As far as 23,000 years ago; we have quite beautifully processed and consumed wild cereal grains. We started with simple stone-smashing and grinding to make these grains palatable and versatile.

We mixed these cracked and ground grains with water to create a variety of foods, from thin gruels to thick porridges. Once we left this paste out in the sun, a bread-like crust was formed.

Eureka! This early bake got more and more successful, when wild yeast from the air combined with the flour and water, slightly raising the dough. These ancient ‘breads’, however, was unpredictive each time. The type of grain, the flour texture, the liquid, the availability of wild yeast and especially the weather would make a huge impact.

Both simple, yet elusive, the art of controlling the various ingredients and developing the skills, required to turn grain and water into a crunchy yet fluffy baked good, gave status to individuals and societies for thousands of years globally.

And that marked the beginning of numerous types of baked goods which has now become a part of our daily lives.

That being said, wouldn’t you wonder if all this ‘complete control’ that we need and now have, for a well-risen bread, a chewier cookie or a fluffier cake has affected us in any way?

Unfortunately, yes it has.

Simply put, in order to attain this complete control, we use excessively processed grains which would make a whiter and more untroublesome dough or batter; we use additives which will keep the gluten intact and the leavened bake unaffected. Let’s face it, none of these would do any good to our bodies.

We will walk through how these processed grains and baked goods affect our bodies today.

First:

For the greater part of the past 2.6 million years, our ancestors’ diets consisted of wild game, seasonal plants and veggies and the occasional berries, However, today, most people’s diets are centered on grains and carbs.

We all must understand why consuming so many grains and carbs could be so harmful. This is because they raise blood glucose in ways that other foods, such as pulses, meats and vegetables do not.

High blood sugar, produces high insulin, which is released from the pancreas to move sugar into the body’s cells. The higher the blood sugar, more is the insulin required to be pumped from the pancreas to deal with the sugar. And, the climax, as the insulin increases, cells become less and less responsive to the insulin signal.

What the pancreas does, just as anyone would do if a person couldn’t hear your message, is speak louder – that is, it increases its insulin output, creating a life-threatening feed-forward process. Higher levels of insulin cause the cells to become less sensitive to insulin – and in order to lower blood glucose – the pancreas works overtime – increasing insulin output further to maintain a normal blood sugar. The point to be noted is that even if the blood sugar is normal,  the insulin level is climbing.

To characterize this condition, the term ‘Insulin Resistance’ was created.

As this situation progresses, the pancreas reaches his maximum output of insulin and that is still not enough. At that point, cells lose their ability to ‘sense’ insulin and ultimately, the blood sugar begins to rise, resulting in type-2 diabetes.  The system is in overdrive and has shut down, leaving the only other choice of taking insulin from external sources to balance blood sugar.

Please do remember, you don’t have to be diabetic to suffer from chronic high blood sugar.

Second:

Apart from our belly, these foods, especially excessively processed cereals, affect our brain as well. Let’s face it, we all have encountered a situation where we have craved for a cheesy pizza, buttered warm toast or a garlic butter naan. There is a feel-good factor afterward, yes?

Dr Willian Davis describes this effect very well in his book, ‘Wheat Belly’. “So, this is your brain on wheat: Digestion yields morphine-like compounds that bind to the brains opiate receptors. It induces a form of reward sensation, a mild euphoria. When the effect is blocked, or such foods are replaced, some people experience a distinctly unpleasant withdrawal.” Research says that this phenomenon occurs with almost all carbs.

The idea that all baked foods rich in carbs and processed cereals can change our biochemistry down to our brain’s pleasure and addiction center is amazing. And scary. It means that we need to re-think how we categorize these foods.

Third:

A whiter-than-white bread, a darker & deeper cocoa flavour in your cookie, a rainbow coloured cake; all within budget? Seems sketchy. In most baked goods, there is the luxury of preservatives and chemicals for food preservation (safety) and quality.

Not so with an organic label.

One need not explain how harmful these additives could be to the body and brain. See, there is no way about it, this shift to organic baking is crucial today and no doubt, it is coming.

  1. SWITCH TO MILLET-BASED BAKED GOODS

In the last few years, thanks to research on the roles of processed cereal and single cereal dependence, in diabetes and weight gain, nutritionists assert that there is a need to include millets in one’s diet for a healthy living. There are myriad health benefits of millets. It is slowly staging a comeback since we started appreciating the health benefits offered by it – once again! Millets are indigenous to India, making them more accessible and cost-effective.

Millet flour have a low glycaemic index, meaning the grains are digested and absorbed by the body slowly, lowering the blood glucose and indirectly, insulin levels. Millets are receiving increasing spotlight in combating diabetes as a dietary option. Millet protein can increase insulin sensitivities and reduce blood glucose level as well as triglyceride level. Millet flour is also gluten-free, which means they can be used in place of all-purpose flour in rotis and baked products.

To clarify, it isn’t just millets that we am encouraging you to use today. Diversifying your diet is key. Incorporate varieties of rice- black or red; whole wheat, diverse millets & other rare grains. Make a flour out of them and bake! Casting the favour you would do to your palate aside, watch your body & brain work wonders.

Start small, try replacing portions of white flour with millet flour to make millet based baked foods for your next baked bread, chapati, cookie or cake.

  1. ORGANIC BAKED FOOD

Organic flour provides a farming system that works to reduce the pollution of our soil and our environment. Organic farmers rely on natural soil fertility to produce their crops instead of conveniently using numerous pesticides and fertilizers, which penetrate into our Planet and back to our bodies. This truly is an art and the results are vastly distinguishable in taste.

What’s more, with fewer pesticides being used to grow cereals, organic farms are havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies. If you care about what our planet looks like today and of course for generations to come, about what views we will get to enjoy and what wildlife we will continue to see, making a simple swap to organic flour does contribute towards this.

As we have seen so far, in baked goods, each of the ingredients – processed cereals, sugar, pro-inflammatory foods and environmental toxins – combine to create a perfect storm in the body and the brain. So, the next time, we urge you friends, to read labels, question them and be mindful of the next baked good coming fresh from the oven!