In my last post, I shared some of the many benefits of whole grains. From helping to protect against cancer and heart disease to improving digestion and metabolism, whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Of all forms of grain, bread is the most commonly consumed in many countries. Whether it’s a loaf of crusty sourdough or a traditional flatbread, bread offers satisfying nourishment for body and soul.

Often called the “staff of life,” whole grain bread contains more nutrients ounce for ounce than meat, milk, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. But beyond the excellent nutritional profile, there are emotional and spiritual aspects associated with the humble art of baking bread that offer sustenance on a deeper level.

Bread is Synonymous with the Essentials of Life

Bread is one of the most basic forms of food in many cultures and has been a part of the human diet for at least 30,000 years. “Give us this day, our daily bread,” from the Lord’s Prayer, is a holy reminder of the nourishment that bread provides. In the cultural vernacular, “bread and butter” is synonymous with the essentials of life.

A cornucopia of whole grains is available to us from around the world, including amaranth, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, teff, and wheat (including heirloom varieties such as einkorn and kamut).







Wheat, the most ancient of the cereal grains, is the most common flour for bread making. But bread can be made from many other grains native to a region.

For example, in Ethiopia the nutritious, high-protein grain teff grows well in the country’s central highlands. Teff is traditionally used to make injera, a type of sour, spongy bread eaten with most meals. I enjoy the earthy, nutty flavor of teff, and mix a bit of teff flour into my bread and cookie recipes.









Barley, another highly nutritious grain well suited for cold climates, is used in Finland to make ohrarieska, a traditional staple type of cracker-bread.

The pleasant flavor, long shelf life, and unique gluten-forming characteristics make wheat the most popular grain for bread making. As a result of wheat breeding, many of the early wheat varieties, including einkorn, emmer and spelt, have been neglected and are little known today.

The Real Problem with Wheat

In recent years, there has been an enormous wave of negative publicity about grains, particularly bread. As a result, many people have eliminated bread from their diets. Obviously, there are people who cannot eat wheat or gluten-containing grains, primarily those who suffer from celiac disease. For most people, though, there is no reason to be deprived of the pleasure of eating good bread.

But what is good bread? It’s certainly not the highly processed, additive-laden packaged stuff that lines most grocery shelves. Even a tasty loaf of crusty sourdough baked in a stone hearth oven from your local bakery isn’t an optimal choice—unless it’s made from organic, freshly stoneground grains.

I’m convinced that the problem with most bread today—and the reason that so many people have developed “gluten intolerance” or even celiac disease—is rooted in the way that modern grains are grown, processed, and made into bread.

First, modern wheat is very different from the type of wheat on which our ancestors thrived. Up until the 1960’s, wheat was pretty much true to its original form. But the modern dwarf wheat hybridized in the 1960’s drastically changed the profile of the staff of life. Although the modern dwarf version has a high yield, it has a lower nutrient content than heirloom wheat. It also has a different protein structure, which may be the trigger for inflammation and gluten sensitivity.

Second, the long list of artificial stabilizers, enhancers, flavorings, and preservatives found in modern bread might help bread rise faster or keep it from growing moldy, but these artificial chemicals are certainly not healthy. Traditional bread has just a few wholesome ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of honey or other natural sweetener to feed the yeast.

Third, the way that flour is milled makes a difference. The invention of modern steel roller milling in the late 1800’s created a highly refined, less healthful flour. Stone ground wheat is a much preferable alternative.

Why You Should Consider Grinding Your Own Wheat

There are several advantages to fresh stone-ground wheat flour. The endosperm, bran, and germ remain in their natural, original proportions. Because the stones grind slowly, the wheat germ is not exposed to excessive temperatures. Heat causes the fat from the germ portion to oxidize and become rancid and destroys much of the vitamins. Since only a small amount of grain is ground at once, the fat from the germ is well distributed which also minimizes spoilage. Nutritive losses due to oxygen exposure are also limited by the fact that stone-ground flour is usually coarser.1-2

If you’re still uncertain about including bread in your diet, consider this: Studies show that whole wheat bread can remarkably increase the bioavailability of phenolic acids and their circulating metabolites, compounds which have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects, compared to consumption of the whole cereal grain.3

Because whole grains contain only about 12% water they do not spoil easily. However, grinding removes the protective layers. The deterioration of nutritional qualities depends on storage conditions such as temperature, humidity, oxygen concentration, and light exposure. To reduce the oxidation of essential compounds and prevent rancidity, ground flour should be stored for no more than two weeks.

