Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wheat Junkie

At one point in our lives, we didn't even want to have children and now people tell me that I make crunchy parenting look easy, and that they always knew we would be great parents.  Looks can be deceiving.  What some think is effortless is a constant struggle.  I've been a foodie much longer than I've been crunchy.  My family owned fresh fish markets and restaurants that we grew up working in.  It was there that I watched my grandmother and great aunt fry fish, prepare collard greens and bake sweet potato pies that made the most dignified men eat with their hands and lick their fingers clean.  My appreciation for buying local, supporting small business and using fresh ingredients come from my upbringing.  We grew our own veggies, ate fresh farm raised fish and even caught and cleaned our own.  I remember my grandfather regularly telling us that he was “going to see a man about a chicken” and returning with said chicken, alive and well, clucking about before being killed, plucked, cleaned and fried for dinner.  There’s nothing like fresh, locally sourced, pesticide free food.

Beignets anyone?
What we've learned about food and food additives in recent years is alarming.  Even though we know that most of the convenient food we eat is made from ingredients you won’t find on your grocery store shelves, we continue to consume it, increasing rates of obesity, mental health problems, allergies and cancers.  While I have never really been a fan of fast food, the decision to give it up was easy.  Processed food was a great convenience for me, as a working parent, but has always tasted metallic or plastic to me.  Steering clear of most of the grocery store is not hard.  My husband and I aren't soda or coffee drinkers, so that wasn't a sacrifice either.  As an avid baker, pasta lover and creator of some of the world’s best grilled cheese sandwiches, I struggle with giving up wheat.

Everyone knows that wheat products are a huge staple in our diets, no matter where you live.  From pasta, to bagels and other baked goods, wheat has been blamed for causing the onset of other health problems, primarily digestive issues, obesity and heart disease.  Many have been diagnosed with disorders that make them unable to digest gluten, found in wheat and other grains.  The increase in these disorders, quite frankly, is because the wheat we eat today is not the wheat of 30 years ago; it is a hybrid of its earlier form to make it grow better and ward off pests.  Just like a lot of other non-organic produce, it is bred with financial, not nutritional value in mind. 

If you haven’t read the book, “Wheat Belly,” written by Dr. William Davis, and you’re considering adopting a gluten free lifestyle, his diatribe on the perils of this controversial grain is a very persuasive argument to join him in refusing to eat it.  He says that the inclusion of whole grains at the top of the USDA’s food pyramid is “among the biggest health blunders ever made in the history of nutritional advice,” comparing it to heroin.  Well, if that’s the case, then I’m a wheat junkie.  While his book has some interesting and valid points, I didn't join the Atkins diet craze that tossed out carbs and I’m not buying all of Dr. Davis’s denunciation of delectable desserts.

Who wants a lobster roll without a good roll?
Whole wheat flour is much better than white flour and two slices of bread raises blood sugar to levels higher than a Snickers bar.   Knowing this has caused me to make some changes in our family’s diet, but we have not eliminated wheat all together.   Just like everything else we put on our plates, we buy organic whenever possible, and there are some decent brands of wheat flour available.  I love to bake, and everyone knows it, so I've been working to alter some family recipes that use different types of flour and still produce similar results.  In some cases, regular old, gluten filled wheat just works better.  Rice and almond flour are wonderful in their own right and have great uses, but not in my grandmother’s pound cake recipe.

Giving up grains is not the answer to all of our health problems.  I would be accepting a Nobel Peace Prize if I knew what the answers were.  Wheat is known for increasing antioxidant capacity and reducing inflammation, so it does have some positive effects on our health.  Because I haven’t given up wheat, should I be “Marginally Crunchy Disney Ma?” No.  Everyone has a different definition of being crunchy.  I decide what’s best for my family, just like you can for yours.  If you listen to everything being said, there isn't anything on the planet that won’t cause you some sort of problem if you eat it.  I’m committed to feeding my family real food, and raising children who love food, respect the earth it comes from and appreciate the dedication and skill of those who prepare it.   Artificial colors, artificial flavoring, GMOs, chemical preservatives, processed and fast foods have been eliminated or greatly reduced in our diets, but for now, wheat is staying and I’m no less crunchy for it.

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