|Dr. Pragya Khanna|
world where diabetes, heart diseases, asthma, autoimmunity and other modern diseases are rare or don't exist at all; we are physically lean and fit; we are fertile throughout our childbearing years; we sleep peacefully and deeply; we age gracefully without degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and osteoporosis. Although this might sound like pure fantasy today, anthropological evidence suggests that this is exactly how human beings lived for the vast majority of our evolutionary history.
These days, most people accept diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, infertility and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, dementia, asthma as 'normal'. But while these diseases may now be common, they're anything but normal. Humans evolved roughly 2.5 million years ago, and for roughly 84,000 generations we were naturally free of the modern diseases which kill millions of people each year and make countless others miserable. In fact, the world I asked you to imagine above which may seem unbelievable, absurd and impossible today was the natural human state for our entire history on this planet until a couple of hundred years ago.
Now the question is what was responsible for this change? What transformed us from naturally healthy, vigorous and vital people free of degenerative disease into a world of sick, fat, ailing and unhappy people?
I explain this in a word? The modern lifestyle. And while there are a number of aspects of our present lifestyle that contribute to disease, the widespread consumption of food toxins is by far the greatest offender. Specifically, the following four dietary toxins are to blame, viz., Cereal grains (especially refined flour), Omega-6 industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, etc.), Sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup) and Processed soy (soy milk, soy protein, soy flour, etc.).
Now, what is a toxin? At the simplest level, a toxin is something capable of causing disease or damaging tissue when it enters the body. When most people hear the word 'toxin', they think of chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals or other industrial pollutants. But even beneficial nutrients like water, which are necessary to sustain life, are toxic at high doses.
In their book, 'The Perfect Health Diet', Paul & Shou-Ching Jaminet apply the economic principle of declining marginal benefits to toxins. This is important to understand as we discuss the role of dietary toxins in contributing to modern disease. Most of us won't get sick from eating a small amount of sugar, cereal grain, soy and industrial seed oil. But if we eat those nutrients (or rather anti-nutrients) in excessive quantities, our risk of developing modern diseases rises significantly. Bread, pastries, muffins, crackers, cookies, soda, fruit juice, fast food and other convenience foods are all loaded with these toxins. And when the majority of what most people eat on a daily basis is toxic, it's not hard to understand why our health is failing.
As we talk of bread, at the onset I would say too much yeast contained in processed breads generally upset the bacterial balance in your gut and cause infections. Very recently, the study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi has identified two chemicals with potential health hazards, potassium bromate and potassium iodate in packaged bread samples from prominent companies, this has set off shock waves among consumers and the industry. The CSE said 32 of the 38 samples or 84 per cent of the tested samples had potassium bromate and iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million. To date, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) permits them up to 50 parts per million. The two chemicals can be used as treating agents in flour under the category of food additives. They are used to give the final product a soft, fluffy finish.
However, its use had been permitted earlier because it was believed that the chemical was filtered out of the final product. However, once evidence to the contrary emerged in the 1990s many countries banned it, including the EU (1990) and the UK. Subsequently, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia have stopped its use. CODEX Alimentarius, an international body which sets safety standards for food commodities, formally withdrew specifications of potassium bromate in 2012. Now with the CSE study, India may finally prohibit its use.
Potassium Bromate can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, kidney failure, oligonuria (low output of urine), anuria (failure of kidneys to produce urine), deafness, vertigo, hypotension, depression of the central nervous system, thrombocytopenia with other related health problems. It also affects the nutritional quality of bread by degrading the vitamins and essential fatty acid contents of flour. Iodate is associated with thyroid problems.
Apart from the above facts mentioning the use of toxins in bread baking there are myriad other negative aspects associated with bread that forbid its use. It is said that wheat bread, especially made of white flour, is one of the worst foods on planet earth. The scientists around the world present the following reasons to avoid it altogether.
First is that it is a wheat product. Unfortunately, wheat is no longer a healthy food for anyone. Even organic, whole wheat is greatly hybridized and is not wholesome, nourishing and healthy. Wheat tends to inflame the intestines due to its high glutamine content today, and it is also much lower in protein and in many essential minerals than it was in the past, say 100 years ago.
Also, if it is white bread, the best part of the wheat flour is removed while processing and fed to the farm animals. Whole wheat is not beneficial even, but at least it is rich in various vitamins, minerals and fiber. To make white bread, however, the germ and the bran of the wheat are stripped away. This leaves a product that has almost no fiber, almost no vitamins and minerals, and is mostly just starch. It is sometimes called 'empty calories' for this reason. It is basically just calories that put on weight, without providing any micronutrients such as minerals at all. It is truly an empty food.
Chlorine toxicity. Almost all white flour is usually bleached with highly toxic chlorine bleach. This is another horrible insult to the basic wheat grain. The same agent is used to bleach the wheat flour as is used to bleach clothing. It is then baked and the concoction creates extremely toxic chemicals in the bread that irritate the intestines. The bleaching of wheat flour is purely cosmetic and never needed for any other reason.
Food chemicals and additives. Almost all bread contains a number of additional food additives. The most common is refined sugar or some other sweetener, as it not only gives the bread a sweet taste, but acts as food for the yeast as well. It is well known that sugar is not helpful for one's health in any form.
Other common chemicals include dough conditioners, yeast food, preservatives, flavors, coloring and many others that may or may not be listed on the label. Bromine, used to enhance the rising of the dough, is one of the worst and is not required to be listed on the label.
Cooked at high temperature. In general, the higher the temperature a food is cooked at, the more damage is done to certain nutrients. Bread is baked at 300 degree F. or higher, and this is more damaging than steaming or stir-frying your food.
Now, this is nothing short of a public health catastrophe in a nation where the number one source of calories is refined flour. But, while most of us are at least aware of the dangers of sugar, trans-fat and other unhealthy foods, we do not seem to be doing anything but moving casually in the modern rat race.
The facts are shocking by any reckoning. Shocking! though probably not surprising. But we've been complacent about the effects, as if increasing crop yields and pushing down food prices are the only things that matter. Well, sure they matter but poisoning ourselves and our environment matters too. Let's comprehend!