The key to true mind-body balance? Understanding your body’s natural needs—how to eat, cook, cleanse, and heal—through each season. In our upcoming online course Ayurveda 101, Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu's School of Ayurveda, and John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and best-selling author, demystify yoga's elemental sister science. Sign up now!
Did you give up wheat and grains amid the gluten-free craze, thinking it would help you lose weight or simply feel lighter and better? You may be cutting out one of your favorite food groups for no reason—and compromising your health while you're at it, says John Douillard, co-leader of Yoga Journal's new online course, Ayurveda 101 and the author of best-seller Eat Wheat: A Scientific and Clinically-Proven Approach to Safely Bringing Wheat and Dairy Back Into Your Diet (Morgan James Publishing, January 10, 2017—buy it now and get it before Christmas!).
"Wheat is a high-protein, high-fiber, good-fat grain that is harvested in the fall as a heavier food to help warm, insulate, and boost immunity in the body during the winter months," Douillard says. Many people do have a hard time digesting wheat, but that's largely due to decades of eating processed foods and being exposed to thousands of pesticides and over 400 billion pounds of environmental toxins a year in America, which have broken down our ability to digest well and detoxify efficiently, he adds. "Wheat is hard to digest, but so is the mercury that laces every organic veggie from the coal-fired electrical plumes that cover most of the Earth," Douillard explains. "To detox well, we must digest well. Taking wheat out does not treat the cause—it only temporarily treats the symptoms."
Below, here are Douillard's 5 top reasons why you should go back to eating healthier, more digestible forms of wheat like sourdough bread and spelt.
1. Wheat may boost your immune system.
People who eat a gluten-free diet have significantly less beneficial gut bacteria and more harmful gut bacteria than people who don’t, studies have shown. Studies have also found that people who ate wheat increased the activity of their NK cells (natural killer cells critical to the immune system), which suggests that while wheat may be hard to digest, it also stimulates the immune system. When people take all of the hard-to-digest stuff out of their diet, they may become immune compromised.
2. Wheat is seasonal.
We’ve been eating wheat for 3.4 to 4 million years, and we've only been hunting our own meat for 500,000 years. There are enzymes like amylase—which helps us digest and break down the hard-to-digest components of wheat—that we evolved genetically to produce right around the time we started eating grains in the savannas of Africa. Plus, amylase increases in the body in fall and winter when we are meant to be eating more wheat, and decreases in the spring and summer. In the West, we have overeaten wheat—three times a day all year round—if you eat any food in such excess, it could become a problem. Eating wheat in the fall and winter once a day in the middle of the day, when the digestive system is stronger, is the ideal way to eat wheat.
3. You can buy (or make) healthier wheat.
Sourdough bread is a great way to eat wheat, but when you buy it, check the label. The ingredients should read organic wheat, salt, water, organic starter (dough that has flour and water in it), and that's it. The process of using a sourdough starter properly has been shown in a pilot study to render whole wheat sourdough bread gluten-free, making sourdough bread easier to digest. It should get hard in a couple of days, the way bread is supposed to. Bread that stays squishy on shelf for months has processed oils that are indigestible and are used as preservatives. These preservatives are directly linked to the great digestive breakdown that has caused our inability to not only digest well but to detoxify well. You can also make your own sourdough bread (see the recipe below).
4. Wheat may help you lose weight.
Wheat has been shown in numerous studies to lower weight and blood sugar levels and significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. Wheat in its non-processed form has a very low glycemic index. A lot of gluten-free proponents claim that wheat has a high glycemic index, but that's only true in the processed versions of the wheat. What people refer to as "wheat belly" should actually be referred to as "sugar belly." It's the sugar, not the wheat, that's the problem.
5. Wheat may help you live longer.
A Harvard University study of more than 700,000 subjects found that eating more whole grains may reduce the risk of premature death. The study found that people who ate the most whole grains (70 grams/day, about 4 servings), compared with those who ate little or no whole grains, had a lower risk of dying during the study period. The results showed that people who ate 70 grams/day of whole grains, compared with those who ate little or no whole grains, had a 22 percent lower risk of total mortality, a 23 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.
RECIPE: Sourdough Bread Starter, The Old-World Way
This is a traditional recipe given to Douillard by his mother who, while living in Europe many years ago, received it from the daughter of traditional bakers in Lourdes, France. The baker’s daughter lovingly wrote it down on a napkin during one of their visits, and told his mother that it had been passed down from generation to generation. Note: Making the starter takes 1–3 weeks, but don’t be intimidated by the time investment. You only need to make the starter the very first time you make sourdough bread, as the starter can be refortified and used for years.
Whole wheat flour (rye flour, or organic all-purpose flour may be used, but use the same type throughout the process.)
1 teaspoon raw, organic honey
1. In a 4 cup glass container, mix about ¼ cup lukewarm pure, filtered water and ½ cup whole wheat flour—enough to create a mixture similar to the consistency of medium batter.
2. Stir in 1 teaspoon of raw, organic honey.
3. Cover with a piece of cloth or plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours in a dry, warm place.
4. After 24 hours, add a little bit more water and flour (roughly 3 tablespoons of each). This is known as it’s “feeding.” Stir well, cover, and let it sit for another 24 hours.
5. On the 3rd day, during the second feeding, remove ½ of the starter (can be used for making pancakes) and add ¼ cup of lukewarm pure unfiltered water and ½ cup of flour to the other half. Mix well and let it sit until mixture bubbles and doubles in size—up to 3 days.
6. Once the mixture has doubled in size and is bubbly, remove 50% of it and store half in the refrigerator to make future starter and feed the other half as before.
7. It should take only 12 hours by now for the mixture to double in size.
8. Do not use the starter until it is at least 1 week old, and until it can double itself between feedings. (You can continue the same “50% refrigerate, 50% feed” procedure up to 3 months, but it should be ripe and ready to use after 1 week. For the fullest sourdough flavor, it is best to use your first starter after 3 weeks of feeding.)