Antioxidants present naturally in grains (vitamin E and lecithin) help prevent oxidation of the fatty acids and the associated rancidity only for a limited time, and only under optimal conditions (not too hot, not too humid, and away from direct light). Glutamic acid decarboxylase, the most sensitive enzyme in the grain, is used to indicate the health of the grain. When heated or exposed to increased humidity, even under ‘favorable’ conditions, it loses activity very quickly.

Many bakers and natural food advocates prefer stone-ground flour because of its texture, its sweet and nutty flavor, and the belief that it is nutritionally better and has a better baking quality than steel-roller-milled flour.4 Studies show that stone-milled wheat is relatively high in thiamin, compared to roller-milled flour, especially when ground from hard wheat.5-6

I enjoy baking, and exclusively use fresh stone-ground flour made from organic grains. Not only is the flavor far superior to commercial flours (even organic flours), but also the nutritional benefits are far superior. Using our small home flourmill, I can quickly grind grains for a variety of breads, homemade pizza, and healthy cookies.

This is the stone grinder I own and use for making freshly milled flour for baking:

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The Mental Health Benefits of Kneading and Baking Bread

There’s more to bread than simply the nutritional benefits, though. One of the most basic important developmental steps for humans is learning how to “self-soothe.” The repetitive action of kneading is meditative and is a good way to relieve stress. Devote ten minutes of your day to the ancient art of kneading dough, and I guarantee that you’ll feel more relaxed.

There is even research indicating that kneading and baking bread may be able to help people suffering from depression. John Whaite, an English baker and 2012 winner of the Great British Bake Off has experienced crippling depression, and believes baking is emerging as a form of pill-less Prozac. In a report from the Real Bread Campaign, he calls for more people “suffering from mental health issues, or who are simply going through a tough time to get the chance to try their hand at baking real bread to see how it could help them.”

Paul Youd, in Taunton, Somerset, runs bread-making sessions for parents and children in homeless shelters and sufferers of domestic abuse. He writes about his experience at his No Bread Is an Island blog. In Yeatman Hospital, in Sherborne, Dorset, the community mental health team runs a therapeutic baking group for its elderly patients with dementia and is working on a recipe book called Baking Memories.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that organic, whole grain bread is a valuable addition to a healthful, enjoyable diet. If we make our own bread—and preferably, grind our own grains to make fresh flour—the health benefits are multiplied.


  1. Aubert, Claude. “Farine fraiche et moulins familiaux.” Les quatre saisons du jardinage 56(mai/juin 1989).
  2. The Food and Health of Western Man. London & Tonbribge: Charles Knight & Co. Ltd., 1975.
  3. Mateo Anson N1Aura AMSelinheimo E, et al. Bioprocessing of wheat bran in whole wheat bread increases the bioavailability of phenolic acids in men and exerts antiinflammatory effects ex vivo, J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):137-43. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.127720. Epub 2010 Nov 24.
  4. Leonard, Thom. The Bread Book. Brookline, MA: East-West Health Books. 1990.
  5. Moritz and Jones (Moritz, L.A.; and Jones, C.R. “Experiments in grinding wheat in a Roman-British Quern” Milling 114(1950): 594
  6. Schultz et al. “The Thiamin Content of Wheat Flour Milled by the Stone Milling Process.” Cereal Chem 19(1942): 529

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Whole Grain, Stone Ground, Organic Bread: It’s Good For You!

 If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I’m a big proponent of including grains in our daily diet. Not just any grains, though. Grains that are healthful for us are organic, whole grains, enjoyed either in their whole form or as freshly milled flour.

Despite the current dietary fad of shunning all grains, a growing body of evidence shows that increased intake of less-refined, whole-grain foods has numerous positive health benefits. People who consume greater amounts of whole grains are consistently shown to have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2-diabetes, and many cancers. People who eat whole grains also appear to have better digestive health and are likely to have a lower BMI and gain less weight over time. The bulk of the evidence for the advantages of whole-grains comes from observational studies, but researchers are discovering the same benefits in intervention studies, and are identifying the mechanisms behind the protective properties of whole grains.1

 Whole Grains Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease

 Here’s an example of the health protective benefits of whole grains: A meta-analysis of seven major studies showed that cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or the need for a procedure to bypass or open a clogged artery) was 21% less likely in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of whole-grain foods per day compared with those who ate less than 2 servings per week.2

In a study on the association between a high-quality carbohydrate index (CQI) and cardiovascular health, researchers found that a better quality of dietary carbohydrates (measured by the CQI) showed a significant inverse association with the incidence of CVD. Specially, a higher proportion of carbohydrates from whole grains was strongly inversely associated with CVD.

