, have patience, knowing that healing may bring a few ups and downs on the way to establishing a firmer foundation for better health.



Kuzu, for the Kitchen, the Medicine Chest, and the Suitcase


Kuzu, a strong and tenacious root, is highly-valued in Japan, where the powder from its root is used medicinally and in cooking to thicken soups, sauces, and desserts, much like corn starch or arrowroot.   Kuzu is known as kudzu in the United States, where we view it with mixed sentiments:  It thrives in the Southern States, where it is often viewed as a pesky, invasive, destructive menace, capable even of felling telephone poles!  At the same time, kudzu helps fix the soil to prevent erosion, while it also works as a natural fertilizer.  Wild kudzu requires no irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides, or care.  Kudzu is one of the hardiest plants one could imagine.  Cooking with kuzu powder allows us to capture some of the essence and strengthening powers of the kudzu root.  Kuzu, similar to most roots generally, has a downward/inward energy and nourishes and strengthens the digestive system. 

Kuzu powder (the form used in the recipes that follow) is processed from the root and available in most health food stores.   It is used in cooking and beverages.  While not widely available in the United States, kuzu in its natural root form is also used in the Far East to make healing teas.

Kuzu powder is highly alkalizing and is a wonderful antidote to overeating heavy, acid-forming foods.  It is also a great digestive aid.  Because the powder is derived from the tough kuzu root, it is strengthening, with a strong downward, inward energy, well-suited for the lower intestinal tract.  Kuzu is used to treat colds, flu, fevers, diarrhea, stomach upset, and hangovers.   By alkalizing the blood, kuzu is also used to clear the skin of rashes and minor acne.   And, rich in flavonoids, kuzu can be effective in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, treating chronic migraine headaches, and relieving acute pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders.  Kuzu’s ability to curb cravings for alcohol is validated by modern science, something that was known and used in Chinese medicine more than two thousand years ago.


Kuzu’s ability to relieve overeating, stomach upset, diarrhea, headache, and hangovers make it a perfect remedy to pack this summer if you have travel plans, or anytime in the future when you venture to foreign shores. It is also a handy mainstay in the kitchen, where it can be used in place of cornstarch as a thickening agent and to enhance the flavor of soups, sauces, and desserts. And, unlike cornstarch which thins as it cools, a sauce or dessert with kuzu will continue to thicken when taken from the stove.


Kuzu Recipes4


Kuzu Cream

This restorative tonic is most effective when taken about 1 hour before meals, preferably in the morning on an empty stomach.
1 ½ tablespoons crushed kuzu thoroughly dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1 umeboshi plum, pitted and minced, or 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste
½ teaspoon fresh ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze to extract juice)
1 teaspoon shoyu (optional)

  1. In a small enamel pan, place dissolved kuzu mixture. Add the umeboshi and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture begins to bubble around the edges, stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent.
  2. Gently simmer for 1 to 2 minutes longer and remove from the heat. Add the ginger juice and, if desired, shoyu to taste.


Apple Kuzu Drink

A good tonic for constipation and fevers and can be used to help calm hyperactive children. [Try making this by the quart, multiplying quantities by 4. It keeps well.]
1 cup organic apple juice
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 generous teaspoon crushed kuzu starch
1 to 2 tablespoons of water for dissolving kuzu

  1. Heat the apple juice and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from the heat.
  2. Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in water, add it to the juice while stirring, then return the saucepan to the burner. Stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent. Simmer 1 minute more, then remove from the heat.
  3. Let cool before serving.

Fruit Sauce

This is a light fruit dessert that can be eaten as is or used as a topping for puddings, cakes, pies, tarts, waffles, or pancakes. It will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

2 ½ cups sliced or whole fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, nectarines, pitted cherries)
1 cup organic apple juice
1/3-1/2 cup brown rice malt syrup (less for sweet fruits; more for tart ones)
Pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed kuzu starch

  1. Cut larger fruits into bite-size pieces. Small berries can be left whole.
  2. Combine the juice, rice syrup and salt in a saucepan. If cooking the fruit is recommended (see below), add it to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Remove from the heat.
  3. Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in 2 tablespoons of cool water and add to fruit mixture while stirring briskly. Place over medium-low heat and stir constantly until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.
  4. If using fruit that does not require cooking, place fruit in a ceramic or glass bowl and pour the hot liquid over it. Mix gently and cool in the refrigerator. If fruit is already mixed in, transfer contents of the pot to a bowl and cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.


Note: Delicate fruits like strawberries and raspberries should not be cooked. Ripe nectarines do not need cooking, but firmer fruits like blueberries, cherries and apples should be simmered with the juice.


Reading Resources:


John and Jan Belleme, Japanese Foods that Heal
Annemarie Colbin, PhD, Food and Healing
Mary Enig, Know Your Fats
Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods
William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi, The Book of Kudzu
Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia


Copyright 2013, Pathways4Health.org

  1. For an excellent piece on sleep, see, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/cheating-ourselves-of-sleep/?hpw []
  2. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 106-7. []
  3. Pitchford, Annemarie Colbin, PhD, Food and Healing, 216-19. []
  4. From Japanese Foods that Heal. []

May/June 2013: Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease.


“For the cells of the body to continue living, there is one major requirement:  the composition of the body fluids that bathe the outside of the cells must be controlled very exactly from moment to moment and day to day, with no single important constituent ever varying more than a few percent.  Indeed, cells can live even after being removed from the body if they are placed in a fluid bath that contains the same constituents and has the same physical conditions as those of the body fluids.”

… Arthur Guyton, M.D., Function of the Human Body, 1959


The body is constantly striving toward balance.  When we eat, breathe, walk, talk, jog, bend over, laugh, or simply sit and do nothing, the body is at work making hundreds of thousands of adjustments to maintain homeostasis.  Our system fine-tunes to keep a host of factors, including body temperature, blood glucose, and the oxygen levels of the blood within safe ranges.    For good health, the body must also maintain the blood and extracellular body fluids in a slightly alkaline range, a pH between 7.35 and 7.45, where a pH of 7 is considered neutral.


Maintaining a slightly alkaline condition is important for good health, but consuming alkalizing foods to balance those that are acid-forming does not come naturally to most of us.   I believe three key factors are to blame:


First, we naturally favor acid-forming foods because they taste good to us.  Acid-forming foods are generally those that have a sweet or bland taste, such as sugar, refined-flour baked goods, grains, and animal products.  In contrast, alkalizing foods tend to be bitter, sour, or pungent, foods like dark leafy greens, lemons, radishes and onions.  Our taste preference for sweet is nothing new.   Nature programmed us to like “sweet” as a self-protection pointing us to safer foods in the environment, since sweet foods are generally non-poisonous.


Second, cheap, convenience foods and fast foods—sugar, refined flour products, and fried foods—which are largely acid-forming, are everywhere.  Beyond convenience foods, we must also add the factor lifestyle—our “grab-and-go,” “grab-on-the-go” hurried living undermines home cooking, particularly the preparation of alkalizing foods like dark leafy greens and other plant-based alkalizing foods.


Third, because the brain runs on glucose and because our lives are over-filled with stresses and overthinking, we often find ourselves running around on “empty.”  When we “hit the wall,” we crave sugar and refined carbohydrates as a stop-gap to stoke and appease our brain cells to keep them working for us despite fatigue and stress.


To consume sufficient alkalizing foods in today’s world requires a conscious and conscientious effort. But, once we understand the role that alkalizing foods can play to prevent over-acidic blood conditions, a factor that is linked to chronic disease, it is easier to make such a commitment.


Prevention and Self-Healing


CaduceusDating back to Ancient Egypt and later Early Greece—well before the days of antibiotics and modern suppressive drugs—good health was based upon a balance of two dualities, intervention and natural healing.  Until modern times, doctor and patient worked together, with both playing a vital role in the patient’s healing journey.   Today, however, because of the seeming power of modern miracle drugs to address most ills in the short-term, we have largely forgotten the caduceus’ intended message regarding the dual role of patient and practitioner.  We now take the caduceus simply as the “logo” of modern medicine.   Perhaps, the discussion that follows concerning acid/alkaline foods will be an inspiration for us to take back the ball and run with it when there are ways for us to complement modern medicine.  There is much we can do to support our own health.  Taking action is itself a positive when it empowers.  In the end, we control what we eat and how we live, which means that we have the power to prevent our blood and extracellular fluids from being in an over-acidic condition.


“…to be healthy our body fluid must be kept at an alkaline level (pH 7.4), we must re-supply the lost alkaline elements through the foods we eat.                              ….Herman Aihara


The Potential Role of Acidity in Chronic Disease:  Bernard and Bechamp ‘s “Milieu Interieur” vs. Pasteur’s “Germ Theory”


The 19th century French physiologist Claude Bernard first developed the concept of the “milieu interieur,” that the internal environment nourishing cells was vital for their proper functioning.  [Bernard’s theory was a precursor of Walter Cannon’s 20th century concept, homeostasis.]


Living at the same time as Bernard and formulating a more extensive hypothesis, French chemist Antoine Bechamp believed that even though we live in a world of viruses and bacteria, disease cannot take hold in a healthy person who eats well and leads a healthy lifestyle:


“Bacteria and parasites cannot cause and instigate inflammation and other disease unless they find their own particular morbid soil in which to feed, grow, and multiply.”  The “morbid terrain” necessary for microzymes to breed and multiply as harmful bacteria is a result of poor diet and lifestyle factors that go against nature’s laws.1


Bechamp successfully conducted research to support this hypothesis—that preventable disease is the result of diseased tissues, “morbid terrain,” acting as an accommodating host for harmful bacteria and viruses.  Bechamp believed that disease springs from an extracellular environment that is acid and oxygen-deficient, something that results from an acid-forming diet and unhealthy lifestyle.    


Pasteur, a contemporary and 19th century rival of Bechamp, apparently borrowed ideas from Bechamp to develop his “germ” theory, the view that germs “attack” a healthy body to cause disease.  Pasteur’s theory triumphed over Bechamp’s.  Germ theory was championed by pharmaceutical companies who could reap profits by creating patented synthetic drugs to fight germs.  Germ theory also appealed to the medical profession (and perhaps the public, too) because it assigned an active role to doctors in being able to point to and fight a specific enemy—germs—while it allowed patients to relinquish/sidestep responsibility for their own health.


While Bechamp’s theories—self-help strategies involving alkalizing foods and a healthy lifestyle—were never the kind to gain the support of moneyed constituencies and mainstream thinking (since fruits and vegetables cannot be patented to reap profits like synthetic drugs), Bechamp’s ideas still have value.  As we explore acid-/alkaline-forming foods in the discussion that follows, let’s hold in our mind the concept of “milieu interieur,” and the potential positives that foods and lifestyle can have in helping us maintain a healthy acid/alkaline balance throughout.


Understanding Acid/Alkaline


Water is a powerful solvent; it can take into it most minerals essential to life—think, for example, of the many minerals and trace minerals, some 80 now known, contained in sea water.  One of the chief characteristics of water is ionization.  Water holds atoms in suspension and facilitates chemical reactions whereby ions, atoms that have an unequal number of protons and electrons, seek stability by exchanging electrons, either stealing from or donating to a neighbor.


Blood and extracellular body fluids, largely composed of H2O, are the medium of the myriad ongoing chemical reactions that take place in the body to preserve homeostasis and sustain life.   The body must keep the pH of the blood plasma within a tight range, between 7.35 and 7.45.  In the words of Walter Cannon, who in the early 20th century originated the concept of homeostasis,


“It is of the greatest importance to the existence and proper action of the cells that the blood shall not vary to a noteworthy degree either in the acid or the alkaline direction.”2


Any deviation from this 7.35-7.45 range causes death:  An acid pH of 6.95 triggers diabetic coma and death, while an alkaline pH of 7.7 triggers tetanic convulsions, leading to death.  Acidic conditions slow the heartbeat while alkaline ones have the opposite effect.3


What is pH?  Measures of pH are based on the acidity or alkalinity of fluids.  Acids are chemical compounds containing an excess of hydrogen ions with the ability to donate positively charged hydrogen ions (H+) to a chemical reaction.  Alkalis (bases), in contrast, hold a surplus of hydroxyl ions (OH-) and stand ready to donate electrons; thus, they are able to neutralize acid solutions and acidic conditions.  When alkalis relinquish electrons, acids that can be harmful to the body, particularly the kidneys, liver, and large intestine are neutralized:  alkalis (carbonic salts in form of the mineral compounds sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium) join with acids (usually sulfuric, phosphoric, acetic, lactic) to transform corrosive elements into benign water, carbon dioxide, and neutral salts.


Measuring pH.  The acidity or alkalinity of a solution is measured by pH, an exponential calibration, and a term that by convention is based on the number of hydrogen ions (H+) in solution, although in any solution, hydroxyl ions (HO-) are also present.  For example, water in an ideal state is neutral with a pH of 7, indicating that it contains an equal number of hydrogen and hydroxyl ions.  A reading below pH 7 indicates a greater concentration of hydrogen ions relative to hydroxyl ions; for any reading above pH 7, the opposite is true.  In reality, any solution contains both hydrogen and hydroxyl ions.  Whether we label a solution acid or alkaline is really a relative concept, determined by which set of ions, H+ or HO-, has the upper hand.



As an ideal, a pH of 7 indicates that in distilled water held at 22 C degrees, there is one gram of hydrogen ions (H+) as well as one gram of hydroxyl ions (OH-) for every 10,000,000 liters of water:  the hydrogen concentration is one ten-millionth or 1/10,000,000, or 10 to the negative 7th power, a pH of 7.  Similarly, pH 6 would indicate one gram of hydrogen ions for every 1,000,000 liters of water, and so on, following exponentially.


As indicated by the Acid/Alkaline chart above, stomach acid has a pH of around 1.5.  It is highly corrosive, with a heavy concentration of hydrogen scavenger ions relative to hydroxyl donors.   Its 1.5 pH means that it has a powerful 1.5 grams of H+ per 10 liters of water.


Moving up the pH scale, hydroxyl ions (H0-) begin to dominate.  At pH 12, hydrogen ions are greatly diluted, with only one gram of hydrogen ions to 1,000,000,000,000 liters of water.


The key idea is that readings below pH 7 indicate exponentially greater acid conditions, whereby hydrogen ions, H+, “scavenger” about to try to capture missing electrons.  In contrast, readings above pH 7 suggest alkalinity—a condition where hydroxyl ions, potential electron donors, dominate.  A pH above 7 means hydroxyl ions stand ready to neutralize acid conditions.  (See Appendix, p. 8, for more illustrations)


What we want to remember is that alkalis help neutralize corrosive acids that are created by exercise or when the body metabolizes acid-forming foods.  Alkalis turn toxic body wastes into harmless H2O + CO2 + Neutral Salts so that they can be safely excreted.  The body will do this, using either the minerals we supply to it by deep breathing or the alkalizing foods that we eat every day, or by tapping into our body’s minerals stores.  The latter results in an over-acidic condition that can with time foster chronic diseases like osteoporosis, inflammation, and cancer.


How pH can help guide our food choices.  We don’t have to understand the intricacies of pH as along as we roughly understand the difference between acid-forming and alkalizing foods.  Yet, this itself is tricky:  acid tasting foods like limes are, in fact, highly alkalizing to the body.  This is because, when metabolized, they leave behind a mineral residue that is alkalizing; the body can then use these minerals to neutralize acids.  Likewise, bland/sweet foods that do not taste acidic, like grains, proteins and sugars, tend to be highly acid-forming because they contain sulfur and phosphorus and leave end products sulfuric and phosphoric acids that must neutralized by minerals before they can be safely expelled.


