Thursday, June 29, 2017

Whole grains, phytic acid, and cavities

Ever since our oldest, Solomon, was born and then started eating solids about 15 years ago, I have been on a quest to learn about natural health and about how to feed our family the healthiest way possible.

I say 'quest' because sifting through all the information, much of it contradictory, is nothing short of a search for the Holy Grail.

Thankfully, with the Bible as our guide, many healthy eating fads can be dismissed out-of-hand, such as (but not limited to):

- being a vegetarian, vegan, or fruitarian
- vilifying butter, salt, natural sweeteners, and/or dairy products,
- eating only 'raw
- eating low-carb ('paleo' or Atkins)


I am not saying it is sinful to eat in any of the aforementioned ways. In fact, some medical conditions could be bettered by temporarily switching to a radically different and restricted way of eating. For instance, an obese person would do well to cut back on their fat and dairy consumption for a season for the benefit of losing weight. Cancer cells and gall/kidney stones can be reduced or sometimes even eliminated through a radical juice fast that is all raw and vegetarian.

However, this blog post deals with everyday eating for healthy people, not temporary restrictive diets that address an acute illness.

So let's talk about a sustainable, long-term diet that the average person living today can follow and be healthy, because let's face it - nobody wants you to come to the family holiday gathering and bring your special 'kale and kelp brownies sweetened with nothing but love'.

One of the big things that has been pushed for the last 30 years or so is whole grains and the critical part they supposedly play in a healthy, balanced diet. We're talking whole wheat bread products as opposed to 'white', rolled or steel-cut oats vs. quick, brown rice vs. white, etc.

In America, well over 90% of all bread products are made from wheat. When I say 'wheat', I mean the grain called wheat. Some people refer to all whole wheat products as 'wheat', and to all bread products made from all-purpose white flour as 'white' - as in, "Do you want that on wheat bread or white?' Since both whole wheat flour as well as all-purpose flour are made from wheat, saying 'wheat vs. white' is a confusing and silly distinction.

The difference between the two is that whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel and contains the hull and endosperm, whereas white flour has been stripped of anything but the starchy part of the wheat kernel.

The health benefits to using the whole kernel are:

1. added fiber: Whole wheat retains all the fiber that is found in the hull. Fiber is important to help buffer the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar, keeps us fuller longer, and helps keep us regular and in good gut health because this roughage both retains water, as well as 'scrubs' the GI tract from the inside.

2. vitamins and minerals: Whole wheat contains 23 vitamins and minerals that are no longer present when only the white starchy part is made into all-purpose flour. This is why all purpose flour is often 'enriched' with various B vitamins.

However, one fact that is virtually never mentioned is that whole wheat and in fact all whole grains (like oats, barley, rye, rice, etc.) also contain high levels of phytic acid.

These are listed in alphabetical order, not by greatest to least amount. Notice how high the % amounts of phytic acid are for the bran (whole grain) parts of wheat and rice, staples in most American diets.

Phytic acid, while naturally occurring, is an anti-nutrient, which means it robs our bodies of nutrients. It has rather devastating effects on bone health. In order for our bodies to rid themselves of phytic acid, it must bind to other minerals, most notably calcium and magnesium. Often, for lack of these nutrients in our diet, our bodies will draw these minerals from our teeth and bones.

This is very similar to the way phosphoric acid in sodas leech minerals from our bones and cause osteoporosis, a well-accepted and long-known fact. Phytic acid basically does the same.

There are ways to drastically reduce the amount of phytic acid in grains, nuts, and legumes. They are what I call the '3 S's':

- soaking
- sprouting
- souring

In this blog post, I am predominantly talking about whole grains, because they contain far higher levels of phytic acid than legumes and nuts. I do soak legumes overnight before cooking or use canned (which are soaked), and we don't eat a lot of nuts, so those are non-issues for us. The human body is designed to withstand a certain amount of junk coming in. Problems arise when junk is coming in faster than the 'funnel' of the human body can handle. 

The cooking methods of centuries past reflect the need for these traditional practices. Grains were often soaked repeatedly and for extended periods of time, not just in plain water but whey or vinegar (both of which are fermented as thus also address the 'souring' aspect). After the grains were soaked, dried, and made into flour, they were leavened by being made into sourdough, as modern leavening agents like quick yeast and baking powder had not been invented yet, which likewise breaks down phytic acid.