These findings make it clear that “heart-healthy” diets should be focused not only on carbohydrate quantity but also on an assessment of the type and quality of carbohydrates. This means focusing on organic whole grains while avoiding processed, refined grains and flours.3


Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains4

A 2016 meta-analysis of thirteen studies on total mortality (104,061 deaths), 12 on CVD mortality (26,352 deaths), and 8 on cancer mortality (34,797 deaths) found that there was a significant inverse relationship between whole-grain intake and mortality due to any cause, CVD, or cancer.5

In addition, a 2017 meta-analysis of over 1 million participants found that each 28 g/d intake of whole grains was associated with a 9% lower risk for total mortality, 14% lower risk for CVD mortality and 3% lower risk for cancer mortality.6

Whole Grains: The Best Food for Gut Microbial and Immune Health

Two clinical trials from Tufts University, published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that that substituting whole grains for refined grains, even for a short period, improves the balance of intestinal microbes and enhances immune response and energy metabolism.

Both studies involved healthy adults (ages 40 to 65), half of whom consumed a diet rich in whole grains (whole wheat, oats, and brown rice) for six weeks, while the rest ate refined grains. Other than the different grains, the diets were virtually the same. The whole grains provided about twice as much fiber (mostly insoluble fiber) as well as some extra nutrients and other potentially bene­ficial compounds.

The results of the studies revealed two noteworthy findings:

  • Whole grains create a happier microbiome.  To determine the effect of whole grains on the microbiome, researchers analyzed the participants’ stool for bacterial content and concentration of fats. Previous research has shown that whole grains increase microbiome diversity and boost production of short-chain fatty acids, both of which are linked to improved immune function and digestive health. Along these lines, the whole-grain group showed an increase in bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids and a decrease in pro-inflammatory bacteria, among other positive changes, compared to those eating refined grains. Blood samples from the whole-grain group also showed improvements in several markers of immune response.7
  • Whole grains negate calories. This fascinating finding indicates that consuming whole grains can promote weight loss. The researchers discovered that whole grain consumption led to decreased calorie retention during digestion (as measured by calories in stool) and a slightly higher resting metabolic rate—resulting in a net daily energy loss of 92 calories per day, on average, compared to those participants consuming a refined-grain diet. Self-re­­ported hunger and fullness were not statistically different between the two groups. The additional fecal energy losses appear to be the result of the extra fiber on the digestion of other food calories.8

How Wholegrain Wheat Differs from Refined Wheat






Whole grain foods that undergo processing and reconstitution must deliver the same proportion of bran, germ, and endosperm as that of the original grain to be considered whole grains. The outer bran layer is composed of non-digestible, mainly insoluble, poorly fermentable carbohydrates (such as cellulose, hemicelluloses, arabinoxylan), and the inner germ and starchy endosperm contain viscous soluble fibers, fermentable oligosaccharides, resistant starch (RS), lignans, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, oils, and other phytonutrients.

During the refining of whole grains into white flour, the outer bran and inner germ layers are removed and the remaining endosperm is processed into flour. Thus, compared with refined grains, whole grains are inherently richer in dietary fiber, containing 80% more dietary fiber than refined grains. Furthermore, as a consequence of the refining process, there are substantial losses in essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.9.10

The Remarkable Antioxidant Properties of Whole Grains

Whole grains are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, lignans, β-glucan, inulin, numerous phytochemicals, phytosterols, phytin, and sphingolipids. In wheat kernels, ferulic acid and other phenolic acids provide protection by generating physical and chemical barriers through cross-linking with carbohydrates; these antioxidant activities combat destructive radicals.11

The phenolic acid concentration of whole grains corresponds to their total antioxidant capacities. Corn has the highest phenolic acid content, followed by wheat, oats, and rice, with 265, 136, 111, and 95 mg gallic acid equivalents/100 g, respectively.12

Although fruits and vegetables are widely recognized for their antioxidant benefits, whole grains offer equal and even greater antioxidant protection. For example, the antioxidant capacity of whole grain breakfast cereals ranges from 2200 to 3500 Trolox equivalents (TE). (Trolox is a water-soluble analog of vitamin E.) In comparison, the antioxidant capacity of fruits generally ranges from 600 to 1700 TE, with a high of 2200 TE for red plums and 3600 TE for berries. Vegetables average 450 TE, with a high of 1400 TE for red cabbage.13,14