Acid-Forming Elements:                                                                 Alkalizing Elements:4

Sulfur; Phosphorus; Chlorine, Iodine                                          Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron


Table of Acid/Alkaline

Acid-Forming and Alkalizing Foods


Fruits and vegetables, rich in minerals, as alkalizing foods. Fruits and vegetables are alkalizing because their organic acids contain minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.  When their organic acids are oxidized, they are converted to carbon dioxide and water and leave behind alkalizing elements, such as Na, K, Ca, and Mg.  The body can then use these to help neutralize acid-forming foods, like sugar, animal products, and refined grains.


Proteins and grains, high in sulfur and phosphorus, as acid-forming foods.  As noted above, most protein foods and grains are acid-forming because they contain phosphorus and sulfur, which when metabolized produce phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid.  Fats and carbohydrates produce acetic and lactic acids.  These acids are also toxic and need to be neutralized (converted to carbon dioxide, water, and neutral salts) before they can be excreted by the kidneys and/or the large intestine.


pH  and physical activity and respiration.  Apart from food, our daily activity also influences the pH of our blood and extracellular fluids.   Exercise creates the end products lactic acid and carbon dioxide (carbonic acid), acidic conditions in the blood and body fluids.  Exercise, therefore, also demands alkalizing foods—fruits and vegetables—that are rich sources of Na, Ca, Mg, and K to help neutralize these acids.  An athlete will require more alkalizing foods than someone who is more sedentary.


Deep and prolonged breathing is also a good way to alkalize the body:  Deep breathing reduces the carbon dioxide in the lungs.  The lungs then pull carbon dioxide from the blood, thus helping to alkalize the system.  The deep breathing that we naturally do in vigorous exercise provides some alkalizing offset to the acid condition caused by exercise.


How do you know if your system is over-acidic?  You can purchase litmus paper, available at most drug stores, and test your saliva upon waking, but the easiest way is simply to pay attention to how your mouth feels, especially when you first wake in the morning.  If you wake with a sour, dry, “cotton” mouth, take this as a sign of over-acidity.  We easily feel this way after late-night partying.  Shrimp, steak, and alcohol are highly acid-forming foods, which is why we naturally head for a tall, alkalizing glass of orange juice the morning following a long night out.  Or, why bacon and eggs (acid-forming) demand orange juice; and why eggs and steak (acid-forming) demand alkalizing seasalt (see table above).


Balancing acid/alkaline to meet your personal requirements.  As noted above, people who exercise vigorously require more alkalizing foods than individuals who are more sedentary.  An Olympic athlete in training might require a ratio of alkalizing:acid-forming foods of perhaps 4:1.  The same might be true of someone fighting cancer or other chronic disease conditions.  For many people who are generally healthy and moderately active, a reasonable ratio might be closer to 2:1 or even parity.


Reading Resources


Herman Aihara, Acid & Alkaline

Dr. Susan Brown, Larry Trivieri, Jr., The Acid Alkaline Food Guide

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing

Dr. Henry Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics


Alkalizing Recipes


These are particularly helpful for people suffering from cancer and joint issues, and other chronic conditions that are linked to over-acidic blood conditions.


Bieler Broth

Bieler broth is a wonderful, nurturing and calming food that has been used by holistic doctors for fasting.  It helps to nourish and de-acidify the system and can be enjoyed in limitless amounts.


Choose a combination of equal amounts of the following vegetables:

  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Spinach
  • Parsley

Place vegetables in a steaming basket and cover the pot with enough water so that it does not boil dry, but not enough to cover any of the vegetables.  Bring water to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.  Check vegetables with a fork periodically to be sure that they are still “crunchy.”  Steaming will take a few minutes.  Place vegetables and the steaming water into a blender and puree.  Add any favorite fresh or dried herbs to enhance the flavor of the broth.


Or, if you have a sensitive digestive system and do better with foods that are well-cooked, place the above fresh vegetables in a soup pot with a significant amount of water.  Add any of your favorite fresh or dried herbs to enhance the flavor of your soup.  Bring this to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 40-60 minutes.  Drain and keep the broth, discarding the vegetables, which have lost their nutrients to the broth.  Store broth in the refrigerator 2-3 days or freeze it for later use.



Gerson Alkaline Broth

This recipe can be made in a slow cooker.  It is an excellent diuretic.  The vegetables can also be eaten.

  • 3 stalks celery or bok choy
  • Parsley
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 large onion or 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 6 organic unpeeled potatoes

Cover vegetables with water and cook until the broth has a rich flavor.  Strain and drink hot or cold.


Appendix:  The Simple Mathematics of pH




pH 7 =  1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 10,000,000 liters of distilled water @ 22 C degrees


pH 6 =  1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 1,000,000 liters of distilled water


pH 5 = 1 gram H+ per 100,000 liters of distilled water


pH 1.5, stomach acid = 1 gram H+ per 10 liters of water


Fluids become exponentially reactive and corrosive as pH numbers become smaller.

pH 8 = 1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 100,000,000 liters of distilled water.  The hydroxyl ions

(HO-) begin to dominate, as fluids become more alkaline


pH 12, baking soda is extremely alkalizing, with 1 gram hydrogen ions per 1,000,000,000,000

liters of water.


Fluids become increasingly alkaline as pH values rise above pH 7, which is neutral.  Reactive hydrogen ions are increasingly diluted and outnumbered by hydroxyl electron donor ions.





H+                                                                                                                                                                                         H0-


“Hungry” Hydrogen Ions, Missing Electrons                                             Hydroxl Ions, Surplus Electrons, Donors


pH 1 = 1 gram H+/10 liters water                                             pH 12 = 1 gram H+/1,000,000,000,000 liters water


Acid, Corrosive                                                                                                                                     Alkaline, Neutralizing




Acid-Forming Foods…Sweet, Bland Foods                           Alkalizing Foods…Bitter, Sour, Pungent

Sugar                                                                                                           Leafy Greens

Alcohol                                                                                                       Fruits, Citrus, Melons

Meat                                                                                                            Vegetables

Grains                                                                                                         Seaweeds




Acidic and Alkaline Foods

  1. See Dr. Henry Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics. []
  2. Aihara, 9. []
  3. Walter B. Cannon, The Wisdom of the Body, qtd. in Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing, 75. []
  4. Aihara, 24. []

March/April 2013: Weight Wellness

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Weight Wellness.


“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”  …Mark Twain


My friend Nicole Barlett, who is the school nurse at the Edgartown School, recently asked me to share some thoughts with her Biggest Losers weight loss group.  I jumped at the opportunity, thinking how much fun this would be.  We could talk about sugar; fats and metabolism; expansive/contractive foods and how stress, which is contractive and activates fat storage hormones, works against weight loss.  I could pack up my long stalk of sugar cane, a few diagrams and be set to go.


But, the more I thought about weight loss, the more I felt that topics like sugar and fats were too specific and miss the bigger picture.  Isn’t the goal wellness, not weight?  And, isn’t the means to this end healthy habits and lasting change that grow not from a prescribed diet, but from a process that takes root from within?   Don’t we seek to find our own unique weight “set point” where we feel vibrant and eager to carry out our life’s work, a place where we waste no mental energy thinking about dieting and the number on the scale?


I have never written a newsletter on weight loss, partly because finding a comfortable weight is a personal journey.  A healthy weight varies with body type, bone structure, and other genetic factors.  It is also complicated by stress and lifestyle issues that at different phases of life can work against weight loss and the desire and ability to alter habits in a sustainable way.  At difficult times of life, when stress is too great and when we may not have an adequate network of supportive family and friends, trying to lose weight can be overwhelming and self-defeating.   Because of mind/body emotional feedback loops, discussed later in this newsletter, the last thing we need to do is to beat up on ourselves, something that can send us straight away to the kitchen in search of comfort food.


Also, weight, the number on the scale, is only one input and does not address the greater issue of wellness.  Once we have found a comfortable weight where we feel healthy and energized, a scale can keep us on track, encouraging us to make small mid-course corrections involving food and exercise so that we never think of dieting again, but a scale can also be depressing if we “do everything right,” only then to find that we have jumped up a few pounds.  Because wholesome fruits and vegetables, as well as fermented foods, help the body retain fluids, the scale may not instantly reward healthy eating habits.  The same is true over time if we build muscle by lifting weights, since muscle weighs more than fat.


Obviously, weight is a complex topic, not suited to simple prescriptions or magic formulas.  But I believe we each can move to a good place that feels right for ourselves if we make wellness rather than weight our “north star.”  A sensible focus on eating real food for vitality and strength, with adequate exercise, sleep, and emotionally-fulfilling activities are the cornerstones of sustained good health and healthy weight maintenance.   If there are two specific ideas that I believe can be helpful in any weight-wellness journey they would be to:

  • Crowd out empty calories with whole foods.  Commercially refined/processed/fractured foods enriched with “taste-too-good” food additives pack on weight and fail to satisfy.  They lie outside any evolutionary process or norm.  Shifting, at least in gradual steps over time, to nutrient-dense whole foods can cause processed foods and snack foods to lose their luster.   Whole foods are balanced; they satisfy, eliminate cravings, and often alter taste preferences in an enduring way.  Plants; whole plant foods; animal products from free-range, humanely-raised animals; and people are all part of the same system of life, the same “ground of all being.”
  • Crowd out food with other activities that nourish the emotions and spirit.  It is easy to forget that food is more than just crunch, nutrients, and calories.  Emotional factors surround food, something that relates to the way nature built the human body, with multiple feedback loops between the head-brain and the gut-brain.  When we feel sad, lonely, angry, or bored, it is easy to try to fill the void or muffle our emotions by turning to food.  Eating food registers in the reward centers of our gut-brain, helping temporarily to lift our spirits.  Once we appreciate this mechanism, it is easier to recognize this chain of events and alter habits by substituting other emotional pleasures in the place of empty calories.


Concept One:  Crowd Out Fractured, Processed Foods with Whole Foods that Satisfy


What is a whole food?   A whole food is a food that grows in nature, with nothing added or subtracted—a food that is just itself, no more, no lessa food that is not altered, that comes packaged by nature with all its protein, carbohydrates, and fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, water, and fiber to support our health.  All these ingredients work together synergistically as a system to nourish the body in ways that defy the scientific microscope.


Whole foods are designed to be consumed with all the edible parts as perfectly balanced nourishment for the human body, which is also a system. Let’s think about the body for a moment.  It is a macro-system made up of many independent micro-systems all working together for our benefit.  We have a circulatory system, a digestive system, an immune system, to name a few…and they all work together to support our health.


And what is a system?  It is any group or entity that is designed to function with all its vital parts. Cars, computers, televisions, and cell phones are systems.  Every part is essential to the whole…remove a chip, a wire, or a connection and these no longer work properly.  Groups of people working together are also systems—doctors and technicians in an operating room; the cast and production crew of a Broadway musical; and any group playing competitive sports.  When one part is missing, the system is compromised.  When a part is added or subtracted, behavior changes, often in unpredictable ways.


As systems ourselves, we are genetically programmed to consume foods in their whole form, with their vital energy intact.  We have been eating whole foods for the last 42,000 years.  And, over thousands of years, we have evolved just the right software to digest and assimilate whole foods made according to nature’s blueprint.   In contrast, manufactured foods, with ingredients that are added and subtracted, change the dynamics of a food in ways that are hard to predict.


Behavior of non-food systems when components are altered.  First, let’s add something to a system and see what happens.  If we consider the flow of traffic on a typical super highway—drivers behaving as a system according to certain rules of the road, while some motorists speed along their way.  We all know what happens to driver behavior when a state trooper appears.  Here, behavior is predictable… drivers slow down and check in with their speedometer.


Families are also systems, of course.  When we add or subtract a member, the dynamics change.   I have a friend in Boston with five children and a Vermont ski house that the family uses on weekends.  His trick to raise the family behavior a notch or two is to allow, on a rotating basis, each child to invite a friend.  Inserting a non-family friend into the mix is an investment in good behavior by all.


Now, let’s think of subtracting something from a system.  In ice hockey, what happens to team strategy when a player is sent to the penalty box—play is compromised and the team suffers.   Or, let’s take a different example.  What about a classroom of young students, when a teacher momentarily steps away?  We can be sure that student behavior will change— this time in unpredictable ways.


Implications for foods  when they are fractured, supplemented with chemical additives, or genetically altered.  Of course, the idea to take away is that when we fracture foods or add synthetic ingredients or alter genes, we cannot predict the outcome for the body.  Manipulated foods have not stood the test of time.  When we eat fractured, artificial foods with added and subtracted ingredients, we simply cannot know all the ways that we might be compromising our system.  Examining food under the microscope cannot fully predict how fractured foods, food additives, or genetically modified foods will affect the body over the life span.    Inserting artificial/synthetic food additives to fractured foods in an attempt to make them more palatable  can set off a cascade of untoward change.


Unlike commercial, fractured foods, natural whole foods have water, fiber, macro- and micro-nutrients, that satisfy, so we eat less.  How foods are packaged in nature gives us important clues about the way nature intended for them to be consumed.  Let’s take 3 examples:

  • Carrots versus carrot juice.1  Four or five carrots are necessary to make a glass of carrot juice.  Juicing strips away the fiber and the crunch, and the satisfaction from chewing.   When we down  juice in a quick sitting, the body never has a chance to feel the satiety derived when we consume carrots in their whole form.   And, drinking the juice can send us in search of a bag of chips to satisfy the crunch that is missing.  How many carrots would we eat if, instead of juice, we ate the carrots in their whole form?
  • Sugar cane versus refined sugar.  Nature gave us sugar cane, a sweet treat packaged with water and micro-nutrients encased in a tough band of fiber.  Complicated, capital-intensive processing and refining equipment is needed to strip away 99% of what makes sugar cane—mostly fiber (nature’s safeguard designed so that we do not eat too much), as well as water and macronutrients—leaving behind the pure chemical we call sugar.   It takes one foot of sugar cane to make one tablespoon of sugar, something we might easily consume with our breakfast coffee and cereal; and another three feet to sweeten the can of soda we might drink later over the course of the day.  Sugar is the most fractured food in common use.  It is dehydrating, upsets metabolism, and sets up cravings for its missing nutrients.
  • Walnuts in the shell versus commercially-packaged nutmeats.  As a child, I had to crack walnuts for my mother, something that made me wonder why she insisted on adding them to her brownies and cookies.  Today, purchasing bags of nutmeats at the super market is quick, easy, and inexpensive.  Eaten from the bag, as my family likes to do, nuts are easy to over-consume (in excess, they can burden the liver).

The difference between whole foods as systems versus fractured foods is really this:  When we fracture foods, we destroy the natural balance, we remove the inherent safeguards designed to protect us from mindless over-consumption, and we set up cravings as our body looks for the missing ingredients—ingredients that it is programmed to expect.


Also, convenience processing methods remove the life force energy of foods, as well as many of nature’s efforts to package nutrition in ways that satisfy us.  The ease with which we can purchase processed foods, with little effort and connection to plants and animals, plays a role in our present obesity/diabetes problem.  Manufactured, fractured foods also disconnect us from the food chain and the sense of awe and gratitude of our forebears whose livelihood and existence depended upon a close connection with plant and animal life.


Concept Two:  The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and Head-Brain Pleasure Centers Can Be Satisfied in Ways that Do Not Rely Upon Food.