In spite of all these efforts, all throughout history, cultures who depended heavily on grains for nutrition have had poor bone health, whereas cultures that lived predominantly on meats and fats (like the Inuit and Mongolians) had excellent teeth and bones.

Before cutting out whole grains, I was not just making everything from whole wheat, I was even grinding my own wheat fresh right before baking. Grinding wheat fresh maintains all its nutrients, many of which lose their potency after being milled. I am guessing that the phytic acid in freshly milled flour is likewise more potent than that in 'stale' flour.  On the other hand, I had switched to using all sourdough leavened products for years. While this was great for gut health, it did not stop the cavities. It seems souring alone was not enough to break down the harmful levels of phytic acid. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If I lived in a time and day when the availability of foods is severely limited, fresh produce was hard to come by due to climate, and all that was consistently available for me to feed my family on is grain, then yes, I would need to learn to process it in a way that I could access those vitamins and minerals they contain while eliminating their anti-nutrients.

But - I live in 21st century America. I have easy and affordable access year-round to a wide range of foods from around the world with all their vitamins, minerals, and fiber through the abundance of produce and other nutrient-dense foods at my fingertips.

So while I theoretically could keep my own pasture-fed cow, whom I milk bright and early every day and then make cheese so I can have whey to soak my homegrown ancient grains in, which I then also sprout in my clean spring-water and then dry in the sun, before hand-milling them on a low-impact, low-heat grain mill, turning them into loaves of bread with my wild-fermented sourdough starter, all so I can tap into the aforementioned benefits of whole grains...

... I cold also just use plain all-purpose flour, and rest assured that I am getting those same nutrients from the rest of my diet.

More importantly yet, I will NOT be dealing with the incessant cavities that come from eating whole grains with their phytic acid. There is a good book on tooth decay (here) that suggests cutting out grains to get around the phytic acid. That is one possibility. Personally, I don't want to go the rest of my life without eating pizza, croissants, pies, and all the other wonderful bread products we get from grains. Their grain-free alternatives are never as good.

The other possibility, the one I have chosen for the last couple of years, is to only use grain products that have been stripped of all but their white starchy part: all-purpose flour, white rice, quick oats, etc. Obviously, these should not be consumed in such copious amounts that they lead to obesity, type II diabetes, or replace other nutrient-dense foods in the diet.

I made this switch right around the same time as I stopped using all modern wheat and have instead gone to using only einkorn, an ancient form of wheat that is genetically very different from post-1800's wheat).

I have noticed several very exciting changes since cutting out whole grains. The one I want to focus on today is cavities. Or rather, NO MORE CAVITIES!

All kids went to the dentist in March for checkups and cleanings. For years, we had been taking them every six months. For years, in spite of diligent home care (flossing, brushing twice daily), daily fermented cod liver oil and a whole-foods-based multivitamin, little to no candy and very limited sugar consumption, homemade bone broths, daily raw dairy with its bone-building butterfat, and a near-100% organic diet, all kids would have new cavities at every checkup. It was expensive and frustrating, most of all because I knew there must be some underlying cause.

The dentist we first used was good, but she was an hour's drive away. Her hygienist also kept telling me the cavities were a result of not giving the kids fluoride, which I found annoying. As our family grew, the drive out there not just for checkups but the inevitable fillings got to be too much.

I then switched to a 'naturopathic' dentist that was closer. Our dental insurance did not cover her, so the cost was exorbitant. She did not push fluoride, but pushed xylitol instead, which destroys the GI tract instead of teeth. She also did absolutely shoddy work. Many of the fillings she did fell out. They were warrantied for two years, but it's a bit much to ask kids to get fillings redone because her work was so poor.

After seeing her for a couple of years, I stopped going there, intending to find a new dentist. Six months turned into a year, I got busy, and next thing I knew almost three years had passed since some of the kids had been seen last. The dentist who did the kids' tongue tie revisions did such an outstanding job that I switched their dental care to her, too.

The outcome: in spite of zero checkups and cleanings for about 3 years, in spite of the kids having more sugar than ever before because the big kids buy their own candy and sodas now, and in spite of them being much more hit and miss with taking their vitamins and fish oil, there were ZERO new cavities in any of the eight oldest kids. For the three oldest, who had all their fillings in their baby teeth which they have since lost, this meant zero remaining fillings in their mouths. Same for the two youngest boys, who never developed any cavities in their baby teeth. The three middle girls have only old cavities and fillings, which will eventually fall out when they lose their baby teeth. Compare this with 2-3 new cavities each every six months before this, both with the conventional as well as the naturopathic dentist.

