Information is power. And there are so many different opinions about the nutritional qualities of bread, yeast, and whole grain products, I feel compelled to offer nutritional education about bread and bread-making process so you can make informed decisions about the consumption of Four Worlds’ products. So if this happens to help or hurt business…may it all be for good.
Please come with me on my own educational journey…
Confusion Before Answers
A few weeks ago, I asked, via email, my friend and neighbor Brandon Waloff to write an article about the nutritional aspects of Four Worlds’ products. Brandon, among his many other healing talents, is a certified nutrition counselor and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City; and an authority in natural food preparation. He also eats and raves about Four Worlds breads.
Brandon responded, via email, reservedly; telling me he could not with integrity recommend the eating of “pulverized grains” (ie flour) products for nutritional content except for the healing benefits of enjoying ourselves with the eating of good food. He said once the grain is pulverized, it loses much of its rich nutritional aspects; and with this spin, he could endorse Four World’s breads.
My immediate reaction was confusion mixed with a bit of unexpressed anger for not getting what I was wanted from Brandon, a full-fledged endorsement of Four Worlds products. My confusion came from the disconnect from what I was hearing from Brandon and: (1) my experience with many years of baking and eating my breads as a major source of protein and nutrition, and (2) my intuitive sense that there are major nutritional benefits to eating naturally fermented whole grain breads.
So I said to Brandon: “Educate me!!!” And Brandon and I met over tea at the Healing House in West Philly, a communal living house with a designated community healing space. Immediately upon entering his home and healing space, I felt different; like I had entered a place that invited me to take a fresh look at my views and beliefs. Of course, sniffing the fermenting sake in Brandon’s kitchen opened me up a bit as well.
The essence of our discussion came down to how the grains are milled. And I quickly learned that Brandon was not aware I was milling the organic grains in the bakery; a fact that changed his opinions about the nutritional benefits of the breads. In Brandon’s own words:
What you don’t usually get in whole grain breads are grains that were naturally milled. This plays a crucial role in the nutrient retention. Most bread that contains whole grain has been milled at higher temperatures, which damage the essential fats and amino acids that we need. Commercial bread companies also use high volumes of grains for shipping and extended storage before these breads reach consumption. This leads to higher levels of rancidity in the grains and is not healthy.
We both agreed that, nutritionally, eating the raw (ie sprouted) wheat berry is optimal when compared to eating it after it’s milled into flour. At that point, I was working on a formula for making a flourless sprouted wheat bread (aka Manna bread). And Brandon seemed very excited that I was going to offer such a product.
Some Four Worlds History on Grain Milling
So Brandon’s words were not new to me. I knew almost all commercially-sold whole grain flours are rancid by the time they are consumed. Even a cursory education about commercial milling processes boggles the mind on how we can make something so simple, so incredibly complicated. For example, whole wheat flour is usually milled the same way white flour is made: the germ and bran is removed from the white endosperm, and then added back later to make whole wheat flour. So whole wheat flour gets MORE processing than white flour. Go figure!!!
When the wheat berry is broken open in the milling process, the oils are exposed and will turn rancid within a week or two if not kept refrigerated or frozen; the high milling temperature (wheat being crushed by big stones or steel rollers releases loads of heat) exacerbates this process, despite the added cooling technology which adds to the processing and energy expense. White flours don’t have this storage problem (although they have nutritional issues of their own) because the oils are contained in the bran and germ that are separated out in the milling process. The resulting rancidity of whole grain flours affects not only the nutritional content, but also the flavor.
Almost four years ago I purchased a manual stone mill with a hand crank and begun milling my own whole wheat flour. I immediately noticed the accelerated fermentation process, as the natural yeast thrived much more vigorously with the food derived from the fresh flour. The flavor of the resulting bread products blew me away. I was left dumbfounded that we, as a society, replaced these breads with Wonder-bread-type products. Amazing!! It’s a sad truth that most people in our communities have never even tasted breads made from freshly milled whole grain flour.
When I started Four World Bakery, I decided I had to mill my own whole grains to make the best breads possible. I was inspired by several bakers I met in New England who had large commercial sized grain mills in their small bakeries. So I purchased an electric stone mill for use at Four Worlds.
More Research into Fermentation Processes
My conversation with Brandon led me to probe further into nutritional information about the Four Worlds breads I consume daily. The fermentation process is equally crucial to the milling process in making nutritionally-conscious grain products. Bottom line: there is a massive difference between using freshly milled grains that are naturally fermented (through the sourdough yeast process I use at Four Worlds Bakery) as opposed to leavening with commercially harvested yeast.
Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.d. in their book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (New Trends Publishing, 1999), offers the clearest articulation of this complicated discussion I have found.
The science of nutrition seems to take a step backwards for every two steps it takes forward. When the study of vitamins was in its infancy, researchers realized that white flour lacked the nutrients that nature put into whole grains. One of these researchers was Dr. Weston Price who noted in his studies of isolated, so-called "primitive" peoples that when white flour and other devitalized foods were introduced into these communities, rampant tooth decay and disease of every sort soon followed. But defenders of the new refining process argued that phosphorus in whole grains was "too acid" and was the true cause of bone loss and tooth decay. Warnings against the use of white flour went largely ignored.