“If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution”…author unknown


The enteric nervous system, the “gut-brain” is found in the mucosal lining of the digestive system, between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach, and the small and large intestines.  It is a complex network of neurons and neurochemicals that sense and control events in the digestive tract.  The ENS can read and respond to sensory inputs from other parts of the body, including the brain.  There are over one hundred million nerve cells in the gut-brain—as many as are found in the spinal cord.  More than the head-brain, it is the gut-brain, with its feedback loops to the brain,that helps set our food preferences, while it also controls how we digest and assimilate nutrients.


The head-brain and the gut-brain talk with each other:  Both the brain and the entire lining of the digestive tract contain cells that produce and receive neuropeptides and neurochemicals (such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine), as well as many hormones and chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins—chemicals that translate feelings of joy, satisfaction, pleasure and well-being.2 Because endorphins in the gut communicate with reward centers of the brain, we derive pleasure from eating. Mirand, pls. insert Detail to right, with fewer labels, to be discussed.  J


VilliDigestive Tract


Concept Three:  The ENS and Mind/Body Feedbacks Can Undermine Attempts to Diet and Lose Weight, Especially If These Efforts Are Accompanied by Feelings of Denial and Guilt.


Through the brain, spinal cord, and ENS, the Mind/Spirit and the Body communicate in continuous feedback loops.  We can choose to use this concept either to benefit our health, or to work against it.


Race Tract


If we wish to improve our well-being, we can choose any positive activity or mindset, any point on this continuum to enhance our present condition:  Anything that we do to lift and improve our body—through sunshine and fresh air, exercise, whole foods—can feed back to improving our mood and mental outlook.  Likewise, anything that lifts our spirits and fills the empty spaces in our lives—nature, loved ones, gratification from helping others, gratitude, spiritual practices, laughing, music, artistic endeavors, working with plants or animals—can have a positive effect upon our body chemistry and fill us up so that we are less likely to turn to food.


By the same token, and in a negative way, denial and guilt—the mind/spirit beating up on the body through destructive neurochemical messages—can backfire.  These feelings can send us to the refrigerator in search of food in an attempt to drown out our own verbal abuse and brow-beating.  [See Appendix:  Triggers to Overeating.]    The mind/body model can serve as an ever-present reminder of the potential negatives associated with self-deprecation, denial and guilt.


Denial:  When we deny ourselves “forbidden fruits,” they often grow ever larger in our mind and cravings.  Thankfully, when we shift to eating more and more whole, nutrient-dense foods the feeling of denial fades into the background.  Over time, a hot fudge sundae and a Snickers candy bar lose their appeal, and sugar and other denatured “treats” no longer loom as great temptations.


Guilt:  We all make food mistakes.   We can be grateful that our body talks to us, providing feedback to help us change.  It is pointless to overlay the fallout from mistakes with an added feeling of guilt; our body and our emotions have already paid the price to right themselves.  If we want to blame someone, perhaps it should be Big Food.  When we overeat, we may simply be the victim of the food industry which engineers foods with just the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt—“too-good-to-be-true” food—that sets up cravings for more.


Food mistakes:   We all make these, in varying ways and by varying degrees.  Mistakes are lessons,   nothing more, nothing less.  All we have to do is pay attention to how we feel so that we can hope to do better the next time.  To avoid negative chemical reasons from mind/body feedbacks, try to resist charging these episodes with emotional layers and self-flagellation.


“Most men occasionally stumble over the Truth, but most pick themselves up

and continue on as if nothing had happened.”      …Winston Churchill


Dieting:  A lot of energy and angst can go into dieting.  Dieting can lead to disappointment and negative feelings, which can set off more over-eating.  On the positive side, dieting can offer a quick-start if the goal is to change habits for the long-term, but the bedrock of sustained weight loss is a program centered on real foods; exercise that you enjoy; chewing and taking pleasure in food; flexibility, which allows for splurges; and patience and forgiveness.  Good food and “preventative cooking and eating” (discussed below) go a long way over time to help us find a comfortable weight where we are happy, healthy, productive, and think little about the scale…


Don’t go out of your weigh to please anyone but yourself”…author unknown.


Chewing:  One of the best ways to lose weight and prevent overeating is to chew every bite 30 times.  It is also one of the best antidotes to a feeling of denial.


Sleep:   Sleep is critical to a strong immune system, to prevent cravings for carbohydrates and stimulants, and for hormonal balance (particularly cortisol, which is associated with belly fat).   Adequate sleep is a powerful tool for weight loss and/or healthy weight maintenance.


Stress:  Chronic stress and stress-related hormones like cortisol are linked to belly fat.  Try to put a margin of time in each day for the unforeseen and allow yourself time to decompress.


Scales:  We can use a scale as a good way to check in with ourselves, but it will never tell us how healthy we are or the status of our belly fat (belly fat is important because it is linked to chronic disease).  When we eat nutrient-dense whole foods and exercise in whatever ways make us happy and feel good, the body takes care of the rest, especially if we avoid feelings of guilt and self-deprecation.


Supportive Networks:  Share meals and exercise with people who support your healthy food/exercise goals.  A network that does not support your efforts can quickly undermine resolve and good intentions.


Gauging Satiety:  Alcohol, juicing, or daytime fasting to save up for a big evening meal can prevent us from gauging how much food we really do need.   By consuming enough nutrition early in the day when digestive fire is at its best, we honor our body’s natural clock and support body chemistry.


Flexibility:   Try not to lock yourself into rigid rules and declarations.  Grand dieting pronouncements might be off-putting to friends who have chosen different paths.   Perhaps more importantly, each one of us has physical needs and taste preferences that may change over the years.  A strict vegetarian, for example, may feel fit and fine for a time, but might someday want to incorporate traditional animal fats and easy-to-assimilate animal proteins for a more well-rounded approach to good health.  Any strict diet—Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, etc.—can lock us in and, when we veer off course, make us feel we have failed, when, in fact, we may simply be honoring our body’s natural cravings for balance and missing essential nutrients.


If you are trying to eliminate something like coffee or sugar, you may need to be strict for a period of time to get your body to the point that it no longer has cravings.  Later on, when your tastes have changed and your body is in a different place, a little sugar or coffee can be handled on occasion.


Preventive eating:  When you crowd out unhealthy temptations with nutrient-dense calories, you are on your way.  I call this “preventive eating.”  Eat a hard-boiled egg or similar sustaining snack before you go to a cocktail party/dinner.  It will satisfy you so that you can better gauge how much food and drink you really need.  Go to social events to be filled with good times and fun with friends, making food and drinks a side dish.


Preventive cooking:  Preventive eating is rooted in “preventive cooking,”—cooking in advance so you have plenty of healthy snacks on hand and foods that can be combined quickly into meals in five minutes or less.   Planning is the most important part of this strategy.  Then shop and cook when you have windows of time, choosing to prepare foods that require little supervision.


In conclusion, the ultimate test is to ask ourselves how we feel.   Do we have energy to carry out our life’s work while having fun along the way?  Attention to our waist might be better placed on our waste and on our environmental footprint.  Trying to shrink our footprint for the benefit of future generations can be empowering; it can make us feel good; and in its tracks, we may find that weight loss is a hidden benefit.

When we switch from counting calories and obsessing about weight to preserving our health and the health of the planet, we have won a battle.


Reading Resources:

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing; and

Wholistic Nutrition:  From Biochemistry to Chaos, Complexity, and Quantum Physics–Applying

Some Concepts from Contemporary Science to a New Understanding of How Food Affects Health.


Appendix:  Triggers to Overeating


Food/Physical Factors:

  • Too many fractured foods
  • Too many refined carbohydrates
  • Too much sugar
  • Too many sweetened drinks
  • Too many diet drinks; artificial sweeteners
  • Too much MSG; “natural flavorings” and food additives
  • Too much mental activity; too much thinking (the brain runs on glucose)
  • Juicing ; Late-night eating; alcohol (the body cannot gauge satiety)
  • Too much protein (requires expansive sugars to boost energy)
  • Not enough calories
  • Not enough nutrients
  • Not enough protein
  • Not enough healthy fats
  • Not enough complex carbohydrates
  • Not enough water
  • Not enough fiber
  • Not enough chewing
  • Not enough exercise
  • Not enough sleep (sets up cravings for carbohydrates)
  • Mindless eating; eating on the run; eating in front of screens

Emotional/Lifestyle Factors:

  • Too much stress; too little relaxation
  • Taking on too much; or too little
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Anger and frustration
  • Guilt/self-blame/self-hatred
  • Lack of connection/loneliness/boredom
  • Too little gratitude
  1. Example from Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., to whom I am also indebted for the mind/body diagram; the concept of dieting and guilt; as well as food mistakes as neutral information. []
  2. See the work of Marc David; J. Furness and J. Bornstein; T.E. Adrian and S. R. Bloom, as well as Michael Gerson’s The Second Brain. []

January/February 2013: New Year’s and Growing… Older… Better

To read this newsletter in an easy pdf format, click here to download New Year’s and Growing…Older…Better



The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

— Madeleine L’Engle


We step into New Year’s with another year tacked to our age, but no matter our circumstance, it is never too early or too late to lay the groundwork for better health.  What you can do now may help you prevent future chronic disease and a reliance on suppressive, synthetic drugs that tax the liver and kidneys.


This newsletter outlines strategies for maintaining health throughout the life span, so it applies to all ages, but it also gives special emphasis to issues that affect people as they age.  The opening paragraphs explore some of the advantages of aging, particularly today when there are many healthy food and lifestyle options available to help preserve and improve health throughout the lifespan.


Enjoying the Later Years


When I was growing up, New Year’s Day was bittersweet, because it marked the end of winter vacation and the imminent return to the constraints of school, schedules, and homework demands.   But now in my early “retirement” years, time has transformed my sense of New Year’s dread into a feeling of anticipation for the freedom, growth, and adventure presented by the freshness of a new year.   No longer with the demands of a 24/7 career and childrearing, I love January and the return to “ordinary time.”  To me it symbolizes choice and an energizing sense of possibility.


For those of us who have entered the golden fall/winter season of life and are free from past demands, each New Year brings greater flexibility—the ability to say “no” when before we may have had to say “yes;” to choose our friends and how we spend our time; and to transition more and more from life’s phase of “doing, moving, and shaking” to “being,” a period when we can act as a resource for others.  At this season of life and in contrast perhaps to our earlier years when we may have relied on the benevolence of others to help us along the way, we are better able to extend our own mentoring, helping hand, with all the gratification and joy that comes in assisting those in need.


With more unstructured time, we can engage in relationships and activities that we find rewarding.  It may be the first time that we can plumb our deepest talents and explore our true interests, those that the demands of life previously shunted to the sidelines.


With many of our critical life choices set, the older life chapters may feel less stressful, since having to make key life-altering decisions itself creates worry and stress.  And, in our later years when life does send challenges and traumas our way, we are better able to view them through a tempered lens, well- honed by time, seasoning, wisdom, and perspective.


As we age, it is true that time may have sapped some of our youthful vitality, but as a partial offset, our energy may be less fractured by outside demands.  No longer so scattered by the pressures of daily life, we can focus our inner strength to be perhaps even more effective in the end.  We may also find that we are able to “cast away stones” and  simplify our lives; we need fewer things; we can streamline and devote energy where it can be best spent.  The gift of more unstructured time and greater vision means that in these later life chapters we can endow our lives with greater meaning; we can try new activities; we can make new contributions; and we can continue to grow in the process.



Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain


Growing, Older, Better: Some General Comments


No matter our genetic endowment and our past dietary and lifestyle history, there are many ways that we can support our future health.  Some require time—whether shopping and cooking healthy meals; exercising for aerobic endurance and strength; finding ways to reduce stress; or bolstering the immune system via a good night’s sleep.  Others require money—to buy nutrient-dense foods; high-quality fats and oils to curb inflammation and pain; and, perhaps some natural dietary supplements and professional services/healing modalities provided by a physical trainer or licensed acupuncturist.


Investing time and money in good health and prevention throughout the life span is empowering and may save us time, money, and productivity in the end.  Hardly “selfish,” these are good investments if they also save our loved ones, who might otherwise be burdened by our care needs.


Of course, everyone comes with their own genetic heritage and life history.  In the autumn/winter phase of life, our body’s weakest links surface and begin to scream for attention.  Because we are only as good as our weakest links, developing awareness and taking time to support our weak systems is an important element in maintaining general health.


The Mind-Body-Spirit Trilogy.  When we think of preserving vitality, we usually think of food and exercise, but they are not the only ingredients in good health.  Mental and emotional states alter body chemistry and disrupt the natural flow of energy throughout the organ systems of the body, factors that can lead to pain and disease.  Healing modalities, such as acupuncture, QiGong, Reiki, and aromatherapy can address our own unique issues and weaknesses.   Healing arts in combination with food and exercise are powerful tools to support vitality and health.


Food and Nutrition.  Whole foods are complex systems of vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and life force energy that grow in a magical kaleidoscope of fractal patterns.  As systems, whole foods are uniquely designed to feed the body, which is also a system.  An apple or a whole grain oat grown sustainably in nutrient-rich soil is quite different, both in nutrition and life force energy, from commercial, pesticide-laden apple juice or a fractured, puffed oat made into a Cheerio.


Foods that agree with ua depend somewhat on genetics, age, lifestyle, and what a person has eaten previously.  For example, a raw foods diet might work well for someone who has lived on heavy meats and fats and/or fast foods, but only for so long.


Because “digestive fire” weakens with age, over time raw foods may needed to be replaced more and more with cooked food, since cooking is a form of “pre-digestion.”  Cooked foods are easier to assimilate and require less energy to process:  a raw carrot, for example, has fewer calories than one that is cooked, because more calorie energy is required for its digestion.


No diet will forever serve a person well.  Throughout life, it is important to continue to pay attention to the information we gain everyday from our food choices and make adjustments.


Growing, Older, Better: Specific Strategies


  • When Possible, Consume Whole Foods, Grown Locally, Seasonally, With All Their Edible Parts.  As mentioned above, the body is programmed to assimilate whole foods, which are balanced, complex packages of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, phyto-nutrients, water, and fiber that work synergistically in the body.  In addition, whole foods, with their life force energy, feed and restore the body’s own energy in ways that fractured, denatured, calorie-laden commercial foods created for a long shelf life cannot.  Fractured foods do not satisfy in the same way as whole foods:  they leave us craving for the missing parts.
  • Portion Control,  Think Thirds and Quarters:  Try to balance meals in thirds, 1/3 protein; 1/3 healthy fats; and 1/3 carbohydrate, consuming proteins and fats first to avoid metabolic stress/blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, and inflammation associated with eating only carbohydrates.  Also, think of balancing your plate in quarters, generous quarter servings of vegetables and fruits, with scant quarters of proteins and carbohydrates.  Multi-colored vegetables and fruits provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for good health.
  • Avoid Inflammatory Foods:  refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined vegetable oils, and refined flour.   Inflammation underpins pain and chronic disease.  Many inflammatory foods, such as corn and grain derivatives, are also genetically modified (GMOs).   Avoid GMOs; most corn and soy products are GMOs.  Also avoid food additives like MSG which can upset metabolism and contribute to weight gain.

