The Fresh Loaf

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Michael Pollan sheds light on gluten intolerance

dmsnyder's picture

Michael Pollan sheds light on gluten intolerance

And strikes a blow for truth, justice and the sourdough way! 

Michael Pollan believes you should be eating more gluten (of a certain type)

Happy (sourdough) baking!


Trevor J Wilson's picture
Trevor J Wilson

Thanks for the good link. Interesting read. Now I'm gonna have to watch his series. On a related note, when I briefly apprenticed with Gerard Rubaud he gave me a paper that he received from a local university researcher that basically argued the same thing. He believed that long slow fermented bread (especially acidic fermentation) created bread that was healthy for all but the most severely gluten intolerant (i.e. celiac sufferers).

And I've also seen speculation that the recent problem with gluten intolerance (besides the bandwagon effect) has more to do with a low-diversity, unhealthy gut microbiome -- a fairly modern problem caused by high antibiotic exposure and processed foods. I don't know how much science there is to back that up, but I find the idea interesting, at the least.



Yippee's picture

Hello, David:

Your link led me to Pollan's Netflix series In which bread is featured in the 3rd episode "Air".  It walks us through the Morocan field where farmers grow their own grains all the way to the community bakery,  where breads are baked, and more.  Very profound and intriguing views of bread. Thanks for sharing!

bsumberg's picture

I have asked friends with 'gluten intolerance' to try long fermented sourdough bread and their results were the same as with any other bread--gastrointestinal discomfort. So I don't think it's a cure-all. The whole thing is a mystery, unless it's a case of mass hysteria a la the Salem witch trials.


Sadly, Bobbie

dmsnyder's picture

At times, I have thought so, but I think there really are individuals who have non-celiac gluten intolerance.

Now, one of my DIL's believes herself to be gluten intolerant. She visited last month, and she ate my 90% rye bread in which almost all the rye was pre-fermented. She ate it in sizable quantities and denied any abdominal distress. Now, this was not merely sourdough bread; it was 90% rye, and rye does not have gluten. She ate some other sourdough bread without symptoms, but in more modest portions.

I take it case by case until there are more scientific studies.


alfanso's picture

Here is an article from The New Yorker magazine from Nov. 2014 on some research into whether it is gluten or something else (FODMAPS) that is at play.  Haven't seen any follow-up since.  As with most New Yorker pieces it is long, therefore an excellent read for insomniacs.  Or those who wish to become insomniacs...

There is some belief, albeit still in its infancy, that FODMAPS is a culprit and not necessarily the gluten.  From the article...

"Most people have no trouble digesting FODMAPs, but these carbohydrates are osmotic, which means that they pull water into the intestinal tract. That can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When the carbohydrates enter the small intestine undigested, they move on to the colon, where bacteria begin to break them down. That process causes fermentation, and one product of fermentation is gas. In Gibson’s new study, when the subjects were placed on a diet free of both gluten and FODMAPs, their gastrointestinal symptoms abated."

wolfetan44's picture

Rye does have gluten, just in a lesser amount than wheat. 

dmsnyder's picture

Gluten is the combination of  gliadin and glutinin, which occurs in the presence of water. Rye flour contains gliadin. It does not contain glutinin. It does contain a different but similar protein, glutelin, but "due to the presence of pentosans, gluten formation is not possible."  (Hamelman, J., "Bread," 2nd Edition, pg. 40.


Ru007's picture

I also used to think rye was just "gluten challenged" as opposed to completely deficient. 

I don't think I'm gluten intolerant but I've definitely started feeling better since I've started eating long fermented sourdough bread. Its lighter for me. 

drogon's picture

I live in a place on the fringe of a diversely culturally/ethical/hand-knitted population and meet people who are "a little bit gluten intolerant" as well as the usual 1% of coeliac sufferers.

I have every sympathy for the coleliacs. It's a real thing, debilitating and potentially deadly.

However - my somewhat non scientific experiences (and probably biased as a baker!) is that most people who think they're a little bit gluten sensitive actually have your common or garden wheat intolerance. ie. they simply can't digest it, leading to the usual issues of bloating, flatulence, "the runs", etc.

So these people go gluten free - either due to pressures from advertising or scare articles, or because they think they have coleliac disease and immediately feel better - so they (mistakenly, IMO) associate their issues with gluten, not realising that by being gluten free they're also wheat free. My mother in-law does this - she' knows it's a wheat intolerance, can eat my Rye bread without an issues but any others and it makes her run... She finds it easier to just ask for the gluten-free menu in restaurants, etc. than to try to pick through the dishes and work out which ones contain wheat...

Some of these people eat my long fermented sourdoughs. Some like my sourdough Spelt loaves, but a lot have switched to my sourdough 100% rye loaves. Sales of these have increased hugely this year alone. Was 1 or 2 a week, now 12-15 a week. I have had one person thank me for making gluten free bread... I pointed out to him that Rye had just as much gluten proteins in it as wheat and he appeared somewhat disappointed...

Make of that what you will.

Personally I think anyone who thinks they have coeliac disease should get tested. Many I know don't. I suspect they're secretly worried that they don't have it for some bizarre reason, therefore can't blame gluten! Backed up to a degree by the amount of negative press about gluten in recent times. I wonder how much if this is funded by the gluten-free food producers...

I do think more independent research is needed though.


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Like Gordon, I also have customers who are very happy now that they can 'eat bread again', having turned away from quick-rise supermarket bread and started buying slow fermented lacto-fermented bread from me instead. One lady started buying my gluten-free bread, then tried the levains with no problem, and now buys and eats all my bread, including ones made with commercial yeast (but also slow-fermented at least overnight in the fridge). No problems.