Only in recent decades has Dr. Price been vindicated. Even orthodox nutritionists now recognize that white flour is an empty food, supplying calories for energy but none of the bodybuilding materials that abound in the germ and the bran of whole grains. We've taken two important steps forward—but unfortunately another step backward in that now whole grain and bran products are being promoted as health foods without adequate appreciation of their dangers. These show up not only as digestive problems, Crohn's disease and colitis, but also as the mental disorders associated with celiac disease. One school of thought claims that both refined and whole grains should be avoided, arguing that they were absent from the Paleolithic diet and citing the obvious association of grains with celiac disease and studies linking grain consumption with heart disease.
I hear about more and more people who are being advised by well-intended nutritionists to avoid all bread and yeasted products. And of course, we are being slowly poisoned by a lot of the bread products in the mainstream market. But are we throwing the “baby out with the bath water” with this blanket prohibition? Sure, if 99 percent of the breads out there are devoid of nutritional value it’s going to take some effort to smoke out the one percent that is good.
So what makes bread nutritionally valuable? Fallon and Enig continues:
But many healthy societies consume products made from grains. In fact, it can be argued that the cultivation of grains made civilization possible and opened the door for mankind to live long and comfortable lives. Problems occur when we are cruel to our grains—when we fractionate them into bran, germ and naked starch; when we mill them at high temperatures; when we extrude them to make crunchy breakfast cereals; and when we consume them without careful preparation.
Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid, for example, is an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound. It is mostly found in the bran or outer hull of seeds. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. The modern misguided practice of consuming large amounts of unprocessed bran often improves colon transit time at first but may lead to irritable bowel syndrome and, in the long term, many other adverse effects.
Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.
Most of these antinutrients are part of the seed's system of preservation—they prevent sprouting until the conditions are right. Plants need moisture, warmth, time and slight acidity in order to sprout. Proper preparation of grains is a kind and gentle process that imitates the process that occurs in nature. It involves soaking for a period in warm, acidulated water in the preparation of porridge, or long, slow sour dough fermentation in the making of bread. Such processes neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Vitamin content increases, particularly B vitamins. Tannins, complex sugars, gluten and other difficult-to-digest substances are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.
Animals that nourish themselves on primarily grain and other plant matter have as many as four stomachs. Their intestines are longer, as is the entire digestion transit time. Man, on the other hand, has but one stomach and a much shorter intestine compared to herbivorous animals. These features of his anatomy allow him to pass animal products before they putrefy in the gut but make him less well adapted to a diet high in grains—unless, of course, he prepares them properly. When grains are properly prepared through soaking, sprouting or sour leavening, the friendly bacteria of the microscopic world do some of our digesting for us in a container, just as these same lactobacilli do their work in the first and second stomachs of the herbivores.
So the well-meaning advice of many nutritionists, to consume whole grains as our ancestors did and not refined flours and polished rice, can be misleading and harmful in its consequences; for while our ancestors ate whole grains, they did not consume them as presented in our modern cookbooks in the form of quick-rise breads, granolas, bran preparations and other hastily prepared casseroles and concoctions. Our ancestors, and virtually all pre-industrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles. A quick review of grain recipes from around the world will prove our point: In India, rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas; in Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi; a similar dish made from oats was traditional among the Welsh; in some Oriental and Latin American countries rice receives a long fermentation before it is prepared; Ethiopians make their distinctive injera bread by fermenting a grain called teff for several days; Mexican corn cakes, called pozol, are fermented for several days and for as long as two weeks in banana leaves; before the introduction of commercial brewers yeast, Europeans made slow-rise breads from fermented starters; in America the pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits; and throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight, and for as long as several days, in water or soured milk before they were cooked and served as porridge or gruel. (Many of our senior citizens may remember that in earlier times the instructions on the oatmeal box called for an overnight soaking.)
All the breads at Four Worlds are made from naturally fermented grains. Occasionally, especially in the colder and drier winter months, I add nominal amounts of commercial yeast to give the breads an extra lift, thus improving volume. But the predominant fermentation is with the natural sourdough starter that I birthed over 3 years ago in the Catskills Mountains of New York. This “starter” is just flour and water that is regularly fed with more flour and water, thus giving the yeast more food to reproduce and ferment the grains into products our bodies thrive on. The diversity of yeast that lives in the starter is vastly superior to the one strand of easily cultivated yeast that we find in commercially harvested yeast; thus we are left with very complex flavors from sourdough breads that we just don’t get from commercially yeasted breads.
The ideal is to make the breads with no commercial yeast at all; just sourdough starter. And in the summer months, there is really no need for it, as the weather aids in the fermentation process significantly; resulting in faster fermentation and more lift.