“Nothing from a box” is a good guideline.  Foods in a box or package created for a long shelf life such as refined sugar, refined flour, breakfast cereals, and finger snacks are stripped of life force energy, vital oils and nutrients to prevent rancidity.  These are fractured, unbalanced foods that can leave us feeling unsatisfied, searching for more.  Read food labels for preservatives and additives.  Processed foods that taste too good to be true probably are.

  • Consume Healthy Fats, for Brain Health and Mental Activity, Metabolism and Weight Control, Hormonal Health, and to Control Inflammation.  Good fats are important at any age, but especially for older people entering the “winter,” drying out phase of life.  Traditional fats are moisturizing; they satisfy hunger; help the body assimilate minerals such as calcium and magnesium; and provide warmth and boost metabolism to help regulate the body thermostat as we age.   A blend of natural saturated and unsaturated fats and oils provide the body with materials for proper cell membrane permeability, an important factor for appropriate cell functioning and replication.  Avoid refined, denatured omega-6 vegetable oils which are inflammatory and feed chronic disease.  Instead, include a healthy mix of fish oils and natural, saturated fats:
    • Omega-3 Oils, which fight inflammation and, with their double-bond “hot spots,” provide fuel for proper  and effective neurological activity;
    • Fermented Cod Liver Oil for vitamin D, with complementary vitamin A.  Science tells us that there is a vitamin D receptor on every cell of the body.  Adequate vitamin D helps to fight depression and “winter blues,” osteoporosis, and a variety of chronic diseases.
    • Unrefined, Virgin Coconut Oil, a cholesterol-free saturated fat that can withstand the heat of cooking.  Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA), high in anti-microbial lauric acid.  As a MCFA, coconut oil is metabolized quickly to provide warmth and energy.  By boosting metabolism and providing satiety, it can assist in weight loss, unlike long-chain vegetable oils that stay in the blood stream longer and whose calories are more likely to be stored as fat.  Coconut oil has also been linked to the prevention of dementia.  [Unrefined coconut oil should be distinguished from hydrogenated coconut and palm oil as food additives.  These were an invention of the food industry to extend product shelf life… something that gave coconut oil a bad name.]
    • Butter from Grass-Fed Animals, for a healthy 1:1 balance of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and K.  Vitamins A and K pair with vitamin D for balanced nutrition, particularly to support healthy bones and teeth.
  • Protect The Digestive System, for Good Nutrient Absorption/Assimilation.   Have you ever stopped to think about natures’ amazing protective shield–the skin, a layer covering our outside that transitions in continuous fashion inside to the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and the digestive system?  Nature intended for nothing to enter the body without passing through these porous sentries.  (Modern science, of course, overrides these protections with vacations, IVs, etc.)

Just as we protect our skin from the sun and wind, we want to protect our digestive system to assure that we are assimilating nutrients from the foods that we eat.  This is particularly true as we age, a time when we have exhausted much of our vital store of digestive enzymes.   Protecting the mucous lining of our digestive system can help prevent “leaking gut” syndrome, something linked to inflammatory and autoimmune issues.  To safeguard the delicate digestive system and encourage a welcoming environment for healthy intestinal bacteria:

    • Consider supplementing your diet with probiotics and prebiotic foods.  Fermented foods provide enzymes and support good intestinal flora.
    • Chew well, something especiallyimportant for the proper digestion of carbohydrates.  Starches are broken down and mixed with digestive juices in the mouth; they then lay dormant in the stomach until they pass further along to digestion by the intestinal tract.
  • Preserve Kidney Essence, the store of energy endowed at birth.  The kidney, much like a dry cell battery, represents the backup store of reserve energy to help us run from danger; meet emergencies; and deal with stress.  Stress hormones and stimulants like caffeine and tobacco allow us to tap this store, but often with the longer-term price of adrenal fatigue and weakened kidneys.  We need to be suspicious of “something for nothing:”  coffee and cigarettes may get people through the work day when there is little time to eat, but there is a long-term price.

The kidney and adrenals are associated with the element water; the season winter; and with the ears and hearing; bones, marrow, and teeth; and head hair.  By the winter season of life, our dry cell, our store of kidney essence is depleted—we may experience this not only in weakened adrenal vitality and a general lack of energy compared to our youth, but also in a loss of hearing, bone strength and dental health, and a graying and thinning of the hair on our head.

As we age, we can protect our kidney essence by covering our ears on cold, windy days and by keeping the small of our back, where the kidneys are located, protected against the cold.  Have you noticed how exposing your lower back to cold seems to penetrate deep into your bones.

On cold winter nights, I like sleeping with a hot water bottle warming my lower back, and in cold weather, I make sure to I cover my ears.  We can also protect our kidneys by consuming nutrient-dense, nourishing foods, especially bone stocks and organ meats; and we can add marrow bones to soups and stews.

  • Reduce Stress.  Without the boundless energy stores of our youth, preserving strength becomes more important as we age.  Try saying “no” to non-essentials so that you have strength to handle the unexpected.   Program downtime into the week to reduce stress and cortisol, which encourages belly fat.   And take time for aerobic exercise and relaxation in whatever forms you find enjoyable.  High cholesterol and belly fat (linked to the stress hormone cortisol) are both associated with chronic stress.
  • Exercise and Lift Weights, to Build Aerobic Capacity and Strength.   Choose an aerobic exercise, but make sure that it is one you enjoy:  Exercise that you dislike and find stressful can make weight-loss difficult.  Moderate, enjoyable exercise helps mental focus, relieves stress, and boosts metabolism.

Develop a weight-lifting routine to prevent the muscle atrophy normally associated with aging:  The average person loses 30% of their muscle mass between age 20 and age 70, but this need not happen:  Someone aged 70 can regain as much muscle mass, measured in percentage terms, as a young person in their 20s.  Because muscle requires more calories than fat cells, strength-training can help burn calories throughout the day, even while a person is at rest.  Weight-training also builds bone strength and helps prevent falls and broken bones:    Lifting weights stresses both muscle and bones, thus building not only muscle but also bone strength.  In addition, weight-training directed to the lower extremities improves balance, builds leg strength and diminishes the risk of falls.

  • Allow Time for Sleep.  Sleep restores the body, the mind, and the immune system.  It preserves the body’s natural balance of hormones that helps us wake in the morning with spring in our step, while it also helps us focus and feel alert all day.   Adequate sleep not only keeps us well; it can also prevent weight gain associated with sugar cravings that nag us when we are tired.  Also, to sleep well avoid consuming “fire foods” at night—alcohol; caffeinated drinks; and chocolate.  And, to sleep well and avoid acid reflux, try to eat your last meal a good three hours before going to bed.
  • Limit Alcohol.  Alcohol interferes with sleep, particularly as we age.  It is hard for older people to drink and feel good, because the number of nephrons (filters that compose the kidneys) decreases with age.  With fewer nephrons, the kidneys shrink in size and begin to lose function, so that extra fluid and wastes are no longer filtered and efficiently excreted from the body as before.  If we drink too much, we may wake between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. and have trouble returning to sleep.  This is when the liver goes to work each night to cleanse and filter the blood.  It is an indication of how drinking alcohol unnecessarily taxes our system.

Crowd out alcohol, and sugar for that matter, by getting enough sleep and eating nutrient-dense foods.  You will crave less the temporary lift provided by these expansive fall-backs.

  • Avoid Food Mistakes.  We all make food mistakes—these provide information for adjusting our behavior—but mistakes cost more with time.   Age weakens our digestive fire and our body’s filtering/excreting system, so our body becomes less forgiving and more sensitive to poor treatment.  Instead of living on coffee and snacks, saving up for a big meal at night, we may find that we need to eat smaller, more frequent meals, earlier in the day to catch the peak of our digestive power.  Eating little during the day and saving up for a big evening meal taxes digestion, which is at its lowest ebb at night; it throws off metabolism and hormones, especially cortisol; and prevents us from gauging how much food in a 24-hour period we really need.   Food mistakes are best prevented by planning ahead and by eating “upside-down.”
    • Planning:  Think about shopping and cooking ahead, on weekends, and over breakfast or dinner.  This is easier than you think.  Root vegetables can be oven roasted and grains or beans can be cooked on the stove, virtually unattended, when you go about your morning or evening chores.  Buy a slow cooker and let meals cook overnight or during the day when you are out of the house.  A rice cooker can cook grains and hot cereals.  It can be set at night, so that a piping hot bowl of oats awaits you in the morning.  What is required most is simply the planning to prepare ingredients that can be combined in infinite combinations to create “instant” healthy meals.
    • Take time to shop; soak beans and grains overnight in advance of cooking; steam or sauté greens to be kept on hand in the refrigerator; roast winter round and root vegetables in their own skins; stew dried fruits with cinnamon sticks.  Grains and beans are versatile; they can be added to soups, salads, served as side dishes, or made into dips; and they last for days in the refrigerator.  Let an inexpensive rice or slow cooker come to your rescue.  To repeat, it is far easier than you may think.
    • Eating “Upside-Down” to synchronize the body to digestive energy and the “cortisol body clock.”   Eating early—with a good breakfast that includes quality protein and fats—and throughout the day when you are hungry supports metabolism, hormones such as cortisol, and helps regulate the body’s thermostat.  Eating early and frequently also feeds a steady stream of glucose to the brain and allows us to better gauge how much we really need to eat, so we often eat less in a 24-hour period.  And, by eating early, we take advantage of our peak noon-time digestive fire and have a better chance to prevent acid reflux.  [These ideas are repeated for emphasis.]

One of the best ways to enjoy front-loading meals is to shop and cook ahead so that you have delicious food on hand.  Create a favorite breakfast for yourself.  Breakfast is now my favorite meal and the thought of enjoying eggs or soup with artisanal sourdough bread and butter, makes the extra piece of pie over dinner less enticing.   [How often do we tell ourselves at dinner that we can eat the extra sweet and make up for it by skipping breakfast the next day?]

One of the best ways to break the habit of late-night over-eating is to allow enough time to eat a good breakfast every morning.  More than 80% of retirees eat breakfast, presumably because they have time and appreciate its importance.

  • Nourish Gratitude and a Spiritual Life.  Gratitude and a spiritual life, in whatever form you choose, are important ingredients of health.  This is true for everyone, no matter what age, but it rightfully comes to the fore in our later years when material considerations fade and we must ponder the legacy to society that we will leave behind.

In our early years, perhaps we could balance like a bicycle, peddling fast with mind/body pursuits, but as we age and are forced to slowdown and look inward, we need a third wheel, the stability offered by a spiritual component.  Gratitude and a the ballast afforded by a spiritual life can help us stay centered and content in the golden, winter years, as we continue to grow in new, meaningful, and better ways.


Reading Resources


Healing Modalities:

  • Fundamentals of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Marc S. Micozzi


Food as Systems:

  • Food and Healing, and Wholist Nutrition, Doctoral Dissertation, Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.
  • Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley




Fats and Oils:


The Body Clock:





Recipes: Marrow Bones


Bone marrow can be roasted or used to thicken and enhance the nutrition of soups, stews, and sauces.  Throughout time, cultures have used bone marrow to support nutrition and health.  Marrow is easy to digest and assimilate and is a rich source of protein, healthy, monounsaturated fat, and minerals.  Buy marrow bones from grass-fed, hormone-free animals.  Bones keep several days in the refrigerator and are best rinsed and soaked in salt water before using.


See February and March 2010 Newsletters for discussion of the health benefits of bone stocks and cooking with bones,






or, think about the following quick ideas from Livestrong.com:


Roast marrow bones in a 450 F oven until the marrow begins to sizzle inside the bones. Serve the hot marrow bones alongside toasted bread. Scoop the marrow out of the bone and onto the bread with a tiny spoon and top the marrow with salt, fresh herbs of your choice and lemon juice.


Add raw marrow-filled bones to a pot of soup to infuse the final dish with flavor and protein. Cook the bones in the soup while it simmers, until the marrow melts and escapes from the bones. Remove and discard the bones before serving the soup.  Or, from one reader’s suggestion—Put marrow bones in the pot when making navy bean and barley soup.  Add dill, black pepper, and sea salt.


And, from the Relucant Gourmet:


Roasted Bone Marrow Crostini

1 baguette or other long, thin loaf of bread

Extra virgin olive oil

Beef marrow bones, cut to approximately two inches.

Salt and pepper, to taste


Lemon juice, (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the bread into thin rounds.  Arrange them on a baking sheet and generously drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil.  Place them in the oven and toast until golden and crisp.
  • Remove the crostini and raise the oven temperature to 450.  Make sure it is fully heated before adding the bones.
  • Rinse the marrow bones and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay them flat on a baking sheet or roasting pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Place them in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the bone and allow them to cool somewhat.  Remove the marrow, add salt, pepper, and parsley and mash with a fork.  Spread the mixture on the crostini.


Copyright 2012 Pathways4Health.org

November/December 2012: Reviving Culture and the Health Benefits of Sourdough

 To read this newsletter in an easy-to-read pdf form , click November/December: 2012.


Back of the loaf is the snowy flour,

Back of the flour, the mill,

Back of the mill is the wheat and the sower,

And the sun,

And the Father’s will.

                                                …Arabic poet


Throughout time, bread, the “staff of life,” has been a powerful symbol stretching far beyond the meaning that we associate with bread today.  In passages too numerous to count, the Bible mentions bread, manna not only as the source/sustenance of life but also the Word, the will of God.  Bread also symbolized covenant, a solemn vow, a supreme commitment.  The sacred role of bread can be seen from one of the earliest Old Testament stories when Melchizedek, the King of Goodness, offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 13).  And as a symbol of covenant, Psalm 41, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”  In the New Testament, bread fed people in spiritual ways.   Christ, the “Bread of Life,” serves loaves and fishes to the multitude and a communion meal of bread and wine at the Last Supper.


For centuries, people of many faiths living in civilized yet far less comfortable times than our own today, gathered around a common table to break bread in a shared experience of gratitude and commitment.  From these roots spin the contemporary references, “bread winner” as well as someone “short on dough,” a person in need of money.


In contrast to the revered position of bread in the civilized world throughout time, bread has recently fallen from favor.  Not only and justifiably is bread avoided by people with wheat intolerances, but also by many because it is “fattening.”  Fattening is a noteworthy idea if the reference is to factory bread—a fractured, unsatisfying product that can lead to cravings for more food, as the body looks for the missing ingredients normally found in whole grains.  Another reason to avoid industrial bread is because it is made with denatured flour that has been inflated by baker’s yeast to look like bread, then doctored with chemical additives to improve taste, texture and prolong shelf life.


Other factors explain why bread has fallen from its traditional sacred place at the family table:  We live in a world of calorie security that fosters few thoughts of gratitude, and our screen-based lifestyle scatters family members so that it is rare when we gather around a common table.   Today, fractured foods that do not go rancid have displaced whole foods prepared with care in the home kitchen.


The Rise of Factory Bread


“Unlike most bacteria, lactobacilli thrive in the acid environment of sourdough and produce a variety of mild organic acids, alcohols, and many additional compounds vital to the flavor of the dough.  One researcher has listed no fewer than fifty-five separate compounds in sourdough—many, of course, in trace amounts.”                                                 ….Ed Wood1


For some ten thousand years, civilizations employed sourdough not only as a leavening to make bread rise but also to unlock the nutritional goodness of whole grains that with care and patience they ground into flour.  From the earliest days, civilizations seemed to have an intuitive sense about sourdough’s power to ferment wheat to enhance its digestibility and nutrition.


