I’m going to show you how to eat bread. (The horror!)
Brad Lemley — die-hard low-carber Brad Lemley — will discuss how to eat bread?
Well, yes. Yes, I will.
I have wanted to write this for years, and a recent three-week ramble through Europe provided the perfect entry point.
First, a little background.
How Grain Became the Enemy
Like many Americans during the last half of the 20th century — years when dietary fat was demonized — I spent most of my life not even realizing that “grain” was a food category.
When I ate a hamburger, I was concerned (only mildly — I never really believed the anti-meat hype) about the “artery-clogging” saturated fat in the patty. The bun seemed irrelevant.
The fact that grains were the centerpiece of every meal — from cereal in the morning to sandwiches at noon to pasta, pizza and rolls at night — simply didn’t register.
But around 2005, I began digging into the damage excess insulin can do.
Blood levels of this powerful hormone spike in response to eating flour-based foods even more sharply than they do in response to pure sugar or less-processed carb-rich foods such as potatoes.
That spike, repeated often enough, boosts the risk of Alzheimer’s disease1, heart disease2, cancer3 and more.
Conversely, saturated fat, as a seminal 2010 study made clear, does not promote heart disease — and probably offers health benefits by keeping blood sugar lower.4
The Righteous Grain-Free
So I sharply reduced my consumption of carbohydrates, especially ones from flour and sugar, and ate more saturated fat from meat, butter and coconut oil.
Everything promptly moved in the right direction. I lost 30 pounds quickly and easily, my blood sugar went from high-normal to normal and I felt better than I had in years.
Then, as low-carb and Paleo diets became more mainstream, suddenly I was not alone. Websites devoted to grain-free lifestyles, such as AgainstAllGrain.com, began to either imply or state outright that any grain consumption was unhealthy.
Grain-avoiders began to resemble vegans, people who refuse to eat a morsel of food from animals.
Just as eating a single bite of meat made you no longer a vegan, having a mouthful of bread made you no longer Paleo. Both, to purists, deserved to be hurled into the outer darkness.
The Politics of Paleo
Frankly, this is a very American way of thinking. If you’ve wandered the globe, you’ve no doubt noticed that Americans have a penchant for the puritanical…
… maybe because our Founders were, you know, the Puritans?
We take everything to extremes. No child left behind. Zero-tolerance drug laws. All dogs on leashes. Eighty-hour workweeks. Three strikes and you’re in jail forever.
Conversely, older cultures understand that the world is complicated and that common sense, rather than rigid policy, is the best guide for creating a life that’s both healthful and enjoyable.
So rather than hemming yourself in with inviolable rules, you make case-by-case decisions like a grown-up.
(Quick aside: In a Manchester pub, I watched in wonder as a Royal Mail carrier, in uniform with letter bag, enjoyed a lunch-hour pint. Can you imagine the outrage — and Facebook “shame snapshots” — if uniformed American postal workers drank a beer during work hours? Yet what, precisely, would be the harm?)
When it comes to grains, this means…
Unless one has an active case of celiac disease, a rare autoimmune condition that renders gluten-based grains somewhere between indigestible and toxic, a little grain now and then won’t kill or even harm you.
The problem for most people isn’t grain consumption per se. The problem is the daily, mindless, high-volume consumption of grain-based carbohydrates that make pulverized wheat and corn a person’s largest calorie source.
Which Brings Us to Blé Sucré
With this in mind, I present to you:
A little Paris boulangerie on rue Antoine Vollon called Blé Sucré is widely reputed to offer the best croissants in Paris — and, by extension, the world. So my wife, Laurie, and I went.
And I ate one.
Slowly. Mindfully. With vast, overwhelming appreciation for its flaky, buttery perfection.
And then I ate another one. Why? Because I get to Paris once every three decades.
As science fiction author Robert Heinlein said: “Yield to temptation. It may not pass your way again.”
So… How Do You Eat Bread?
You eat bread, cake, cookies, pie, pizza and other grain-intensive foods only when you have a specific, consciously identified reason to do so. This means you do it because:
- Your doting mother/grandmother/spouse/child lovingly made it for you
- You have been reliably informed this particular version is the best in the city, state, country and/or world, and you don’t swing by these parts terribly often
- You are starving (no food for at least 16 hours) and it’s all there is to eat.
I estimate that sticking to these three rules would eliminate 95–99% of all grain-based carbohydrate consumption.
Personally, these rules lead me to eat grains perhaps once a week. That feels right, and keeps my weight, health and hedonic impulses right where I want them to be.
Voltaire, perhaps while munching on a croissant, advised that “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Excellent point. An essential part of a healthy life is enjoying it — a notion any Parisian would find redundant to the point of idiocy.
The vast majority of baked goods that cross an American’s path are regrettable concoctions of herbicide-soaked GMO flour, soybean oil, stabilizers, dough conditioners, bromates and other horrors that make them taste like the sickly sweet, chemicalized, possibly carcinogenic abominations that they are.
So don’t eat them. They are not even food… much less special, memorable food.
If your sole criterion for eating floury food is that you have an excellent, identified reason — and remember, exalted pleasure is a reason! — for doing so, you’ll be on the way to achieving a balance of enjoyment and health that eludes too many.
That’s how to eat bread.
1 Auriel A. Willette, Barbara B. Bendlin, Erika J. Starks, Alex C. Birdsill, Sterling C. Johnson, Bradley T. Christian, Ozioma C. Okonkwo, Asenath La Rue, Bruce P. Hermann, Rebecca L. Koscik, Erin M. Jonaitis, Mark A. Sager, Sanjay Asthana. Association of Insulin Resistance With Cerebral Glucose Uptake in Late Middle–Aged Adults at Risk for Alzheimer Disease. JAMA Neurology, 2015
2 A Prospective Study of Coronary Heart Disease in Relation to Fasting Insulin, Glucose, and Diabetes: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Diabetes Care. 1997
3 Djiogue S, Nwabo kamdje AH, Vecchio L, et al. Insulin resistance and cancer: the role of insulin and IGFs. Endocr Relat Cancer. 2013
4 Siri-tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010