Do Not Blame It on the Bread, Blame It on the Gut – and the Gut Killers

artisan sourdough bread

Before continuing with the evidence and scientific reasoning for my gluten sensitivity series (here article I, article II, and article III) I want to make sure that what I have written so far is not misinterpreted:

wheat is not the (only) cause of our stomach problems. On the contrary, I believe that the opposite is often true: our increased rate of stomach problems may be one reason why an increasing number of us can’t digest wheat.

Eating cereals and legumes, as well as milk and cheese, is not something that our stomachs would be able to do without the help of a gut flora that has evolved just to allow us to successfully digest these nutrients’ rich foods.

So rather than jumping immediately to the conclusion “if we can’t digest this food NOW then we should NEVER have eaten it”.

We could instead think this way “if we can’t digest this food now, but we could BEFORE, how can we manage to be able to eat this food AGAIN?”.

Aren’t you all puzzled by the epidemics of gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance?

Physicians surely are. They don’t see (and don’t care) about trends and fashions. They just see their patients suffering. They see their confusion, the uncertainty on how to handle the problem. Having often to decide if eating what they like or avoiding pain. And we certainly would be fools to believe that marketing, social contagion, and the tendency to follow fads can explain the whole (and not even much of the) phenomenon.

What physicians see is a real epidemics of symptoms. Which is making our most precious, available, and environmentally sound food sources inedible to many.

And the common disbelief of who thinks food sensitivities are a fad makes people affected suspicious and less likely to try healthy alternatives. “Why should I risk another symptoms attack to eat your long fermented sourdough bread? After all you don’t even believe my symptoms exist”. Many could be thinking along these lines, and we should truly do all we can not to lose people to the gluten-free or the paleo/no cereals lifestyles (unless celiac disease has already kicked in). Why? Because bread is a fantastic food. Because it has made our history. Because it can taste amazing. Look amazing. Make the food it goes with, the companatico (from the Latin “cum pane”), taste amazing. And all the environmentally sound and nutritionally sound reasons we could add to these cultural and delectable aspects.

Rather than accusing bread, it is reasonable to think that much of our problems with wheat and lactose derive from a lifelong exposure to food containing substances that destroy our most precious digestive device: the intestinal microbiome.

Emulsifiers, for instance. They are present in everything, especially in junk but also in “light” food. Like low fat industrial cheeses (even cottage cheese). Or low fat pudding (even organic one!). And diet bars or diet meal substitutes. And pretty much in everything industrial. As it is for artificial sweeteners, so ubiquitous. And preservatives.

emulsifiers junk-diet food

And we are finding out that celiac-like immune responses to wheat gluten can be triggered by an abnormal gut flora.

So it is reasonable to think that many cases of celiac disease and -even more cases- of gluten sensitivity would be avoided -and should be avoided- if all the above ingredients would disappear.

Obviously, there are tons of other factors. Antibiotics. That is another big enemy of a healthy gut flora. And it is not only the antibiotics we take. We have to take into account also those that pass into our system through our food. Antibiotics are in fact used in non organic animal and fish farming.

Factors are surely more, some even mentioned the possibility of a negative effect of clorinated water on gut flora. And detergents in general. And the fact that we sterilize everything. And we stopped fermenting our food.

Bottom line, again, it is not the bread.

Wheat and bread are not the enemy. Even if wheat elimination in the diet may lead to symptoms relief and improved health, this does not mean that wheat was the cause of the symptoms or of the disease.

However, the wide availability of industrially made wheat-based food, like industrial bread, poorly fermented, full of additives, and made with increasingly manipulated wheat, is an important co-factor.

So we can clearly understand why we are having this renaissance of both food and bread. Again, it is not just trendy. Foodism and Bread-ism (isn’t is about time to have our own term?) are born and still blossoming because of the food (and bread) desert we are otherwise inhabiting. It is not just a trend. It is not just fun. This is terribly serious. And important.

It appears to me that the only way to safely eat bread is to either become part-time bakers (for ourselves and family) or find a baker that we trust and who listens. Someone who seeks and uses the feed-back we give on the way some specific breads/flours make us feel. And a supportive customer, ready to pay a fair price for that healthy, tasty, beautiful, portable and nutritious loaf of bread that we can actually eat without harming ourselves, in this dissimulated bread desert we are all living in.

love thy baker

Believing that a small phenomenon, like supporting a local baker or making your own bread, while refusing (boycotting) low quality -and anonymous- baked goods, will push increased quality also in industrial processes.