When I myself went to a new dentist in April, I likewise had ZERO new cavities, and only two old ones that I had been keeping an eye on. I typically get 2-4 new cavities with every pregnancy just from all the throwing up alone. Between my morning sickness having been much better the last two pregnancies, plus the lack of whole grains for the last two years, I believe this had made all the difference. I do not anticipate new cavities in the future.

I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is due to cutting out whole grains and their anti-nutrients. THAT is the only thing that has changed in the kids' diet. I explained my theory to the dentist and she thought it was very likely that I was right. I don't know how much of a part using einkorn vs. wheat plays - I think the effect of that is mostly just gut health because the gluten in einkorn does not damage the gut like modern wheat does.

I realize this is not party line. I believe just as the low-fat fad has proven destructive to health, we were likewise sold a bill of goods in whole grains. For what it's worth, I am sharing my anecdotal experience here for others who are left scratching their heads at why their otherwise perfectly healthy child(ren) are having cavities in spite of perfect diet and home care.

As a side note, the kids have suffered zero ill health effects from eating these 'simple' white grains. Isaac and Becca no longer have seasonal asthma since cutting out wheat, none of them have gotten 'fat', their behavior has not gone haywire from white flour converting into sugar too quickly, etc. And let's face it - white flour products just taste so much better! I continue to make many leavened products like waffles, pizza, and bread with sourdough starter. You can see my video for our 'daily bread' here

I have one other huge benefit that has come from cutting out whole grains that I will share in an upcoming blog post. How's that for a cliff hanger? ;)

Summer "break"

I apologize for the long blogging absence. Summer 'break' has gotten the best of me. So much to do, so little time! 

As I do every year, I have logged off all social media (buh-bye Facebook) for the time being. Once the new school year is well under way sometime in September, I will get back on. For now, my full attention is on the kids that keep me busy from sun-up until long after sun-down.

 Stephen and Boaz fresh out of bed, reading a book together.

Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time. This time of year, that means the sun is up around 5 a.m. I love it! I have been getting up around that time each day without ever needing an alarm. Unfortunately - or fortunately - the kids are also early risers and get up not long after me, giving me only a little time alone each day. They know to be silent until the last of them is up, which is good. The big kids read their Bibles and then go about their day. The little kids have picked up on this habit and grab a book the minute they get up. Stephen is sitting next to me right now looking at a book. He is 4 and just starting to learn to read.

Having older kids with (summer) jobs is a whole new animal! Solomon is the oldest at 15; a senior this coming school year with only a half load to finish out his diploma with tons of extra credit hours. He goes to work 4 days a week for Paul Wittenberger, the documentary maker in our church. Isaac and John put in a few hours each week for a plumber in our church, putting fliers on doors in local neighborhoods. They have loved the independence and experience. With summer temps being unbearable, they typically start very early on the days they are working so they can get a couple of hours in before mid-morning. All three boys have bus passes and often take themselves out to eat in the evenings. It's an interesting experience having older kids. Different, but not easier. It's like I have taken on three additional husbands, all of which are more demanding of my time than my actual husband. "Did you send my schedule? I can't find my clothes. I'm running late - can you take me? I need xyz for my lunches. Did you deposit my paycheck?" and on and on.

We call these two, "the turkeys." I don't know where that came from, but it stuck. It's hard to imagine they will be teens in just ten more years. I'm enjoying the hugs, kisses, and marriage proposals while they last.

My husband and I have been sharing 'my' laptop after Stephen accidentally belly-flopped onto his Mac Book on the guest bed in the office and destroyed its screen. It can be repaired, but it's a hefty price tag, so we are holding off. I would have had a heart attack had I been the one witnessing it, but my husband never even raised his voice. "It's just stuff." Yes, expensive stuff - but he's right. Anyhow, not having a laptop means I can only use the desktop computer which is in the office while my husband is at work. Which means my back is to the whole rest of the house while I'm on there. With nine kids, that's just a recipe for disaster. Who knows what else they might belly-flop onto (or set on fire or accidentally saw in half). I'm hoping to finish off two dozen partial blog posts in quick succession once we are no longer sharing one device.

Aren't they the cutest?

Well, it's time to get breakfast underway. I am making baked apples in puff pastry. Rough life! :)