Give us our daily bread

To all my beloved friends

Bread has been on my mind since Prof Tim Noakes launched the The Real Meal Revolution and I have debated many hours with many people about the “goodness” of bread. At one stage I realised that I just had to do my own research on this topic since, on numerous occasions, I was in a tight corner defending my arguments. As a Food Scientist, this was not a good spot to be in. My view was based on the fact that bread was part of the “holy trinity” of food in the Bible – it must be “Biblically correct” to eat bread. However, as I have discovered, there was one factor that I didn’t keep into account – the human being and how this “being” has messed up my beautiful story. I can write another book about all the information that I have consumed over the last few months but will only bore you to death. Therefore, I have compiled a condensed version. I hope you have time to read through this and maybe, just maybe, you are willing to do something about it if this affects you. Please share with friends and family and any feedback is welcomed.

“Give us this day our daily bread”.  It’s in the Bible. In Deuteronomy, Moses describes the Promised Land as “a land of wheat and barley and vineyards”. Bread is central to religious ritual and mentioned 89 times in the Bible. Jews celebrate Passover with unleavened matzo to commemorate the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Christians consume bread representing the body of Christ. Muslims regard unleavened naan as sacred, insisting it be stored upright and never thrown away in public. In the Bible, bread is a metaphor for bountiful harvest, a time of plenty, freedom from starvation, even a source of salvation.

Don’t we break bread with friends and family? Isn’t something new and wonderful “the best thing since sliced bread”? “Taking the bread out of someone’s mouth” is to deprive that person of a fundamental necessity. Bread is a nearly universal diet staple: chapati in India, tsoureki in Greek, pitta in the Middle East, aebleskiver in Denmark, naan bya for breakfast in Burma, baguette in France, ciabatta in Italy and glazed doughnuts in the USA.

The notion that a foodstuff so fundamental, so deeply ingrained in the human experience, can be bad for us is, well, unsettling and counter to long-held cultural views of wheat and bread. But today’s bread bears little resemblance to the loaves that emerged from our forebears’ ovens. From the original strains of wild grass harvested by early humans, wheat has exploded to more than 25 000 varieties, virtually all of them the result of human intervention, mostly in the latter part of the twentieth century, when an upheaval in hybridisation methods transformed the grain.

Genetic differences generated via thousands of human-engineered hybridisations make for substantial variation in composition, appearance and qualities important not just to chefs and food processors, but also potentially to human health. And so it goes with this human-engineered grass we still call “wheat”. (Extract from Davies, 2014, p 15 – 30).

In health literature—whether it’s medical journals, blog posts, or magazine articles—you’ll probably come across some of these terms: celiac disease (CD), gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, gluten syndrome, and gluten/wheat allergy. The terms that different people throw around can mean a number of different things which we will not discuss in this article. However, they have one thing in common: it describes the immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

There’s no denying that celiac disease is more prevalent now than ever. In the US, rates of CD have increased at least 5-fold over the past few decades, and prevalence in Finland has doubled. The incidence of CD has also increased four-fold in the UK and three-fold in the Netherlands in the past 20 years, and the incidence of pediatric CD in Scotland has increased 6.4-fold.

The biological mechanisms behind celiac disease are complicated and still not fully understood, but the general idea is that gluten – a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley – triggers an autoimmune response that results in severe damage to the epithelial lining of the intestine.

Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of gluten, with gliadins being the primary trigger for celiac disease. These proteins are very difficult for the body to digest fully, but in most people, this isn’t a problem. However, in people with celiac disease, certain cells (known as “antigen-presenting cells”) get a hold of these large, undigested fragments of protein and present them to T-cells, triggering an immune response.

An enzyme called tissue transglutaminase (TG2) is also important in the development of CD. This is because antigen-presenting cells only bind certain types of proteins, and they don’t usually bind normal gliadin fragments. On the other hand, TG2 readily binds gliadin, and actually modifies it to make the gliadin much more attractive to antigen-presenting cells. This vastly increases the likelihood of an immune response.

Once this happens, the body starts creating antibodies against gliadin. But because the gliadin is usually bound to TG2, the body also creates antibodies against TG2, its own enzyme. This attack of “self” is what earns CD the classification of “autoimmune.” (

Should I Try a Gluten-Free Diet?

Should you consider whether your body has a problem with wheat? Well, in my opinion anyone living in this era should at least consider this question. If you suffer from any of the over 200 conditions associated with gluten sensitivity, I’d seriously consider eliminating wheat from your diet. The conditions below represent the “short list.”

  • Gastrointestinal problems: bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, heartburn, etc;
  • Headaches, particularly migraines;
  • PMS;
  • Infertility;
  • Inflammation—systemic or whole body;
  • Stiff joints;
  • Mood issues: anxiety or depression;
  • Schizophrenia;
  • Childhood problems like learning disorders, autism, hyperactivity;
  • “Chicken skin” on the backs of your arms (those little bumps that give you rough skin);
  • Asthma and wheezing;
  • Chronic sniffling;
  • Coughing;
  • Chrohn’s disease;
  • Skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, acne, itchy skin, rashes);
  • Fatigue and low energy;
  • Insomnia;
  • Fluid retention;
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, alopecia, autoimmune hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc.);
  • Miscarriage;
  • Weight loss/gain;
  • Nutritional deficiencies (due to malabsorption);
  • Vomiting or excessively spitting up;
  • Spontaneous nose bleeds; and
  •  the list goes on and on…

Moral of the story: different people have different symptoms to gluten sensitivity. Pay attention to your body. 



Davis, W. 2014. Wheat Belly. London: HarperThorsons.


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