I love bread. I love bread more than most Japanese people love rice, in other words, with an overwhelming unconditional eternal love. The problem is … my body doesn't. It rejects gluten with a passion that is growing more intense as I get older.
Gluten sensitivity runs in my mother's family. It's never been a debilitating illness – nobody has celiac disease – but the symptoms are unmistakable. To put this as politely as possible, your digestive system ties itself into a Gordian knot and refuses to function. You suffer from bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint pain, headaches. Your intestines resemble the Kan'etsu Jidōsha-dō¹ at the end of Golden Week or the New Year's holiday: traffic jam. Nothing moves.
|My idea of heaven: rye bread and hanepoot jam.|
Hanepoot is a type of grape.
I find it very hard to resist the allure of bread, but about two months ago I was feeling extremely blah. It's been a tough year with a heavy workload, and exhaustion plus grief after my mother's death started taking their combined toll. My solution was twofold: I withdrew from social activities (I need solitude as much as others need company) and I ruthlessly adjusted my diet. I eat vegetables, fruit, nuts, oats, eggs and milk products. I've never been particularly enamoured with meat or seafood, but I add chicken and fish to ensure enough protein.
The effect was instantaneous: more energy, no headaches, happy body.
It's hard to maintain this. No bread, no pasta, no noodles, no cookies, no cakes unless it's made of rice flour or, occasionally, rye flour. It's immensely frustrating because I've realized yet again that Japan's famed healthy diet only applies if you're willing to live on fish, rice and seaweed.
Fruit and vegetables are expensive; organic food is rare and overpriced; pure rye bread and spelt bread are as scarce as women without makeup.
Spelt is an ancient grain that contains less gluten. I've read that today's wheat has been genetically modified to have very high levels of gluten. More gluten = flour raises more = you need less wheat = fatter profits for Monsanto and their ilk.
Only two kinds of bread are widely available in Tokyo: French baguettes, which are empty calories; and that horror known as Yamazaki pan. Dear people of Japan, please, that isn't bread. It's a ghastly chemical concoction created in the lab of a mad scientist with delusions of grandeur. It never decomposes. Compare that to real German rye, which goes vrot if you don't eat it relatively quickly.
|Pure rye bread from Donq Bakery|
|You'd better pay attention to that expiry date.|
So here I am, craving bread but feeling better than I've felt all year.
The only complication is that I've lost so much weight that my jeans are falling off, and weight loss isn't necessarily a good thing if you're not big to start with. I've dropped to 46 kg. That's way too low and it doesn't provide enough fat to keep me warm during winter.
I'm eating prodigious amounts of chocolate – thank all 8 million gods that I'm not lactose-intolerant – but I remain a skinny runt.
All this has made me wonder about carbo-loading and paleo diets and people's claim that an overactive (or is it underactive?) thyroid can make you fat.
1) Is carbo-loading really OK? I guess if you run marathons, but otherwise?
2) The paleo diet is silly. As I recently read in a funny article, if you really want to follow a caveman diet, you need to shoot all the squirrels in your neighbourhood with a bow and arrow, and when you've depleted stocks, you need to move on to your neighbourhood cats. Throw in worms and rotting carrion. No thank you, says I, civilization started when chocolate was invented.
3) Thyroid? I don't care what's wrong with your thyroid, if you eat only fruit, vegetables and limited protein, you cannot be fat. You. Can. Not. Gain. Weight.
|Five grains bread. German bread is the best bread in the world.|
So what do I do to survive winter in Tokyo?
Hmm. OK, let me go get more chocolate at the konbini!
More bread stories here:
1) Kanetsu Expressway