In recent decades with the introduction of baker’s yeast, the art of sourdough bread baking has been lost due to the convenience of mass-produced industrial bread.  This shift began to take root in the 1870s when scientists successfully isolated Saccharomyces cerevisiae, yeast that they developed to survive temperature change and to expediently produce carbon dioxide gas to make dough rise rapidly and uniformly.


Saccharomyces cerevisiae, known today as baker’s yeast, is a genetically modified form of brewer’s yeast.  While it makes dough rise, it is a monoculture that cannot live cooperatively over time with the healthy bacteria found in sourdough cultures.  This is important, as discussed below, because sourdough bacteria give bread its complex taste, pleasing texture, and health benefits, while also acting as a natural preservative.  When commercial bakers switched from sourdough to baker’s yeast to adapt bread baking to assembly line mass production, bread became a tasteless fast food.  To compensate for the absence of sourdough and time,  the food industry improvised by adding back to dough synthetic  vitamins, minerals, artificial dough conditioners, flavorings, and preservatives—all in an effort to try to make their chemically bleached flour and water mixture taste like bread.


The Science of Sourdough


(If you are more interested in learning to use sourdough than in understanding the science, feel free to skip to the discussion of sourdough’s health benefits; how to obtain and keep starter; and how to adapt it to your favorite recipes.)


Sourdough is a gift of nature requiring only the mixing of flour and water.  Mixing flour and water not only captures wild yeast and bacteria from the local environment, but it also activates the culture to begin aerobic fermentation whereby yeast begin to produce carbon dioxide and bacteria work to develop complex flavors.  Over time with successive feedings of flour and water and mixing, sourdough cultures evolve to produce a stable culture where yeast and bacteria live symbiotically.  The high level of acidity from lactic and acetic acid protect the culture from harmful bacteria, and microflora that do not support the culture gradually die away.


Grow Local.  Growing sourdough starter is the epitome of “Grow Local” and “Slow Food” right in your own kitchen.   My Martha’s Vineyard culture, for example, would contain local strains quite different from those of a starter kept by a home baker in Chicago or Seattle.  Buying a San Francisco culture so that I could replicate the wonderful sourdoughs of the Bay Area would be short-lived, since it would soon be overtaken by microscopic wild life of the Vineyard.  Because cultures differ by region, their behavior and taste vary:  some rise more rapidly than others, and each has its own coloration of sour, yeasty aroma, and flavoring complexities.


Sourdough Culture is an Ecosystem.  Cultures are fascinating examples of microflora too small for the eye to see that work in cooperation to preserve a stable balance between yeast and bacteria.  Sourdough culture generally contains one local strain of yeast and between two to four types of bacteria. Contained in a single teaspoon are some 50 million yeast and 5 billion bacteria.


In their symbiotic relationship, neither strain competes for the other’s food:   Wild yeast, microscopic one-celled fungi, eat the simple sugars fructose and glucose in flour, but since they are not able to break apart maltose into its two glucose molecules, they leave this work and the resulting glucose molecules for lactobacilli to consume as food.   As an additional service to the culture, lactobacilli, the major bacteria in most sourdough cultures, produce lactic acid which lowers the pH of the culture to between 4-4.5, a level of acidity that protects the culture from harmful invaders.  Like lactobacilli, baker’s yeast also thrives on maltose, which is why in the ideal baker’s yeast should not be added to a sourdough starter because it would compete with lactobacilli for the same food.


How the ecosystem works.   Yeast and bacteria work symbiotically to transform through fermentation any bland mix of flour and water into mouth-watering loaves of bread with texture, aroma and complex flavorings.  Yeast contribute bubbles in the form of carbon dioxide gas, as well as flavoring from alcohol and glutamate (which imparts the savory umami taste).   Yeast act on flour and water in two stages, respiration and fermentation.  During respiration (also known as aerobic fermentation) when yeast have access to oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide gas to help make dough rise.  Later, in the absence of oxygen (for example, when starter is capped or dough is covered to limit oxygen) anaerobic fermentation begins, which is when yeast produce alcohol and other important flavorings.


Like yeast, sourdough bacteria are single-celled microflora that feed on the sugars, proteins, and fats of whole grain flour to improve dough’s texture, nutrition, and acidity to retard spoilage.  They also produce their own unique combination of flavors, including the classic sour taste derived from their byproducts, lactic and to a lesser degree acetic acid (vinegar).  To allow sourdough to fully develop these complex flavorings from its acids, alcohols, and other compounds requires about 12 hours, so planning, time and patience are the key factors tied to successfully using sourdough—not hard work.


Enzymes.   Enzymes, proteins that exist both in sourdough cultures and in flour, are also important to successful sourdough baking.  Enzymes accelerate chemical reactions to enhance fermentation and the development of flavors and texture.   Assisted by enzymes, sourdough bacteria produce amino acids (for a savory crust) and a more complete protein profile; increase B vitamins; unlock the minerals in flour for better absorption (degrading phytic acid to free nutrients); and, through lactic and acetic acids’ ability to slow absorption of carbohydrates, curb the blood sugar spike normally associated with consuming bread.  (Discussion of health benefits, below.)




As explained above, using baker’s yeast to produce factory bread rules out many of the benefits that sourdough can bestow.  To compensate, food companies add back synthetic vitamins and minerals, as well as dough conditioners, flavorings, and preservatives.   For example, Interstate Brands, which makes Wonder Bread, doctors its chorine-bleached white flour/water/salt high-speed dough with more than 25 ingredients in a feeble attempt to duplicate the nutrition, texture and shelf life of traditionally leavened bread made simply from flour, water, starter, and salt.  Consider the ingredient list below:

  • Sourdough bread:  flour, water, sourdough starter.   Salt is added later after fermentation is underway.
  • Wonder Bread:  wheat flour, water, high fructose corn syrup or sugar, yeast, soybean oil, barley malt, wheat gluten, salt, calcium carbonate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, vitamin D3, vinegar, mon- and diglycerides, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, yeast nutrients (ammonium chloride, ammonium sulfate), enzymes, yeast extract, wheat starch, calcium dioxide, ferrous sulfate (iron), B vitamins [niacin, thiamine, mononitrate (B1), riboflavin (B2), folic acid], soy lecithin, azodicarbonamide, soy flour, whey, calcium propionate, datem, sorbic acid.

The Health Benefits of Sourdough


“A sourdough is a complex fermentation in which the flour matrix is considerably modified, making the minerals and other nutrients in the bread more assimilable and digestible.  New nutrients are created in the process also, as proteins are decomplexed, and as the yeasts proliferate, the important protein lysine, deficient in cereals, is increased.  The bacteria synthesize some vitamins also, as in yoghurt.  Noteworthy is vitamin B12 (not its analog) that is unknown in bread, but is in my sourdough in good quantity.”            …John Downes


The glycemic index of bread.  Beyond the benefits of improved texture, taste, and long shelf life, adding sourdough to whole grain flour and allowing these to soak before baking reduces the glycemic impact of bread.  Lactobacilli in sourdough eat the carbohydrates in flour, producing lactic and acetic acid.  These acids retard the rate of starch digestion to reduce the blood sugar impact and the body’s insulin response to carbohydrates (see Chart 1 below).



It may come as a surprise, but the addition of sourdough to white bread curbs the body’s blood sugar reaction (see Chart 2) so that a slice of sourdough white bread has a substantially lower glycemic index (52) than a slice of commercial whole wheat bread (66).  In fact, the glycemic effect of a slice of commercial whole wheat bread is on par with sugar (65).



It is also interesting to note that the glycemic index of commercial whole wheat bread is not much lower than Wonder Bread (73).  This is because industrially refined whole wheat flour is not 100% whole wheat.  Instead, whole wheat is finely ground and stripped of much of its essence, to leave its starch molecules exposed and easy prey to digestive juices, much like white flour.


Whole wheat?  An Aside  A key idea to take away from Chart 2 is to be wary of the health claims touted on a label of supermarket commercial whole wheat bread. [Also be wary of commercial bread labeled "sourdough" unless you buy from an artisanal baker who uses sourdough culture to leaven bread in a long, slow fermentation process; otherwise, the sourdough bread that you buy is leavened with yeast, even though it lists sourdough as an ingredient, and it is therefore little different from the hight GI breads above.]


The reason lies in the way whole grains are fractured during the industrial milling process to separate the starch energy from much of the rest of the kernel’s nutritional essence.In its natural state, a whole grain is composed of the germ, the grain embryo that is rich in protein, fragile omega-3 oils, and vitamin E; bran, the tough outside covering with protective phytic acid; aleurone, the protein layer inside the bran that contains most of the vitamins and minerals, as well as some oils and enzymes; and the endosperm, the starchy food supply for the embryo. In contrast to grains that are stone ground at moderate temperatures, commercial millers grind grains using high-speed rollers, a process that heats flour to between 400 and 500 degrees. In so doing, the starchy endosperm is separated from the heart of the grain’s nutrition located in the bran, aleurone, and germ. The result is flour, stripped of oils, with a long shelf life—flour that cannot go rancid.


The USDA does not have strict standards for labeling whole wheat flour. As long as flour contains 51% whole wheat, flour can be labeled as such. Often manufacturers add back bran (which does not go rancid) to give a brown coloration to flour that they label whole wheat. Legitimate whole wheat flour must be stored in a refrigerator or freezer within several days of grinding to prevent rancidity. Be leary of whole wheat flour on grocery store shelves, even flour that is labeled “stone ground.” If you want the natural goodness of 100% whole grain flour, you will not find it in supermarkets. The best sources are by mail order from reputable millers (see September/October 2012 newsletter).


Chart 2 also illustrates the lower blood sugar impact of bread made with legitimate stone ground whole wheat flour (GI, 53).  The lower GI is largely attributable to the oils in real whole wheat flour which slow the digestion of the carbohydrate portion of grain.  Charts 1 and 2 also indicate that the addition of slow-to-digest whole kernel grains can moderate the blood sugar effect (GI, 40).  Adding cooked whole grains to baked goods is an excellent way to add “crunch” and reduce their blood sugar impact.


Charts 1 and 2 also suggest that of all breads available, one of the best choices is to bake your own artisanal sourdough bread made from stone ground heirloom flour or know a good friend who does. Authentic sourdough prepared over several days to allow lactobacilli to fully convert maltose to lactic and acetic acid can significantly reduce the glycemic index (GI, ~ 30).  If you do purchase sourdough bread, be wary of loaves that are doctored with vinegar and other flavorings to emulate the real thing.


Sourdough Blood Sugar Testing, a further aside.  Before writing this newsletter, I conducted my own blood sugar tests using a modified recipe for buckwheat muffins to which I added varying amounts of sourdough.  Recipes were tested as the first morning meal after a 12 hour overnight fast using a glucose monitor.   Sourdough as the major component (75%) of the recipe, with very little added buckwheat flour (25%), curbed my blood sugar so that over the two hours of testing, my blood sugar hovered around the zero line (see Chart 1 for a reference).  Universally with every test, my blood sugar peaked not at 30 minutes, which is standard, but at 90. This suggests the satiety and staying power that sourdough can lend when you add it to your favorite recipes.


Phytic acid.  In addition to containing the blood sugar spike normally associated with carbohydrates, sourdough degrades phytic acid.  Recall that phytic acid is found in the bran of whole grains and that it blocks the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc as well as the digestive enzymes pepsin and amylase.  Reducing phytic acid by soaking flour ingredients with sourdough makes the vitamins and minerals in the aleurone layer (inside of the bran) and the germ of whole grains more bioavailable (see Chart 3 below).



Lysine.  Sourdough also boosts lysine, the limiting amino acid in grains that prevents them from being a complete protein.  Sourdough fermentation can increase lysine levels in wheat by three fold or more,2  augmenting this missing amino acid.  For people who really like rye and want even more lysine, you can also add rye flour when making bread because, of all whole grains, rye is the highest in lysine.  Because, unlike wheat, the composition of rye proteins does not support a strong gluten network, using more 25% rye flour results in a weak loaf better suited to pan baking.


Sourdough’s potential role in wheat allergies and gluten intolerance.  Whether sourdough can be used to resolve wheat intolerances is one of the biggest questions relating to sourdough’s potential.  Unexplained is the recent rise of celiac disease and vague wheat allergies.  Celiac now affects one in every 50 people, a number in stark contrast to the 1 in 1200 of just 30 years ago.3  One must wonder if our new hybrid dwarf wheat described in the last newsletter and the shift away from sourdough to baker’s yeast underlies much of problem posed by wheat today.


Sourdough does appear to hold promise for people who cannot tolerate wheat:  Evidence suggests that lactobacilli in sourdough break down wheat gluten to make wheat proteins easier to assimilate by people with wheat allergies and celiac disease.   Rafaella di Cagno and her team of researchers produced, with selected strains of sourdough, bread that seemed to be well tolerated by celiac sufferers.4 It appears that using sourdough fermentation with heirloom varieties of wheat can make wheat acceptable to many with wheat sensitivities.  But, for people who suffer from true celiac, no gluten grains are currently safe to eat, even if they have been fermented with sourdough.  We must await more research, but the future role of sourdough for gluten sufferers does hold promise.



Using Sourdough in Favorite Recipes


“Bread for myself is a material question.  Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.”

                                                                                                                             …Nikolai Berdyaev


 “I fed my starter last night and plan to make some bread tomorrow.  I am so grateful to you for showing me this process. It is very calming for me and it just feels really good.  I don’t even know how to explain it.”                             

                                                                                              …Nicole Bartlett, School Nurse, Edgartown, MA


Some years ago, my good friend Ellen Arian taught me how to keep sourdough and make 3-day artisanal sourdough bread, something that has become an enduring and endearing habit.   Feeding starter, working with dough on the second day, and baking on the third is rewarding and gratifying.  I like to “spread bread” by sharing it with friends in my community.  But making sourdough bread requires an investment in time, patience, and equipment.   It can be a challenge at first because so many variables contribute the outcome—the starter, flour, geographic conditions, and temperature and humidity that vary with the seasons.  In the future, I plan to write a separate piece about making sourdough bread and will post it on the Recipe tab, Slow Food section of my website.


For now, I want to help you get started on the basics of keeping starter and using it in your favorite recipes—muffins and biscuits, pancakes and waffles, and other quick breads.  Sourdough will enhance the flavor and texture of them all.  And, if you take the time to pre-soak the flour ingredients, you will curb the blood sugar impact and reduce phytic acid to make minerals and enzymes in the flour more bioavailable.


Obtaining a Sourdough Culture.  One of the easiest and best sources of sourdough culture is from a friend who bakes often and lives nearby.  You can also grow your own, but doing this in the winter months is tricky and it can be a challenge to get a starter to evolve into a stable culture with staying power.  If you are interested, see http://www.breadtopia.com/make-your-own-sourdough-starter/.


Established sourdough culture is available by mail order, including King Arthur Flour (1 ounce is just $7.95), Breadtopia (available both in active and dry forms), GEM Cultures (fresh rye and gluten-free brown rice cultures), and Sourdough International (source of cultures from around the globe).  See







Maintaining a Culture.  A culture is a pre-ferment.  Growing a culture the day before baking gives any baked product a jump on flavor and nutrition and makes kneading easier.


Materials that you will need:

  • A wide-mouth one- or two-quart Ball-type jar with a two-piece lid (to let some air escape);
  • Starter, ¼ to ½ cup;
  • King Arthur First Clear or other white flour.  First Clear has a high-ash (mineral) content which promotes fermentation and the building of flavor by controlling pH levels;
  • Water that is free of chlorine.

