Have you struggled with eating and digesting wheat or glutinous products here in the U.S., but you pop overseas, and it’s practically no issue at all? What you eat abroad versus in the U.S has long been a phenomenon that piqued my interest. We are eating virtually the same thing on the other side of the world but getting a completely different reaction. So let get our hands dirty in this powdery white mass of wheat flour and figure out if gluten sensitivity is an American problem.
One food that seems to give our digestive tract the most challenging time is bread, or more specifically, the ingredients in bread. I have not been diagnosed with Celiac (gluten-intolerance disease), but that doesn’t mean I’m totally in the clear. For years, I have had all sorts of minor intolerances and reactions to gluten consumption, and I’ve mitigated the effects, but that meant cutting out all of those delicious bready treats. To learn more about gluten and why you should consider going gluten-free, read this post.
What is so Different in Costa Rica?
Until a mind-boggling trip to Costa Rica, where I had to do a double-take on this whole gluten thing, I gave in to the temptation of eating some irresistibly fabulous local foods, cheeses, chips, and desserts. I figured I’d pay the price but that it would be worth it. However, nothing happened. By the end of the trip, I was feasting on local bread, burrata, and tres leches cake….my digestive system was completely unaffected, and it felt better than it had in a long time. This odd occurrence made me question what was so different from the wheat, gluten, and other bready products from across the seas versus here. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one wanting answers. A large number of travelers claimed a reduced or loss of sensitivity to wheat products abroad.
How could this be? What is so different from the bread or pasta I’m eating here and there that my body digests it entirely differently? That’s where we need to do a little digging.
Vocation Mode ON
The first and most common theory is that this is all made up in your head, and you didn’t have a sensitivity, to begin with. As we all know, our mind is a potent tool, and it very well does make our body work differently depending on moods, stress, positive/negative thinking, etc. When we effortlessly eat during “vacation mode,” our parasympathetic digestive system engages as all hands are on deck to make this a pleasant experience. However, if we are stressed and eating just to “fuel,” the degenerative flight-or-fight nervous system predominates, which is more concerned about saving your life than engaging in a digestive process.
While it’s easy to leave it at that, our “it’s all in your head” theory became quickly debunked when the perspective changed to America as the getaway spot. Visitors from outside of the U.S. have reported increased digestive issues, skin break-outs, and weight gain when consuming what we know as regular wheat and gluten. While these people are in the same “vacation mode” as we may be, this only determines it is another factor contributing to this phenomenon, not just the state of mind.
How is Processing Differs?
But was it the bread? The dairy? The general overindulgence while abroad?
Even with America’s anti-gluten stance, it begs the question: Is European bread’s gluten content lower? Answer: YES. There are two types of wheat: hard red and soft red, with soft wheat making up the majority of European wheat and just around 23% of American wheat.
Despite the misleading name, hard red wheat creates that soft, fluffy, protein-rich bread we Americans know and love – all thanks to the less loveable ingredient, gluten. Don’t stop this train at bread, though. The differences go far beyond the gluten content in wheat found in various pasta and doughs. But many who don’t or can’t eat bread in the states seem to have no issue indulging in rye cocktails, beer, or other known glutenous products. Maybe it’s not gluten after all! Our chase continues.
In my professional opinion, one of the more extraordinary thoughts to consider is not precisely what is being grown but how it’s being grown and harvested. European soil, for example, translates into the enzyme and nutrient density of the crops. However, it’s still argued that American soil holds more of certain healthy trace minerals like Selenium.
Sprinkle of Chemicals
Pesticides such as Roundup, sprayed over most of our corn, soy, and wheat crops, prove more problematic than the food itself. This spray improves the effort to harvest more efficiently and yield product more quickly. However, the active ingredient glyphosate was linked to the extreme spike in gluten sensitivities and diseases such as Celiac in recent years.
Persistent glyphosate exposure can result in a slew of far more significant and degenerative health issues. In most of Europe, the use of genetically modified products is severely constrained, taking that “simple sandwich” to a whole different level elsewhere.
Many European cheeses are made with raw milk, whereas most American cheeses are pasteurized, killing numerous digestive enzymes that naturally occur in cheese products. This destruction of enzymes increases the difficulty in digesting and brings us to our next point of argument, preservatives. It’s known that if you don’t finish a baguette bought in France before sundown or you’re eating croutons the next day, this limitation only further defines the freshness of the product itself.
The concept of “daily bread” refers to freshly made bread without preservatives, therefore a faster perishability rate, receiving the title “daily.” Although preservative-free bread may not be as shelf-stable as sliced American sandwich bread, it is free of the harmful health effects associated with preservatives. These may include gastrointestinal upset, hormone imbalances, skin and respiratory problems, and even cancer. Given the option, I’d go for the bread with the ticking timer.
Pesticide crop dusting has become exponentially more frequent in America versus Europe, which may explain the increase in digestive and health issues we face versus our parents or grandparents. This study does not go without saying gluten and wheat sensitivities are not an issue in other places because they most certainly are, just not as pertinent as they are here.
Have you ever had the same experience? Have you ever noticed how you can eat all kinds of food abroad, whereas in the states, they would give you bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, stomach aches, etc.? I hope this gave you some clarity as to why these things happen as they do.