So the lesson: pay attention to how your grains are processed. Fallon and Enig:
Bread can be the staff of life, but modern technology has turned our bread—even our whole grain bread—into a poison. Grains are laced with pesticides during the growing season and in storage; they are milled at high temperatures so that their fatty acids turn rancid. Rancidity increases when milled flours are stored for long periods of time, particularly in open bins. The bran and germ are often removed and sold separately, when Mother Nature intended that they be eaten together with the carbohydrate portion; they're baked as quick rise breads so that antinutrients remain; synthetic vitamins and an unabsorbable form of iron added to white flour can cause numerous imbalances; dough conditioners, stabilizers, preservatives and other additives add insult to injury.
Cruelty to grains in the making of breakfast cereals is intense. Slurries of grain are forced through tiny holes at high temperatures and pressures in giant extruders, a process that destroys nutrients and turns the proteins in grains into veritable poisons. Westerners pay a lot for expensive breakfast cereals that snap, crackle and pop, including the rising toll of poor health.
The final indignity to grains is that we treat them as loners, largely ignorant of other dietary factors needed for the nutrients they provide. Fat-soluble vitamins A and D found in animal fats like butter, lard and cream help us absorb calcium, phosphorus, iron, B vitamins and the many other vitamins that grains provide. Porridge eaten with cream will do us a thousand times more good than cold breakfast cereal consumed with skim milk; sourdough whole grain bread with butter or whole cheese is a combination that contributes to optimal health.
Be kind to your grains. . . and your grains will deliver their promise as the staff of life. Buy only organic whole grains and soak them overnight to make porridge or casseroles; or grind them into flour with a home grinder and make your own sour dough bread and baked goods. For those who lack the time for breadmaking, kindly-made whole grain breads are now available. Look for organic, stone ground, sprouted or sour dough whole grain breads and enjoy them with butter or cheese.
So I love white breads and I am not advocating the elimination of them. But it’s clear that nutritional value goes up with highere levels of natural fermentation and freshly milled whole grains. It’s all about balance. Sometimes we can enjoy a nice white bread for a special occasion; and you will find options at Four Worlds which celebrates the full diversity of pleasures that may be derived from the grains. Even the buttery croissant is a delicacy that is awesome for us in moderation. But I wholeheartedly advocate a dense whole grain as a daily bread and I offer such bread each week. It tastily brings out the flavor of whatever you put on it and, sorry to be cliché-ish, it’s good for you.
My mission with Four Worlds is to introduce you to and keep you supplied with naturally fermented freshly milled whole grain breads, which, to my knowledge, are not commercially available in Philadelphia fresh. They are the best in overall taste and nutrition. Can it get any better than that? You bet!!!
The Intersection Between Energy and Nutrition
Brandon is firm that there is much more to nutrition than the physical or chemical content in foods. Food carries immeasurable energy along with it, which explains why a home-cooked meal can be more satisfying than even the best culinary treasures made in commercial kitchens by invisible chefs. In Brandon’s own words:
Traditional methods of properly cultivating grains and using them as food had never dealt with quick production and high turnover. So, to choose grains that are being made more traditionally makes a more sensible choice for creating higher levels of nutrient assimilation. Plus, anytime you make your own foods in your own home you get Vitamin ‘H’ and Vitamin ‘L’. These are Vitamin Home and Vitamin Love. There is an energetic effect of eating whole grain bread that has been naturally milled and made in a warm home with love! When talking with Michael about Four Worlds Bakery, his philosophy on bread making made sense to me. While it’s important to know about whole grains and the affects on the body, it’s also about the essence of the bread. It’s the methodology of how the breads are made. It’s about the process and labor in which the breads are created. This has the greatest impact on our health and our lives.
Commercial bakeries often break up the production of bread into 3 parts: mixing, shaping, and oven baking. So the dough is mixed by the mixer, shaped by another person, the shaper, and then baked by the oven baker, yet another person. While this might prove to be optimal in factory efficiency, something is lost in the connection between the baker and, well, the bakee (the bread); not to mention the sacrifice in job satisfaction in doing the same repetitive work for 8 hours or more everyday. The resulting bread, even though it was technically made through a good artisan bread-making process, loses out on much of its potential. And you see that potential with Four World’s breads…the quality is tough to beat. So, as Four Worlds Bakery grows into multiple bakers, I am designing a production system where each baker will follow through in all the stages of the production process, not just part of it.
The other major disconnect is between the baker and the customer. How many bakers do you know personally? How do they make the bread? Even a simple connection between the baker and the consumers makes a huge difference in the quality of the breads. And so I put a lot of time and effort into creating such a connection through my descriptions of the breads before ordering and printed newsletters that come with them. My goal is to empower Four Worlds’ customers with knowing where their bread is coming from.
OK. There is much more I could add, but I will save it for later. This is a good start in the discussion. I invite your reactions, comments, feedback, disagreements, or utter praise for what you got from this article.
Also, feel free to contact Brandon directly. Brandon Waloff is a Holistic Health Counselor, A.A.D.P., leading people on personal wellness programs aimed to produce breakthroughs in people’s lives integrating Eastern and Western Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching. You can meet Brandon at his free weekly workshops every Wed. night at 7pm. Contact Brandon for further info: The Healing House, 49th and Cedar Ave, (215) 720-5286 www.spoutinghealth.us