Once you have the materials, the first question to ask yourself is what do you plan to bake and how much starter will you need for the job?  I usually use starter to make two loaves of sourdough bread, each requiring one cup of starter.   So, I use a 2-quart jar and begin with ½ cup starter  I then feed the ½ cup starter in three feedings of flour with equal parts water, in progressive fashion.  After each feeding of flour and water, stir well, cover loosely with the lid, and allow to double on the counter top.


½ cup starter in a 2-quart jar;  yield ~3 cups: 

1st feeding:  ¼ cup flour (First Clear) and ¼ cup water.

2nd feeding:  ½ cup flour and ½ cup water.

3rdfeeding:  1 cup flour and 1 cup water.   Place in refrigerator overnight for the next day of baking.  Or


¼ cup starter in a 1- or 2-quart jar; yield ~ 2 cups:

1st feeding:  1/8 cup flour and water.

2nd feeding:  ¼ cup flour and water.

3rd feeding:  ½ cup flour and water.  Place in refrigerator until the next day, when you use it for baking.

Note:  I always pour off any remaining starter and keep it in reserve in the refrigerator as a “safety” should anything happen to my working batch.

Note the pattern for feeding:  Whatever amount of starter at the outset, a general rule is to feed it in three progressive intervals… first, half; then, equal, and finally, double the amount of flour and water relative to the amount of initial starter.  You do not want to overwhelm the culture at the outset with too much flour since excess food without enough yeast and bacteria to consume it can attract foreign invaders and spoil a culture.  A small feeding at first gives the yeast and bacteria time to divide and populate the culture so it can handle progressively larger amounts of flour.


If you forget to feed a culture once it has doubled in size, it will fall back, losing volume.  This is a sign that it has run out of food, is hungry, and needs to be fed again.  Yeast work more rapidly than bacteria so a culture will reach its full volume before the bacteria have completed their work converting maltose to flavor compounds.  Once starter has doubled 3 times to reach its maximum volume, put it in the refrigerator.  Bacteria will continue to create flavor, albeit more slowly.


Using starter often:  Once you have starter, you want to keep it fed and working for you.   A starter that is fed often is “happy” and active.  After a week in the refrigerator, the microflora run low on food, and some have died.  I like to keep my starter active by feeding and using it at least once a week.  Starter can be kept for up to three weeks in the refrigerator, but it may require several feedings to bring it back fully to life.


Hooch:  After a starter sits for a while without oxygen in the refrigerator, it develops a layer of brownish liquid on the surface, “hooch,” composed of alcohol and bacteria flavoring compounds.  Stir it back in, or pour it off if you seek a milder flavored culture.


Using and substituting starter in your favorite recipes.   An easy way to use starter without extra calculation is to add about ¼ cup to a recipe.    You can add sourdough to baked goods for flavor and texture.  If you choose to soak the flour and liquid ingredients overnight to reduce phytates and lower the blood sugar impact, be sure to leave out baking soda and mix it in right before baking (baking powder can be included with the ingredients in an overnight soak).  [Baking soda helps neutralize the sour flavor of sourdough, if this is something you desire, but other flavors will remain intact.]


Alternatively, if you plan to use a great amount of sourdough, calculate the amount of flour and water in the starter (e.g., a cup of starter contains ½ cup flour and ½ cup water) and reduce the flour and liquid ingredients in the recipe by the same amount.


Books on sourdough often contain conversion rules, but I like to experiment on my own and go by “feel.”  You may prefer to set guidelines, such as offered by Sara Pitzer in Baking with Sourdough:


“To adapt a yeast recipe, begin with a small amount of starter, about ¼ cup for recipes using less than 6 cups of flour and about ½ cup for recipes calling for more flour.  Mix the starter with some of the flour and some of the liquid from the basic recipe you want to convert.  Figure that 1/2 cup starter has replaced ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water.  In baking powder recipes figure the same way, but use up to a cup of starter even in recipes calling for only 2 or 3 cups of flour.


Allow the mixture of starter, flour and liquid—the sponge—to stand and bubble for 4 to 24 hours, depending on the sourness you want.  With quick breads you can shorten the time so the mixture stands only until it is obviously active, as little as an hour if you are not trying for the sour taste.  When ready to bake, proceed with the recipe, adjusting the amounts of flour and water according to the amount of starter you used.  Add as much flour as necessary to get a dough you can knead or a batter (for quick breads) that seem about as thick as the recipe was before you adapted it to sourdough.  Go through the normal kneading, rising, and shaping steps for yeast breads.  For quick breads, pour the batter into the pan and allow to stand until it begins to rise.”


Reading Resources:


Emily Buehler, Bread Science

Karel Kulp and Klaus Lorenz, Handbook of Dough Fermentations

Sara Pitzer, Baking with Sourdough

Lisa Rayner, Wild Bread

Daniel Wing and Alan Scott, The Bread Builders:  Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens

Ed and Jean Wood, Classic Sourdoughs


Sourdough Recipes


Experimenting with sourdough is a fascinating adventure with endless possibility.  I have fun pushing sourdough to its upper limits when adapting recipes in order to capture its many health benefits and because I like the moist texture, body, and staying power that it gives to baked goods.  I also like the way it satisfies and I enjoy its sour flavor, probably more than would be true of the average individual.  The first recipe for cornbread is my own, but the remaining ones are from Sara Pitzer’s Baking with Sourdough.  This is a concise book on sourdough that has a variety of baked goods recipes using different amounts of sourdough.  This array of recipes can give you a sense of how much sourdough you might want to add to a favorite recipe of your own.


Sourdough is an especially welcome addition to cornbread to keep it moist and improve texture.  It is also enhances recipes that include maple, banana, and chocolate.



Sourdough Cornbread

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

1 cup stone-ground spelt flour, or other flour of your choice

2 cups sourdough starter

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup water

¼ cup oil of your choice

¼ cup maple syrup

½ t. salt

1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)


Combine dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients.  Combine wet and dry ingredients.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

If you choose to presoak the cornmeal and flour with the sourdough, mix these and let stand overnight.  Then add the baking powder, salt, and wet ingredients just before baking.



Sourdough Banana Bread

1 ½ cups sourdough starter

1 cup sugar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

1/3 cup butter

1 beaten egg

1 cup unbleached flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

1 cup very ripe banana

½ cup chopped nuts


Bring the starter to room temperature in a large bowl.  When it has begun to bubble, add the sugar, soda and salt to it.  Melt and cool the butter and add it, along with the egg, flour and banana, stirring in each ingredient in the order given.  When everything is well mixed, stir in the nuts.  Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan large enough so that it is no more than two-thirds full.  Allow to stand in a warm place for about 20 minutes, then bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for at least an hour, or until the loaf tests done when poked with a toothpick.    You may lay a piece of brown paper or aluminum foil loosely over the top of the loaf if it is getting too brown.  Do not under bake; it will be quite most even when fully done.  Allow it to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before taking it out.  Then allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing.  This banana bread will be even better the second day if you have stored it wrapped in foil or plastic wrap.


For the lunchbox:  sandwiches made of banana bread spread with a filling of cream cheese and chopped dates.



Sourdough Skillet Biscuits

2 cups sourdough starter

2 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

1 t. sugar

1 T. baking powder

½ t. salt


Let the starter come to room temperature in a large bowl.  It won’t hurt the starter to stand for a couple hours.  About an hour before you want to serve the biscuits, sift the dry ingredients together into the starter bowl and mix to make a firm dough.  Pinch off pieces of the dough and gently shape into balls about the size of large walnuts or small eggs.  Arrange them in a well-greased 12-inch iron skillet and place in a warm place for 15-20 minutes, or long enough for the biscuits to show signs of rising.  Because the baking powder reacts quickly with the sourdough starter, this happens fast.  Bake in a preheated 400 F degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until well browned and crusty.  Serve hot.



Sourdough Brown Biscuits

2 cups sourdough starter

1 T. honey

½ t. salt

2 T. oil

2 t. baking powder

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour


Put the 2 cups of starter into a large bowl, cover loosely and allow to sit for at least 10 hours in a warm place.  When ready to bake, mix hone, salt and oil into the starter.  Sift in the baking powder and whole wheat flour.  For finest texture, discard any bran which remains in the sifter,, but for a heartier biscuit dump the bran right into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.  Mix everything well, but do not over beat.


Knead the dough gently until it holds together, then roll it out to a thickness of ½ to 1 inch, depending on whether you want think crusty biscuits or high, lighter ones.  Cut the biscuits out with a cutter or a small can from which both ends have been removed.  On a greased cookie sheet, place them close together for soft biscuits or leave them farther apart for more crust.


Cover the biscuits with a dry, lightweight cloth and put them in a warm place for about half an hour, or until you see definite signs of rising.  Then bake in a preheated 400 F degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Break open one biscuit to be sure they are cooked through.   They are ideal served with creamed chipped beef.



Sourdough Pancakes/Waffles

½ cup sourdough starter

1 cup undiluted evaporated milk

1 ¾ cups unbleached white flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

1 cup water

2 eggs

2 T. sugar

½ t. salt

1 t. baking soda


Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl, cover loosely and allow to stand in a warm place overnight, or for at least 8 hours.  Beat together the eggs, sugar, salt, and soda, and stir into the starter combination with a wooden spoon.  At this point, don’t beat.  Bake the pancakes on a lightly greased griddle, turning when bubbles appear.  These pancakes are quite fat and fluffy and very tender because of the reaction of the soda with the sourdough.  If you want them to be thinner, stir in a little more water as you are adding the egg mixture.

To make sourdough waffles, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter or cooking oil after all the other ingredients have been added.  Bake on a lightly greased waffle iron.  The fat added to the batter should help prevent the waffles from sticking provided the iron has been well seasoned.


Variations:  Add a quarter cup of toasted wheat germ to the egg mixture to give a nutty taste and increase the food value of the recipe.  For even heartier pancakes, add ¼-1/2 cup chopped pecans before baking.



Sourdough Buckwheat Pancakes

½ cup sourdough starter

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup buckwheat flour

2 cups warm water

2 eggs, beaten

2 T. sugar

½ t. salt

½ t. baking powder

3 T. melted butter

½ t. baking soda dissolved in 1 T. water


Mix together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat well.  Cover loosely and allow to stand overnight or for at least 8 hours in a warm place.  When ready to bake the pancakes, stir in the beaten eggs, sugar, salt, baking powder and melted butter.  Finally, stir in the baking soda dissolved in water.  Do not stir again after adding the soda.  Bake on a moderately hot griddle, taking care not to let the buckwheats burn.

For darker pancakes with a truly old-time taste, allow the batter to age longer than 8 hours and substitute molasses for the 2 tablespoons of sugar.



Blueberry Breakfast Bread

1 cup sourdough starter

¼ cup soft shortening

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

½ cup milk

1 cup unbleached white flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ t. Salt

1 cup blueberries


Bring the starter to room temperature in a large bowl.  In another bowl, cream the shortening and sugar together and then beat in the egg and milk.  Turn this mixture into the bowl with the sourdough starter and sift in the flour, salt and soda.  Mix very well.  Gently fold in the blueberries.  Pour the batter into a well-greased 8-inch square pan and allow to sit in a warmer place for at least 20 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375 F degree preheated oven for 45-50 minutes.   Do not under bake.  Allow to cool completely so that it is not too sticky and gummy.



Molasses-Date Bars

1 cup sourdough starter

1 beaten egg

½ cup butter

¼ cup brown sugar

¾ cup dark molasses

½ t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

¼ t. baking soda

1 1/3 cups unbleached white flour

½ cup chopped dates

2 T. flour


In a large bowl allow the starter to warm up and become active.  It should stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.  Then add the beaten egg, softened butter, brown sugar and molasses. Beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Next, put in the salt, cinnamon and soda.  Sift in the flour.  Beat the butter until it is lump-free.


Roll the chopped dates in the 2 T. flour or mix them with the flour in a bowl so that they do not stick together.  Gently stir them into the batter.  Pour the batter into a well-greased 9-inch pan and bake int a preheated 375 F degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the batter tests done when poked with a toothpick.


Allow to cool slightly before cutting into bars, then finish cooling on wire racks and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.  Like most sourdough products, these taste much better cold than they do while still warm from the oven.


Concluding comment.  I hope that these recipes give you an idea of how to use sourdough—first, in terms of the proportions of sourdough to use depending on what type of baked good you are making; second, the time that sourdough needs to rest at room temperature to be activated before being added to ingredients; and third, the time that sourdough and ingredients need to rest on the counter top before baking.   Finally, remember that most sourdough baked goods taste much better cold than they do when they have been taken right from the oven.  Sourdough bakery goods last a long time and are excellent baked ahead on weekends for lunch boxes and snacks.  They easily keep and develop flavor through the week.


Copyright 2012 Pathways4health.org

  1. Classic Sourdoughs, 9. []
  2. The Natural Tucker Bread Book. []
  3. Jacob Schor, ND, “Sourdough and Celiac Disease.” []
  4. Raffaella Di Cagno, et al. Sourdough Bread Made from Wheat and Nontoxic Flours and Started with Selected Lactobacilli Is Tolerated in Celiac Sprue Patients.  Applied and Environmental Microbiology, February 2004, p. 1088-1096, Vol 70, No. 2. []

September/October 2012: Defending Traditional Grains

To read this newsletter in an easy-to-read pdf form, click here to download the newsletter Defending Traditional Grains. Thank you.


“Progress is very important and exciting in everything but food.”  …Andy Warhol



Overview   Wheat and other gluten grains are under attack today due to the apparent rise of wheat allergies and gluten intolerance.  Grains are also blamed for contributing to the ongoing epidemic of diabetes and obesity.  Leading the campaign against wheat and other grains are books like Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D. and the “Paleo Diet,” which advocates abandoning grains for weight loss and better health.  


But, when civilizations throughout time thrived on traditional wheat and other gluten grains, does it make sense to attack grains? Rather than traditional grains, I believe a constellation of other factors in our modern food system help explain the rise in diabetes, obesity, allergies, mood disorders, nutrient deficiencies and other health issues now associated with consuming what are modern, denatured, fractured grains—empty calories that are in essence sugar.


For a quick overview, let’s first consider the type of wheat that we eat today.  Through genetic engineering to produce a high yield, science in the 1960s developed “dwarf wheat” to replace the traditional wheat varieties that had through centuries sustained our forebears.  Modern dwarf wheat is not only genetically-modified but it is also nutrient-deficient because, as Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills points out, it is grown commercially under crowded mono-crop conditions that compromise its leaf and root systems. 


Second, consider modern commercial refining and bleaching methods that refine away the nutrition, enzymes, and taste of whole grains, leaving behind a life-less white flour that has the power to spike blood sugar even faster than common table sugar.1  Refined flour, which steals minerals from the body for its metabolism (see below), is a triumph for the food industry because refined flour needs no refrigeration; and, it has a long shelf life because there is nothing left in the flour to go rancid.  It is easy, without thinking of the hidden consequences, to consume refined flour in great volumes through bread, buns, wraps, pasta, bagels, and many other bakery products and prepared foods.  We would never think of eating these same high-glycemic calories in the form of table sugar.


Third, as mentioned above, refined flour steals minerals like calcium and magnesium from the body’s mineral bank, stored largely in the bones and teeth.  This is because modern refining methods used to produce white flour remove the bran and germ, which are the parts of the whole grain that contain most of the grain’s nutrients—the  vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are important cofactors needed for proper assimilation.  Refined flour products, which provide empty calories but without nutritional cofactors, create mineral deficiencies and foster chronic disease. 


