Bread of Life: Should You Eat or Eschew Carbohydrates in 2021?
We’ve all been there — when you think it’s a good idea to cut out carbs as a way to lose some weight fast. You think to yourself, I will finally get rid of my extra belly fat just in time for summer. All I have to do is cut out carbs!
A few days later (probably a Monday), you find yourself filling a grocery cart with lean meats and a long list of vegetables that will surely change your body for the better. But then you remember how cranky you got when you tried carb-cutting in the past, so you toss plain rice cakes into your cart, thinking they will satisfy the cravings while you stick to your diet.
But after a week goes by, you find yourself dreaming of crusty bread with real butter slathered on top…and the rice cakes don’t quite cut it. You also feel like you’ve eaten the same meal three different ways for the past few days, and you are beginning to feel bored with food altogether.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, we do need carbs. The simple reason is that carbohydrates fuel the body with energy. When we cut out carbs, our body must rely upon protein and fat as its energy sources. Although that is possible, it’s not as efficient.
But wait! If carbs are great for energy, why do we always feel so tired after eating a large bowl of pasta? Why is it that the Standard American Diet is high in carbohydrates, but no one seems to be flourishing?
We know there are two types of carbs — to be healthy, we should eat one very sparingly and enjoy a moderate amount of the other. Simple carbs are found in sugary cereals, highly processed breads, sweeteners, fruit juices, corn syrups and candy. These we are told to eat sparingly. On the other hand, complex carbs, which we have the green light on, include sweet potatoes, brown rice and butternut squash, to name a few.
OK, so you knew all that. This information is everywhere on the internet — to eat complex carbohydrates and very few simple carbs. However, it’s still a big struggle in a lot of people’s minds. Why?
There is one thing missing from all this advice. Most articles never talk about how carbs are prepared. We live in an industrial food age, and most of our food is processed in big plants. We’re inundated with labels at the grocery store claiming products are 100% whole grain, free-range, gluten-free — and it feels like we can easily make good, healthy choices, no matter what we grab. Still, we’re missing a large part of the truth: how the food is prepared.
No matter which classic culture you read about, you will learn they fermented grain, vegetable or dairy products before they fed them to people. Preparing food back then was a serious job, and it was not taken lightly.
Take, for example, ancient Aborigine women, who were in nearly perfect health. They ate a balanced diet, and carbs were part of it. However, the way they prepared their starchier foods was nowhere near the practices of the modern era. Here is a description from the book “Nourishing Diets: How Our Ancestral and Traditional People Really Ate” by Sally Fallon Morell.
“Black beans were soaked in water for eight to 10 days and dried in the sun. Then came roasting on hot stones, pounding into a coarse meal, mixing with water to make a thin cake and then baked again on a hot stone.”
Nowadays, we have the option to buy dried black beans from the grocery store, and all we do is simply boil them before we eat them. We don’t even know the steps the company takes to prepare the beans — we just buy them.
Another example to think about in terms of preparation is sourdough bread. Many loaves of bread on the grocery store shelves today are not traditionally fermented. They are processed with enriched wheat flours — 100% whole wheat flours, even — but the flours have not been fermented. Fermented breads have many benefits. Not only do they contain fewer than four ingredients, they contain less gluten, and they are easier to digest. When you eat foods prepared in thoughtful ways, you are getting a high-quality product that is easier on your body.
Another example is Llymru, an ancient Welsh recipe for fermented oatmeal. That’s right — they would ferment their grains. The recipe calls to place the oats, water and kefir or buttermilk into a bowl and let it all sit on the countertop for two nights. This is the fermentation process before the oats even get cooked.
Somehow, we have stopped fermenting foods and started opting for processed, lower quality foods instead. We wonder why we can’t thrive on carbs, yet we seem to crave them all the time, and books and articles tell us we need them. It’s time to look to our past and engage with our ancestors’ wisdom of food. We will then understand that carbs are not evil — they just need to be lovingly rendered.
How to Buy Good Bread
If you have an artisan bakery in your area, you could visit the bakery and ask them if they make naturally leavened sourdough bread. If they say yes, you could have some nutritious bread in your hands in a matter of minutes.
If you feel inclined, you could also ask them how many ingredients are in their sourdough bread. If they mention commercial yeast, note that it’s not the ideal place to get nutritious bread.
Another promising place to seek sourdough bread is at your local farmers market. Many farmers market vendors care deeply about the quality of their foods, and they prefer to sell their goods in places that sell other high-quality products. Again, simply ask the baker about the ingredients, and that should give you the answer you are looking for.
Organic grocery stores are another option for finding sourdough breads. Many of these organic grocery stores pride themselves in supporting local farmers and artisan bakers. There is a higher chance they would carry fresh loaves of artisan sourdough bread, compared to large supermarket chains.
Should You Bake Your Own Bread?
COVID-19 has made baking popular, but one should be aware that if you are interested in making your own loaf of sourdough, it is actually more of an ongoing hobby than a quick and fun recipe to try. Your first loaf is probably not going to be a home run, and you may feel overwhelmed with the labor of love involved with making homemade bread.
There are a number of sourdough recipes and videos on the internet. While you are making your starter, take notes of everything. This will help you learn what is happening, and it will help you avoid making the same mistake twice if it doesn’t turn out right.
Not only do you need to measure everything precisely, you also have to “feed” your growing sourdough starter every day to keep it in optimal condition.
If you do decide to make your own bread, don’t be discouraged if your loaf is not pretty and doesn’t look anything like an artisan loaf. It doesn’t have to be perfect to taste good, and you can keep trying.
How to Keep Your Bread Fresh
After you’ve spent the time searching your town for the best sourdough bread, or you’ve spent your entire weekend baking loaves in your kitchen, the last part of the process is knowing how to store your living, breathing loaf of bread.
If you’ve bought bread from a bakery, hopefully they placed the loaf in a waxed or plain paper bag when they sold it to you. If they did, all you need to do is leave your loaf of bread in the bag on the counter. It doesn’t need to be tightly closed, as you want air to come in and out of the bag. You can also order a traditional bread box online — these boxes have holes so that fresh breads remain protected but also get some air.
Never place your sourdough bread in a plastic bag or in the fridge. The plastic prevents air flow and will stale your hard-earned prize quickly.
When you get your hands on a good loaf of bread, plan to consume it in a timely manner — usually within one week. You can also freeze bread (just don’t refrigerate it).
If your bread happens to get hard before you eat it all, don’t fret. Simply place the hard loaf in the oven, and let the heat do its magic, softening the bread back to life. You can also sprinkle your loaf lightly with water beforehand to add steam, then place it on a sheet pan and warm at between 300-350 degrees.
Written by: Esther Curry