And forgive me the overused quote, but it fits way too well here:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” M. Mead.

I will be back soon with some new recipe, and later on with more food for thought. And I hope you will be all bread-ing a lot or looking for/supporting someone who lovingly and honestly bakes for you.

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Barbara Elisi

Hi there! I am the "soul" behind Bread & Companatico. My main interest is the preservation of bread tradition and craft, with an eye to health. I hope you are having a good time reading this blog, and please don't be shy to connect with me through comments or emails and do keep on bread-ing! 🙂

Latest posts by Barbara Elisi (see all)

19 replies
    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      thank you for your kind words and for reading! hope you will keep reading and possibly inform others about these issues. there is so much confusion around…

      • charlotte
        charlotte says:

        Of course I’ll keep reading! I love your blog and your recipes and this type of article is the icing on the cake.
        I share this impression that there’s so much confusion around and that people jump to conclusions that often don’t make sense to me. Reading something that was so clear, with a real scientific approach but still esay to follow for non-experts was very helpful.
        And motivated me to wake my starter up (it was sleeping in the fridge…)

  1. Jan Sørensen
    Jan Sørensen says:

    Thank you Barbara for yet another very interesting article on this subject. It has been a pleasure to read and I think you are right in your overall reasoning about this.

    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      thanks a lot Jan! and very happy we agree on these basic concepts. we really need to spread some awareness and seriously engage to save bread, I know it sounds strong but it really is a food at risk. how is it going with your baking?

  2. Janan
    Janan says:

    Wow, wow, wow!!! Really interesting findings here! I’m hoping my ‘chemical ‘ reaction to gluten, where my throat swells and sinuses drain, can also be solved through the gut!!! Today I mixed a sourdough starter made from Sunrise Flour Mill’s Heritage Wheat flour. I’m looking forward to the flavor and possibly good gut flora to come from it!

    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      hi Janan, thanks!
      no idea if that type of reaction can be improved by an improved gut flora.
      have you been tested for wheat allergy?

      anyway, sourdough and good flour are a recipe to make bread more digestible, to make it easier on our gut. but they are not a “cure” for an already compromised gut flora.

      if you want to check yours out there are good gastroenterologists that can help you figure out if you have dysbiosis (imbalance in the bacteria in your gut) through laboratory testing. and then they will suggest therapies if they find something.

      but you sound like you have more of an allergy than a stomach problem…

      • Janan
        Janan says:

        I agree – I believe I have an allergy to something in the gluten/bread, and will definitely see a gastroenterologist to determine the cause and how to get better. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on the subject!!

        • Barbara Elisi
          Barbara Elisi says:

          Janan, I am just reasoning out loud here, please do not take my words as medical recommendations. Do talk to your general practitioner instead, and listen to what he says… good luck! 🙂

  3. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    Ty Barbara yes. The article was very informative enjoyed reading yess help with remedies I would love to read article on that too sweetie ..God bless u …

    • Barbara Elisi
      Barbara Elisi says:

      well, remedies depends on the type of problem one has.
      if, for instance, a clinical examination would confirm that there is bacterial overgrowth and gut dysbiosis (when there are too many of the bad bacteria and too little of the good ones), then some therapies are available. if you do have symptoms, go to your doctor and ask for tests. both for celiac and for alternative diagnoses -if celiac is not found.
      if you don’t have symptoms and you want to prevent them then my article can help more: as I state there, avoiding processed food and eating bread made the old way, with sourdough and unmodified wheat if possible, could be a good idea.


    I started my bread making with Sourdough 4 years ago. Now I only eat my home made bread. And feel better for it. I’ve also started making my own sauerkraut, home made broths, preserved lemons and many more. All these because I felt cheated by buying commercial stuff. It was also the waste that goes into bins that horrified me. I thought buying basics and making my own is cleaner and far less wasteful.

  5. Maiken Kristensen
    Maiken Kristensen says:

    Dear Barbara,
    First of all I would like to thank you for this series of interesting articles. I live in Denmark and my boyfriend can’t tolerate “gluten”. he lived in Thailand for two and a half year, and never felt better. When he came back he decided to go gluten free, but now we’re trying to fill ourselves with natural ingredients and it’s harder than it sound… We don’t have a huge variety of fresh organic greens in our supermarkets, but it’s a process and we fight our way to a healthier life. Thanks for an amazing blog where I learned so much about my passion, baking. Keep up the good work.


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