Fourth, the nutrition, fiber, and satisfying nature of whole grains are locked in the bran and the germ, which is the heart of the kernel.  The nutrition is in the taste, or better stated by JD McClelland, producer of the movie The Divided Grain, “Nutrition = Taste.”  Without the fats, fiber, and taste of whole grains, empty-calorie white flour products leave us feeling empty and unsatisfied…so, we search for more. 


Fifth, using baker’s yeast for a quick rise, modern, mass production factory bread-baking practices often doctor dough with extra gluten, as well as with artificial chemicals, preservatives and flavor additives to provide rise and taste.  Extra gluten—sometimes as much as three-times what is in flour itself2—is added to dough to make factory bread.  Extra gluten is used as a substitute for the time, patience and natural sourdough leavening that was a part of traditional baking practices.  The chemicals and additives used in making factory bread are another factor contributing to chronic disease.


[A note on sourdough:  Sourdough, which was used throughout time to leaven bread, has many health advantages.  Sourdough converts starch molecules in flour to lactic and acetic acids to slow the rate of starch digestion and mute the blood sugar effect of consuming baked goods to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes.  Sourdough also works on whole grain flour to boost B vitamins and defuses phytates, which would otherwise block the absorption of whole grain flour’s vital minerals, particularly potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.]


Finally, and in some respects, perhaps most important, let’s look at modern gut health—Is the problem gluten or is it our gut?  Refined flour, a simple sugar, feeds bad gut bacteria that can “eat through” the fragile gut lining.  Holes in the gut lead to “leaking gut syndrome” whereby undigested proteins enter the blood stream to create allergic reactions and a host of physical ills, from depression and anxiety to learning and focus issues.  The evolution of our modern diet away from fermented foods and foods with generous amounts of fiber—elements that feed good gut bacteria—are another major piece of the gluten intolerance puzzle.


People who eliminate grains often feel better simply because they are substituting sugar and other additives in bread and other refined flour bakery products for nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.



With the recent increase of wheat allergies and celiac disease, as well as obesity and diabetes, wheat has come under attack.  Leading the campaign against wheat are books like Wheat Belly, published last year by William Davis, M.D., and the “Paleo Diet” which advocates abandoning grains for weight loss and better health.  But, it is not realistic to think that we can give up grains, particularly wheat.  We need to distinguish between dwarf wheat that is questionable and traditional varieties of wheat that have been a mainstay throughout time.  And, we need to look beyond wheat to other dietary and lifestyle factors that are strongly linked to obesity, diabetes, and wheat intolerance.


Defending wheat, a mainstay.  Wheat is grown in every state and in almost every country of the world.  It is the most nutritious of the major grains because it is better able to extract nutrients from the soil.3  And, because carbohydrates, largely as grains, supply between 55%-80% of the calorie needs of cultures around the globe, we must rely upon grains, especially wheat, to sustain life.   Wheat is the cheapest nutritious source of energy and the key ingredient of bread, the “staff of life.”


Bread is a favorite of cultures throughout the world because it is easy-to-digest (carbohydrates are the “cleanest-burning” of the macro-nutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and a quick source of energy to balance heavy proteins and fats.  Wheat is sweet and cooling in nature and supports the heart, spleen, and kidneys.  Accordingly, wheat helps to calm the mind and emotions and works as an antidote to insomnia and stress.   If wheat’s blood sugar effect is a concern, just spread on a little butter or top a slice with some turkey or a couple of soft-boiled eggs.  Most of us combine grains as well as bread with foods to quite naturally temper blood sugar.


Wheat consumption is down, allergies are up.  Despite the prevalence of wheat in most prepared, packaged foods and snacks, we consume one-third less wheat today in all its forms than we did a century ago when obesity and type 2 diabetes were not major health problems and when wheat allergies and celiac disease were hardly known.  So can we really blame wheat?  What other factors might we point to?


 For the majority of people, the problem is not so much wheat, but the kind of wheat—a hybrid high-yield, high-starch, high-gluten wheat—called “dwarf” wheat that was developed in the 1960s as a profit-driven venture to replace  traditional wheat varieties in our food supply.  Its high amylopectin starch content makes it super- fattening, while it also promotes insulin resistance and diabetes.4  And, due to the genetic engineering of dwarf wheat that results in extra chromosome sets with more and different gluten proteins than exist in traditional wheat like Einkorn and Emmer, dwarf wheat contains new, untested wheat proteins and in greater numbers that can foster and are linked to wheat allergies and celiac disease.5


An additional problem with wheat lies in how we process it.  When we mill wheat, B vitamins are stripped away along with vitamin E, essential fatty acids, protein, minerals, and fiber to reduce nutrition.  Fracturing wheat into simple starch devoid of its bran and germ also raises the glycemic index (GI ) of wheat-based convenience foods.  Regarding blood sugar, there is a world of difference for example between eating properly cooked whole grain wheat (GI, 42) and puffed wheat breakfast cereal (GI, 80).   Refined wheat spikes blood sugar, a factor that can fuel insulin resistance and diabetes.  Retooling refined wheat into bakery products, boxed cereals, snacks, and other foods for a long shelf life also involves chemical additives, some of which can themselves trigger allergic reactions and celiac disease.6 


It is certainly true that some people feel better when they eliminate grains, particularly wheat.  But there are also many people for whom this is not the case.  To use a broad brush to denigrate wheat per se when there are many other factors that explain obesity, diabetes, chronic disease, and the four-fold postwar increase in celiac disease is ill-founded.


The Constellation of Diet and Lifestyle Factors that Contribute to Wheat Allergies and Chronic Disease


Wheat allergies and celiac disease, as well as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and chronic disease, are not simply the product of wheat, as Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly might like us to think.  Our modern health problems are largely the result of government subsidies that create surpluses of GMO wheat, corn, and soy and the food industry that converts these surpluses into irritants in the form of cheap, new-fangled products that can survive long periods on grocery store shelves.   In his book, Dr. Davis fails to mention inflammatory high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or refined vegetable oils, the consumption of which, through soft drinks and convenience foods, has mushroomed in the last 50 years in parallel fashion with dwarf wheat.  Mutant dwarf wheat is only a piece of the obesity/diabetes puzzle.


Other ingredients of our modern lifestyle that underlie wheat allergies and celiac disease include a constellation of factors that weaken the immune system and gut health.  Beyond HFCS and refined oils, we can point to our modern-day reliance upon antibiotics that play havoc with good intestinal flora.


And, in terms of diet, while we have added denatured oils and HFCS, mostly through prepared/snack foods and soft drinks, we have crowded out many traditional gut-healing/health-promoting foods like cod liver oil; fermented foods;7 and whole foods that are rich in natural fiber and pre-and probiotics.   Urban living can also be a factor since it decreases our exposure to healthy bacteria from the soil, while our modern screen-based living  habits often rob us of a good night’s sleep, a major restorer and safeguard of immunity.  Compared to today, our great-grandparents ate 40% more wheat largely prepared at home and had little problem with wheat.  Understanding the role played by elements of our modern lifestyle, discussed below, and adjusting habits accordingly could help more of us better assimilate and enjoy traditional wheat, artisan breads, and other gluten grains, when properly prepared.

  • Antibiotics make us more susceptible to wheat allergies.   The gift of antibiotics has brought with it more people to feed.  The widespread use of antibiotics is a factor creating the “need” for cheap GMO plant foods such as mutant dwarf wheat.  Antibiotics have also created a population of antibiotics users with compromised gut health who are less able to digest and absorb the very wheat that was bred and designed to meet their energy needs.  While addressing acute conditions to save lives, antibiotics can foster chronic health issues.  This is because antibiotics weaken gut health by killing off good gut bacteria, thus upsetting the delicate balance of intestinal flora nature designed as an important sentry of our immune system.   Weakened intestinal flora can lead to “leaky gut syndrome,” a condition when undigested proteins (as in wheat proteins) enter the blood stream and cause allergic reactions.
  •  Inflammatory,8  omega-6 refined vegetable oils interfere with intestinal flora and metabolism.  Per capita consumption of refined vegetable oils has increased more than five-fold in the last half-century!  Like refined flour products, denatured, omega-6 oils feed inflammation, including inflammation of the digestive tract/gut.  Omega-6 oils also depress thyroid/ endocrine function and metabolism, linking them to obesity.
  • Inflammatory high fructose corn syrup.   HFCS takes more energy to be absorbed in the intestine, thereby depleting reserves needed to preserve the integrity of intestinal lining.  According to Mark Hyman, “High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining, allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter the bloodstream and trigger the inflammation that is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging.”
  •  Cod liver oil; fermented foods; and rural living—traditional links to immune/gut health.  Cod liver oil, which was relied upon by former generations, is a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, as well as a rich source of vitamins A and D.  Active vitamins A and vitamin D help fight inflammation while they work to soothe and heal the digestive/immune system.  Fermented foods provide digestive enzymes and fiber to help feed good intestinal flora.  And, “healthy” bacteria from outdoor living and contact with the soil also support gut health.9
  • Sleep, the victim of our modern screen-based lifestyle.  I think of sleep as nature’s “super antibiotic.”  Nothing restores the mind/spirit and immune system better than a good night of sleep.  For many people, a healthy gut, a healthy immune system, and the ability to enjoy traditional wheat and other grains cooked in traditional ways may be as simple as making a habit of a good night of sleep.

The Paleo Diet and Wheat Belly


The Paleo Diet.  There is nothing romantic about pre-agricultural times of some 10,000 years ago when hunter/gatherers had to scavenge for food.  The Paleo Diet of today is a version far removed from the caveman when life was sustained haphazardly and at risk by hunting wild game and foraging plant foods prior to the domestication of animals and the cultivation of grains.  Stressful as it had to be, it holds no resemblance to modern day food gathering—pushing shopping carts through wide, well-lit supermarket aisles that are piled high with convenience foods bearing colorful, catchy labels.  The modern Paleo menu is really a “faux” copy of the original.  Wild game do not roam and wild berries, nuts, seeds, roots, and rhizomes do not grow out our back door; rarely are these products sourced by supermarkets or by mail-order suppliers.


To its credit, the modern Paleo Diet does emphasize grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, while it forbids refined vegetable oils, refined sugar, industrial salt, refined grains, and commercial dairy products.   One of the best features of Paleo is its implicit outlawing of most prepared convenience/snack/junk foods, as well as fast foods.  An adherent of Paleo is forced to read food labels.  And, a disciple soon recognizes the need to shop the periphery of the grocery store for whole, “real” food, as well as to spend more time in the kitchen preparing home cooked meals.  If Paleo could become popular enough, it might encourage more local farming and farmers’ markets—perhaps we would fail to have enough “real” food to go around!


Realistically, the time commitment required for food shopping and preparation makes Paleo more attractive on paper than in real life.  Most people are too busy to bother with food gathering and preparation.  Another problem with Paleo is that it is expensive, both for the environment and the pocketbook.   It might work for some affluent few who enjoy food shopping and preparation and can ignore hunger pangs for “feel-good-feeling” grains, but it does not work for global sustainability.  Carbohydrates, mostly as grains, account for more than half the calories consumed in our country and for as much as 80% of the energy requirements of people in less-developed countries of the world.


A diet devoid of energy-dense carbohydrates must implicitly rely more upon animal proteins and fats.  But many animal-based sources of protein are dwindling, because we have over-harvested fish and trimmed beef herds:  Since 2008 global beef production has declined by 7.5 billion pounds while the world population has expanded by 300 million.  And, in view of the 2012 drought, beef supplies will shrink even more as the poor 2012 harvest forces farmers to further liquidate herds.


Wheat Belly.  Like the modern Paleo Diet, Wheat Belly has come along at a fortuitous time to raise awareness about the health risks associated with genetically engineered staple seed crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans.  Many people experience ill effects from the high-gluten, high-starch, mineral-deficient dwarf wheat developed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.   We often hear stories of how much better individuals feel and how much weight that they lose when they stop eating modern dwarf wheat—the wheat that now represents 99% of the wheat grown worldwide.10


We are fortunate to have Dr. Davis’ research to make us weary of modern dwarf wheat and the many staple and convenience foods on grocery store shelves in which it appears—from canned soups to Twizzlers.    Like the Paleo Diet, Wheat Belly will convince many to become food-label readers.   We can also be grateful for Dr. Davis’ contribution that links the third set of wheat genomes to wheat allergies and celiac disease (see discussion that follows).  At the same time, his effort to “tar and feather” wheat without distinguishing between traditional wheat and dwarf wheat is myopic.  The three main sections of Wheat Belly are titled “WHEAT: THE UNHEALTHY WHOLE GRAIN; WHEAT AND ITS HEAD-TO-TOE DESTRUCTION OF HEALTH; and SAY GOODBYE TO WHEAT.”


In bad-mouthing wheat with a broad brush, Dr. Davis makes no equal effort to broadcast the virtues of traditional wheat—for example, Einkorn and Emmer with their simple chromosome structure and more traditional starch and gluten makeup—nor the fledgling, ongoing efforts by some few suppliers to restore traditional wheat varieties (discussion follows).  Dr. Davis also fails to recognize that not everyone has the same metabolic response to wheat.


In addition, Dr. Davis singles out wheat when, as mentioned earlier, there are many other factors at work—antibiotics, refined vegetable oils, HFCS, and lifestyle—that have grown and changed in parallel with dwarf wheat and are themselves major contributors to wheat intolerance, celiac disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease.


To sum up:  Any diet that omits wheat and other whole grains cannot be the universal and sustainable answer to feeding the world.  There are other factors to blame beyond wheat for the modern epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and other chronic disease.   And, there are traditional forms of wheat prepared with care that civilizations have relied upon throughout time to support development, growth, and well-being that do not come with the health price tag of mutant dwarf wheat.


Comparing Wheat:  Dwarf, Einkorn, Emmer, and Other Traditional Varieties


Mutant dwarf wheat is a distant cousin to Einkorn and Emmer that have been consumed for centuries to support growth and development, emotional well-being, and general health and vitality.  In the past, some wheat hybridization occurred naturally, either through cross-pollination in the wild or in cultivated fields of yore, thus explaining the evolution of some varieties, for example, from Einkorn to Emmer.


Einkorn is thought to be the oldest variety of wheat, with its wild variety (Triticum boeoticum ) first harvested around 15,000 BC.  The first cultivated strain of Einkorn (Triticum monococcum, meaning “single grain”) dates back 5,000-10,000 years to regions of the Tigris-Euphrates.  Cultivated Einkorn thrives in poor soil and is best suited to cool regions with little moisture, like the Montana Great Plains.


Table 1:  Genome of Wheat11






Einkorn Triticum monococcum Diploid AA


Rye* Secale cereal L. Diploid RR


Emmer Triticum turgidum, dicoccum Tetraploid AABB


Durum Triticum turgidum, Durum Tetraploid AABB


Kamut Triticum turgidum, turanicum Tetraploid AABB


Spelt Triticum spelta Hexaploid AABBDD


Triticale Triticum aestivum Hexaploid AABBRR


Dwarf Triticum aestivum Hexaploid AABBDD



Einkorn is a “diploid” wheat, because it has only two genomes, AA, each with seven chromosomes, 14 in all.  Einkorn is nutrient-dense, with protein content equaling durum wheat and some 35%- 50% higher than hard red wheat.  Einkorn is also high in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene.  And, of all wheat, Einkorn has the greatest amount of lutein, an important antioxidant.  Einkorn flour is high in ash; it is savory in flavor; and its gliadin to glutenin ratio of 2:1 compares favorably to the 0.8:1 ratio of durum and hard red wheat, leading some to believe that Einkorn is non-toxic to people with celiac disease.12


Emmer (Triticum turgidum) appears to be an early hybrid of Einkorn.  It is a tetraploid wheat, having four genomes, AABB, each with seven chromosome, 28 in all.  Emmer can be grown in a wider variety of climates and geographic areas than Einkorn, a fact that helped it become, until around 1,000 BC, the predominant wheat throughout Europe, the Near and Far East, as well as northern Africa.


