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Atkins is dead...pass the bread

Anne Stanton - March 1st, 2010
“Atkins is dead… Pass the bread!”
By Anne Stanton
If you were in the area in 2003, perhaps you saw the bumper stickers printed up by my old friend, Bob Pisor, who founded and ran Stone House Bread in Traverse City.
Pisor, who has since sold the business, was peeved over the Dr. Atkins’ no-carb caveman diet, which has helped people peel off pounds fast. So he struck back with a bit of dark humor.
Despite the temporary hit to bread sales, the Atkins diet did play a vital educational role, said Gerard Grabowski, who with his wife, Jan Shireman, opened Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery, the area’s first artisan bakery, in 1993.
The gregarious couple, who make their home in Pleasanton, north of Bear Lake, bake naturally leavened bread with organic flour, water and salt. But no yeast. The crusty, chewy loaves are distinctly different in taste and texture than the sugary, squishy, non-crusty bread you’ll find at the grocery store.
“In both the Atkins and South Beach Diet books, they have dieters start integrating other foods and suggest eating naturally leavened bread. Even they got it! Unfortunately, that message got lost,” Grabowski said.

Grabowksi and Shireman were inspired to recreate the ancient art of bread-making after making a trip to Europe. They returned home and made plans for their own brick oven bakery 40 feet from their home in Pleasanton, north of Bear Lake. They opened a new bakery in Traverse City in 2007.
The couple first peddled their loaves at farm markets—they were comparatively expensive, but word got around that the taste was amazing.
Grabowksi said that his bread is naturally low in fat, although too much of anything will put on pounds. On the other hand, fad diets can make you fat because they make you crazy.
“When you become an extremist about what you eat, you end up getting yourself and everybody all uptight and worked up,” Grabowski said.
A tall, wiry guy, Grabowski is a testament to good health. Although humble about it, he often places in 50K classic ski races. In fact, he was on his way to a 50K race in Wisconsin just last week.
His philosophy is to sit down and take the time to relish the taste and experience of good food.
“Chew!” he said. “Having a good sit-down meal is hard, but it leaves you feeling happier.”

Soon after the couple began selling bread at farmer’s markets, the couple began hearing from gluten intolerant people that they were able to eat bread again, Shireman said.
“We’ve heard countless stories, people coming into the bakery, ‘Gosh I haven’t been able to eat bread for years, and now I can eat your bread,’” Shireman said.
Anna Brown was one of them. “Whenever I ate bread, whenever I ate gluten, I would feel really sick to my stomach, really nauseous. I’m pretty typical of how people feel with gluten intolerance. As it turned out, I was later diagnosed with Candida, a yeast infection, which weakens your digestive system. Food like gluten and dairy makes you feel sick overall.”
Brown had gone on a year-long, completely gluten-free diet, and was symptom-free when she began working at Pleasanton Bakery in January of 2008.
“I felt pretty good overall, so the first three months I worked, I didn’t eat anything we made. Gerard kept talking to me about the bread, just how nutritious it was, and the difference between naturally leavened bead and yeasted bread. He finally got through to me, so I decided to try it, to figure out if I could eat it.”
As it turns out, she could eat as much naturally leavened spelt, whole wheat and Kamut as she wanted, although white bread was still off limits.
The couple was intrigued by what people were telling them. They eventually learned that the starter (made with flour and water) contains micro-organisms that, over hours and hours, break down the grain’s phytic acid, which the human stomach finds hard to handle.
Thanks to this process, a naturally leavened grain arrives in the stomach partially digested so the body can better absorb its palette of vitamins: niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, biotin, vitamin B, as well as amino acids, which provide protein—yes, protein!
In contrast to the slow-working micro-organisms, the one-celled baker’s yeast is “like bread on steroids. It makes the dough big and puffy very quickly,” Shireman said.
Because the yeast works so fast, it doesn’t have time to break down the phytic acid, and the grain is much more difficult for some people to digest. Grabowski also said that chewing the robust bread takes longer, and even that helps digestion.
Shireman cautioned that people with the rare condition of Celiac disease cannot eat any kind of bread, including naturally leavened bread.
“But I think what doctors need to keep in mind is that a large percentage of the population with gluten and wheat sensitivities can benefit from eating the grains that have been fermented. It makes your gut happier,” she said.

Two years after Pleasanton Bakery opened, Bob Pisor opened Stone House Bread. A former Detroit News and TV reporter Pisor helped spread the gospel of crusty, chewy loaves in his distinctive booming voice. He shared his conviction that each loaf was well worth the price.
Paul Huffman, Stone House’s bakery manager, said that based on his decades of experience of workingwith flour, he believes that flour is key. You can accutally see how white flour is far more prone to coagulate, and it most likely sticks in the digestive tract, he said.
“I’ve worked at Meijer and other places, and the problem is they are using pretty crappy flour. A lot of stuff is enriched with dough conditioners. They bleach the flour to get whiter flour, so federal law requires them to put back in the nutrients, and vitamins.”
Many flour companies chemically whiten flours using benzoyl peroxide (used to treat acne) or chlorine dioxide, a key agent in liquid bleach. Others use potassium bromate to give flour more heft.
Stone House and Pleasanton use the same hard red wheat flour from Kansas, while Pleasanton gets its whole grains from Michigan centennial organic farmers using heirloom grains.

Despite Pleasanton’s anecdotal data, Munson nutritionist Laura McCain said it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
“I don’t have clinical data that bread, with no added sugar, done the old way, is significantly different in its digestibility,” said McCain, a registered dietician, chef and certified diabetes educator.
Nutritionists, however, do know that multi-grain flour has far more nutrients than white flour, she said.
“I totally support Gerard; it’s high quality food, but as a clinician, how do I prove to you from a medical perspective, that with all the various elements and subtle differences, how will that bread act in me? It’s easy to make claims; it’s hard to make proof.”
McCain said that when it comes to diet, it’s hard to isolate cause and effect. Red meat eaters, for example, have a higher incidence of colon cancer, but there might be another factor at work, such as smoking.
“That’s why you find so many contradictory studies,” she said.
Grabowski said that gluten intolerant individuals owe it to themselves to try a naturally leavened loaf, as long as they’re not diagnosed as Celiac. And people, in general, need to develop a healthy relationship with food.
“It seems pretty basic. Eat whole grains, walk, and don’t sit so much in front of computers and write articles,” he said, laughing. “You have to make an effort.”

If you want to try baking bread yourself, try the New York Times No-Knead bread recipe (google New York Times and bread recipe). It’s messy, but as simple as mixing flour, water, salt, a pinch of yeast, and baking it the next day. Be sure to buy quality flour at your co-op.

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