Carotenoids are another group of compounds found in whole grains. Lutein, zeaxanthin, β-cryptoxanthin, β-carotene, and α-carotene are the most common carotenoids and are commonly concentrated in the bran or germ portion of whole grains.15

Micronutrients such as folate and vitamin B-6, polyphenols, and antioxidant compounds, along with prebiotics such as inulin, oligosaccharides and immune modulators such as β-glucan found in whole grains work synergistically to lower oxidative stress, inflammation, and pathogen load.16

It’s obvious that including whole grains in our daily diet offers many more benefits than just extra roughage. Researchers are just beginning to recognize the many ways that whole grains improve our health, from nourishing the gut biome and improving metabolism to providing powerful antioxidants that help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. Stay tuned for more on this topic—I’ll be sharing some of the ways that bread, made from fresh, organic stone ground whole grains, provides us with a unique source of emotional and spiritual sustenance.


  1. Seal CJBrownlee IA. Whole-grain foods and chronic disease: evidence from epidemiological and intervention studies, Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Aug;74(3):313-9. doi: 10.1017/S0029665115002104.
  2. Mellen PB, Walsh TF, Herrington DM. Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2008;18:283-90.
  3. Segui-Gomez, M. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Jul 12. pii: S0939-4753(16)30109-0. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2016.07.002.
  4. Jonnalagadda S, Harnack L, Liu R, et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium, J. Nutr. 141: 1011S–1022S, 2011.
  5. Chen G, Tong X, Xu J, et al. Whole-grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (May 2016)
  6. Zhang B1Zhao Q2Guo W1, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 Nov 1. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2017.149.
  7. Vanegas, S.M., et. al., Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults, Am J Clin Nutr October 2017 106: 1052-1061; First published online August 16, 2017. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.155424.
  8. Karl, J.P. et. al., Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial favorably affects energy-balance metrics in healthy men and postmenopausal womenAm J Clin Nutr ajcn139683; First published online February 8, 2017.
  9. Okarter N, Liu RH. Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010;50:193–208
  10. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page; 2009. [cited 2010 Jun 1]. Available from:
  11. Adom KK, Sorrells ME, Liu RH. Phytochemicals and antioxidant activity of milled fractions of different wheat varieties. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Mar 23; 53(6):2297-306.
  12. Adom KK, Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of grains. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Oct 9; 50(21):6182-7.
  13. Miller HE, Rigelhof F, Marquart L, et al. Antioxidant content of whole grain breakfast cereals, fruits and vegetables. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Jun; 19(3 Suppl):312S-319S.
  14. Okarter N, Liu RH., Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Mar; 50(3):193-208.
  15. Adom KK, Sorrells ME, Liu RH. Phytochemicals and antioxidant activity of milled fractions of different wheat varieties. J Agric Food Chem 2005;53:2297–306.
  16. Jonnalagadda S, Harnack L, Liu R, et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium, J. Nutr. 141: 1011S–1022S, 2011.

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I’m often asked what I consider to be the healthiest diet. Through decades of nutritional research and experimentation, I’m convinced that a diet of primarily organic, plant-based Mediterranean foods—including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy products (cow, goat and sheep milk derived) and healthy fats (mostly olive oil), with fish and seafood playing a key role as a main protein source—is by far the best diet for long term health. The term “pesca-flexa-vegetarian” comes closest to describing the diet that my family and I eat.

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Once referred to as “the staff of life,” wheat has become a controversial food. Although people have been consuming wheat in various forms for thousands of years, increasing numbers of health conscious individuals are turning their backs on what was once regarded as a satisfying, nourishing staple.

In some cases, avoiding wheat is essential for health. Those with celiac disease—a serious inflammatory condition caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten—should never eat wheat or any other gluten containing grains. But while only 1% of people have celiac disease, millions more have adopted a gluten free diet—in particular, shunning wheat.

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In my two previous posts on thyroid health, I discussed the potential problems associated with diagnosing and treating thyroid issues. As I stated in my first post, thyroid problems are frequently under diagnosed, primarily because of inadequate testing and incomplete understanding of the complexities of thyroid function. At the same time, thyroid problems are often treated in ways that further compromise function.

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 In my last post, I addressed the lifestyle changes that help to gently shift metabolism to a healthier state, which naturally results in achieving optimal weight. Excess weight is often a multi-faceted issue—not surprisingly, the best results are gained with a comprehensive approach. As I stated in my last post, I am not an advocate of a restrictive diet. Instead, I’ve found that providing the body with the nutrients it needs (including botanicals that enhance healthy metabolic function), in conjunction with a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle, results in almost effortless loss of surplus pounds.

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