Spelt (Triticum spelta), a hybrid of Emmer, is the oldest of the hexaploid grains and a precursor of our modern wheat.  With six genomes, AABBDD, each with seven chromosomes, spelt has a total of 42 chromosomes, like modern wheat.  Spelt is even more adaptable to diverse climates than Emmer, a fact that led to its early popularity.  From its Near East origin, spelt was grown widely during the Bronze Age (4,000-1,000 BC) throughout Europe, the Balkans, and Asia.


Einkorn, Emmer, and spelt are known as “covered wheat” because their kernels do not thresh free of the glumes (outer coverings), making them harder to mill.  Hybrids have been developed through time to make wheat easier to husk and process and to raise the starch and gluten content.  The modern result is our present-day mutant dwarf wheat that has supplanted traditional varieties to be the dominant wheat grown worldwide.  It has gone through a variety of hybridizations.  The high-starch, high-gluten wheat developed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s was too top-heavy for its four-foot stalk and had to be “dwarfed,” leading to the hybrid grown widely today.


“For every front, there is a back.”  In recent decades science has focused energy on hybridization efforts to genetically modify wheat to increase yields, resist pests and fungus, facilitate milling, and adapt grains to high-speed, high-temperature, chemically-treated commercial processing/baking methods, while spending little time and energy exploring the potential implications of GMO grains on health.   As Katherine Czapp states,


“…even before the latest GMO changes, it appears that recent forced and accelerated hybridizations have changed wheat nutritionally in ways that no one seems to have considered, while research into the health effects of these transformations has barely begun.”13


The DD Manipulated Chromosome Set—One Slant on Celiac Disease


Gluten proteins in Einkorn, a simple AA, are fewer and different in structure from Emmer, AABB, whose gluten proteins are, in turn, fewer and different in structure from modern AABBDD wheat—simply because hexaploid wheat’s three sets of genomes and 42 chromosomes code for a greater number and variety of gluten proteins.   Moreover, in the last 50 years, plant scientists have altered in a variety of ways gluten-coding genes, mostly in the DD genomes of Triticum aestivum, in part for improved baking, such as a lighter texture and loaf volume.14  But, as we know from systems theory, altering a single gene can trigger a cascade of unpredictable and untoward results.15


As described by  Katherine Czapp:


“Recent genome mapping of modern bread wheat with an eye to its toxic influence in celiac disease has isolated a small chain of peptides on a portion of the gluten protein which is directly responsible for stimulating the reactions in those with the celiac genetic inheritance.  The plant genes responsible for contributing these peptides in wheat gluten are located on the third set of chromosomes that the hexaploid variants inherited from their wild parent.  It is very interesting to note that neither the diploid nor the tetraploid cereal grains contain this genetic material.”


And, Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly comments:


“It is…the D genome of modern Triiticum aestivum that, having been the focus of all manner of genetic shenanigans by plant geneticists, has accumulated substantial change in genetically determined characteristics of gluten proteins.  It is also potentially the source for many of the odd health phenomena experienced by consuming humans.”16


Beyond the DD set of chromosomes and their manipulation, other factors in the chemistry of wheat may also be at work to trigger allergic reactions and celiac disease.  A potential culprit is the way that wheat is commercially processed and bolstered with additives to create processed foods, bread, and snacks.

Wheat Processing and Baking Methods


One of the earliest and most dramatic shifts to convenience foods in the United States was ushered in shortly after the turn of the last century by cereal companies like Post and Kellogg, as well as by baking companies such as Continental.  The Continental Baking Company commercialized bread baking, transforming it from an artisanal art to a high-speed industrial process.   In 1890, of all bread consumed in the United State, 90 percent was baked at home, with the remainder purchased from local neighborhood bakeries.  By 1930, the year that Continental Baking Company introduced sliced Wonder Bread nationwide (and unveiled Twinkies), these ratios had totally flipped.17  Baking a nutritious, easy-to-digest, delicious loaf of bread with nuanced flavors from the slow development of proteins and carbohydrates requires time, usually by sprouting and/or souring, such as soaking with sourdough.  Modern processing methods used to turn out “instant” bread by the millions of loaves can itself be a factor triggering allergic reactions to commercially-baked bread.


This is easy to imagine from the three major assembly-line bread production methods described by Katherine Czapp in “Against the Grain:”


  • The continuous mixing method was first used in the 1950s to create bread (think Wonder Bread) that is soft, cake-like in texture with no holes, no fermentation, and hence no flavor or aroma.   The process calls for all ingredients to be mixed together from the beginning and the “slurry of flour and yeast and ‘improvers’ travels via conveyors without pause (and proofing) to the oven.”  This method explained 60% of all bread baked in 1970 but has since been virtually abandoned due to the tasteless end product.
  • The “No-Time” Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) developed in 1961 uses high-speed mixers, chemical oxidants, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and large amounts of yeast and water to produce a loaf in three and one-half hours.  CBP is popular in countries where wheat has been bred to tolerate commercial CBP machinery by which “wheat is milled under tremendous pressure to force open starch cells so that the flour will absorb the maximum amount of water during processing.”  Hydrogenated oils are used to prevent loaves from collapsing when baked.

In CBP, “flour, chemical oxidants and ‘improvers,’ water, yeast, fat and salt are pumped into vast computer-controlled mixers and the dough is violently shaken for three minutes.”  This energy overheats the dough, requiring computer-controlled cooling systems.  Air pressure is also carefully controlled to create a partial vacuum to control gas bubbles that might otherwise escape the surface of the dough.  This method, well-suited to soft wheat but not the high-gluten wheat of the United States, produces 80 percent of the bread in the U.K., Australia, and India.

  • The conventional batch mixing method is the process most often used in commercial bakeries in our country today.  The majority (60%) of ingredients are mixed and allowed to ferment for two-four hours, after which the complement of ingredients are added and loaves are then baked.   This method also adapts to “no-time” methods.  It requires chemicals to “condition the dough during mechanical processing, as well as impart anti-staling and moisture-retentive properties to the finished product.”  This is the process used not only for commercially baked bread, but also hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as frozen loaves for on-site baking.18


I come away from these descriptions wondering not only about the quality and character of wheat that has been genetically modified to withstand the abuse of our modern commercial “no patience” commercial bakeries, but also about what might happen even to the best of wheat varieties subjected to these treatments.  Might we wonder about the health implications of wheat abuse associated with these industrial processing methods?


Chemicals and additives.  Chemicals and other additives used in bakery products and snack foods are another part of the wheat allergy, inflammation, chronic disease story.   Commercial baking companies resort to chemicals and additives, including extra gluten, to fill gaps in flavor and texture that result from “no-time” methods.


For fun on a recent trip to the store, I purchased a loaf of the healthiest-sounding bread that I could find:  Arnold’s “Whole Grains—100% Whole Wheat Bread, From Grains to Glory.”  Reading the label from the top after whole wheat (dwarf) flour, water, and sugar, other sweeteners, and bran, we find, in order of importance…


  • Wheat gluten—even more gluten must be added to compensate for the lack of proofing time; this is of course gluten derived from mutant dwarf wheat;
  • Soybean oil—from GMO soy; for volume and a softer crumb;
  • Monoglycerides/Diglycerides—softeners, emulsifiers, used to keep bread tasting fresh for days;
  • Calcium propionate—a mold inhibitor linked to irritability, insomnia, and attention issues;
  • Calcium sulfate—to control moisture;
  • Datem—dough strengthener to keep the dough from collapsing from, in this case, the addition of bran;
  • Citric Acid—a preservative; provides a “faux” sour flavor to enhance taste;
  • Soy lecithin—from GMO soy; an emulsifier; for freshness and uniformity;
  • Whey—a milk product; powdered whey is a denatured product (see July/August 2012 Newsletter).


There are many other chemical additives to be found in “less healthy” breads.  One ingredient missing above that is often used in commercial bread is potassium bromate, a recognized carcinogen that makes dough more elastic to endure the abuse of high-speed mixing.  You might find it interesting to research the chemical additives not only in bread, but also any packaged, processed food created for a long shelf life.


Conclusion.  Wheat intolerance, obesity, and chronic disease have many causes.  Science may ponder these for some time; meanwhile Big Agriculture and Big Food will continue to roll out new products while many more people experience “mysterious” wheat allergies and intolerance little known a century ago.   Blaming wheat with a broad brush is easy:  Einkorn and Emmer, Red Fife and Dapps have no powerful constituency or lobby on Capitol Hill.  They need our recognition and appreciation.

Reading Resources


Ben Atlas, “From Einkorn to the Mutant Dwarf Wheat on Your Table.”

Tara Cochrane, “Rare Varieties of Wheat.”

Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” The Weston A. Price Foundation.

William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly

Daily Lipid, “Wheat Belly—The Toll of Hubris on Human Health”

G.F. Sallkneckht, K.M. Gilbertson, and J.E. Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grains:  Einkorn,

Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale”, Center for New Crops & Plant Products; Purdue University.


Contemporary Sources of Heirloom and Quality Grains:  Everything Old is New


Hopefully, Wheat Belly and the Paleo Diet will inspire you to try more heirloom grains and support the farmers and suppliers who are investing time and money to revive grains from the past.  Some of these are available through local health and specialty stores, while others require ordering by phone/email .


Anson Mills in South Carolina, under the leadership and inspiration of Glenn Roberts, is a leader in the movement to revive heirloom grains.  Anson Mills has brought back traditional varieties of wheat (including Einkorn), rye, oats, buckwheat, corn, and rice.  For sourdough bread baking, I depend upon Anson Mills’ Red Fife Whole Wheat flour and Abruzzi Rye, as well as Fiddlers’ Green Farm’s Whole Wheat flour made from Dapps.19  You will find your own favorites, either at your local specialty store, or perhaps by trying some of the following sources:


Sources familiar to me:

Anson Mills, for a wide variety of heirloom grains that are stone-milled and hand-sifted.  As mentioned, I like their Red Fife and Abruzzi Rye.  www.ansonmills.com  803-467-4122


Fiddler’s Green Farm, for Whole Wheat Bread Flours from Dapps, a wheat flour particularly good for

sourdough bread.  www.fiddlersgreenfarm.com   800-729-7935


King Arthur Flour, for First Clear, a high-ash flour well-suited for feeding and growing sourdough starter.

King Arthur is also a good source of baking supplies.  www.kingarthurflour.com  800-827-6836


Other sources recommended by Maria Speck in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals include:


Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com  800-349-2173


Arrowhead Mills, www.arrowheadmills.com  800-434-4246


Bluebird Grain Farms, www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com  888-232-0331


Wild Hive Farm, www.wildhivefarm.com  845-266-5863


Gustiamo, www.gustiamo.com  877-907-2525


Alter Eco, www.altereco-usa.com  866-972-6879


Enjoy exploring these websites for a variety of eating pleasures.  Most offer gluten-free grains like the delicious black quinoa from Alter Eco.  If you wish to stay away from gluten and want to explore alternative grains, there are many to enjoy from this list.


Cookbooks Featuring Grains…


Whole grains are the most economical source of energy and, if processed with care, are a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, as well as calcium, phosphorus, copper, and selenium.  Some cookbooks to try…


Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, All-American Waves of Grain

Joanne Saltzman, Amazing Grains

Maria Speck, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

Rebecca Wood, The Splendid Grain


Traditional Bread Baking—A Note on Sourdough, the Time-Tested Way of Preparing Wheat Flour:


Long before modern science, traditional cultures seemed to appreciate the magic wrought by using a soaking/souring medium combined with patience and time.  They relied upon sourdough as a leavening agent to enhance taste and digestibility and to act as a preservative.  Science now confirms much of what our forebears seemed to know intuitively.   Sourdough:

  • boosts lysine, an essential amino acid, to make wheat flour a complete protein;
  • diffuses phytic acid, which is a nutrient and enzyme blocker;
  • reduces the glycemic effect of wheat flour, since the yeasts and bacteria in sourdough consume much of the carbohydrate that can otherwise spike blood sugar;
  • enhances flavor and texture; and
  • acts as natural preservative.

In addition, research on sourdough and celiac disease suggest that soaking with sourdough may neutralize the chain of peptides associated with gliadin proteins that are linked to celiac disease.20


In exchange for a donation to Island Grown Schools, I offer sourdough bread baking classes on Martha’s Vineyard.  Baking sourdough bread is a skill taught me some years ago by my good friend Ellen Arian, www.ellensfoodandsoul.com .  My habit of baking and eating sourdough makes me truly appreciate why bread is “the staff of life.”  I plan to write more about sourdough, the subject of my dissertation, which I may write as a newsletter, or at least on the “Slow Food” section/Recipe tab of my website.


Copyright 2012 and 2014 Pathways4Health.

  1. Refined flour, two simple glucose molecules, is broken down by the body more rapidly than sugar, a more complex molecule of glucose and fructose, to foster insulin resistance. []
  2. JD McClelland, The Grain Divide []
  3. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 481. []
  4. “Starches that are high in amylopectin are digested and absorbed more quickly than starches with a high amylose content and produce larger postprandial glucose and insulin responses.”  See Bynes, Miller, and Denyer, “Amylopectin Starch Promotes the Development of Insulin Resistance in Rats.” []
  5. See William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly, particularly page 38. []
  6. As pointed out in The Daily Lipid, “Wheat Belly—the Toll of Hubris on Human Health,” refined flour is often “chemically deamidated, to mimic the inflammatory process within the intestines of a elCiac patient.” []
  7. See http://pathways4health.org/2009/07/01/julyaugust-2009-fermenting/ and http://pathways4health.org/2011/12/20/janfeb-2012-vitamin-d-in-winter-and-throughout-the-year/ []
  8. See http://pathways4health.org/2011/07/23/managing-inflammation/ []
  9. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. []
  10. Ben Atlas, “From Einkorn to the Mutant Dwarf Wheat on Your Table.” []
  11. Derived from Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grins:  Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale.”  I have also included rye, not a wheat, of course, but to show its simply structure and its link to triticale. []
  12. Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney. []
  13. Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” 2,3. []
  14. PR Shewry, NG Halford, PS Belton, AS Tatham, “The Structure and Properties of Gluten:  An Elastic Protein from Wheat Grain,” qtd. in Davis, 38. []
  15. http://pathways4health.org/2010/04/11/foods-as-systems-physics-fractals-and-food/ []
  16. Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly, 39. []
  17. Aaron Bobrow-Strain, White Bread:  A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. []
  18. Czapp, 5,6. []
  19. Dapps is a conventional-height, hard red spring wheat, a cross between Kitt, Amidon, Grandin, and Stoa, grown in North Dakota.  Red Fife dates back to 1840 when David Fife brought it from Scotland to Canada. []
  20. R. DiCagno, et Al.  “Sourdough bread made from wheat and non-toxi flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients,” AEM, Februrary, 2004, 1088-1096, 70:2, qtd. in Czapp. []