Also, I think perhaps a little flatulence is probably part of normal digestion. For some reason people seem to think they should never, ever have any discomfort or socially-unacceptable gas in their lives so if they get it they either avoid what's causing it (though that might just be the normal flora in their gut doing its job) or decide they have a disease or intolerance. Not to say there are no food allergies, intolerances or diseases, but it does seem to be a 'thing' the last few years.

dabrownman's picture

no one has ever complained about having any health problems from eating any of my breads or food for that matter.  With all the fresh veggies we eat, it is only a matter of tine though.......

Kooky's picture

Why is it only a matter of time? I eat mostly organic vegetables, and only vegetables as a vegan, besides trying to grow more of my own food from heirloom seeds. Am I missing something? I've read some of Pollan's works before and due to factory farming and well plenty of other environmental issues, dismissed meat and dairy eating entirely. I hope I never develop gluten intolerance.

I can essentially eat all day long, whatever I want, doesn't matter if it's fried comfort food, dessert, whole food meals, steamed vegetables, fruits, and nothing ever seems to happen to me. I haven't been sick in about two years. I don't have the vaccine, I'm not an anti-vaxxer though, seeing as I have every other vaccine there is... Don't feel like opening this can of worms here so moving on.

I've been trying to start a small vegan bakery and I've been pretty interested in ancient grains and how selective breeding has harmed our breads. I've been trying to acquire some Red Fife berries at a reasonable price but shipping is absurd right now. I can only imagine the fact civilization grew exponentially due to the development of agricultural communities, most lineages were reliant on bread...

Many farmers now are claiming certain wheat they've managed to produce, mostly ancient heirloom grains, have had no real ill effects on the gluten sensitive.

I most definitely recall the Native Americans passing gluten-free dinner rolls at Thanksgiving.

Warpiper's picture

I may not bake bread very well yet but gluten sensitivity is something I'm familiar with.  There is a small portion of the population that is gluten sensitive (not to be confused with allergies) and most of them are not celiacs.  Just about every person with an autoimmune disease(including celiac) is gluten sensitive (as well as to other foods and chemicals).  Unfortunately, like so much other good health information, someone gets a hold of one small piece of the puzzle and then totally blows it out of proportion and turns it into a fad.  Good for marketing by the way.  As I tell my patients, if you are not gluten sensitive, then knock yourself out eating foods with gluten, but if you are gluten sensitive, avoid it.  Gluten (and other immune simulators) activate the body's autoimmune response and the body attacks it, but when the immune system becomes confused, it will also attack various body parts.  In celiac, its the intestine, in Graves disease or Hashimoto's its the thyroid.  There is more to gluten other than gliadin and glutinin.  That's what most folks test for gluten sensitivities but there is actually 24 or more proteomes (sets of proteins) that can cause immune reactions tied to gluten sensitivity.   There is a whole lot more to the subject but I better stop there.  

CelloBread's picture

Does anyone know gluten levels of sourdough discard just before a feed? My starter is half rye/ half whole wheat.

naturaleigh's picture

I've been reading Michael Pollan's books for years and feel he has provided a lot of wisdom on so many subjects surrounding our food.  Forgive the divergence from your main topic, but I feel it is definitely related: glyphosate.  There is a stream of thought out there as well as studies that propose the prevalence of glyphosate in and on our grains is more than a smoking gun as regards to celiac disease and gluten intolerance.  It's being used pretty widely as a desiccant to speed up the grain drying process, unless you are buying organic.  Unfortunately, traces can be found even in organics due to blow over from bordering crops.  Definitely something to think about and possibly weigh when making purchasing decisions.  Apologies in advance for the side step away from the rye topic ;-).  

I also have anecdotal evidence of sourdough bread (naturally leavened) being tolerated by people who believed they were gluten intolerant before trying fermented sourdough.  One of them, a physician, had not been able to eat conventional bread for years but was able to enjoy it again once he switched to sourdough (I provided the original rye starter).  

In many ways, the old ways of doing things, especially related to our food, are best.

wlaut's picture

I have at least one friend who can eat bread again, once they started milling their own flour from berries guaranteed as "chemical-free."

Although not celiac not "gluten-intilerant," nonetheless I mill my own flour, primarily for flavor, but also because I actively seek to restrict the chemicals in my food.

To that end, my foundational grains come from Wheat Montana.  Quite pleased with their products.

alcophile's picture

Glyphosate being "widely used as a desiccant to speed up the grain drying process" in the US I believe is an overstatement. It is probably used on only about 5% of the total wheat harvest. I live in the Corn Belt, but some of the farmers here do grow winter wheat in rotation and I have not observed pre-harvest applications of glyphosate; it appears to mature and dry naturally before harvest.

naturaleigh's picture

Hi Alcophile!  Thanks for taking the time to respond.  I would like to hope its use as a desiccant is low and/or on the wane.  Most of the articles that I have read indicate use (not just as a desiccant) is on the rise.  If you live in an area that has drier weather, it might not be used as much as areas that have wetter autumns, like the upper midwest and Canada, where its use is more prevalent.  There was a bill introduced in the US (around 2019) to stop the use as a desiccant but it appeared to be only limited to oats.  I'm not sure what the outcome of that was.  If you follow EWGs articles at all, testing results on an array of grain products is pretty telling.  Used as a desiccant, residues are reportedly even higher.  It's also important to remember that the EPAs reported limit/level of toxicity/tolerance is roughly three times that of Europe's.  Why?  If you check out the EPAs lobbyist lists, you will perhaps find more than a few commercial agriculture and chemical big hitters, including Monsanto, who have the most skin in the game.  The Canada/Italy kerfuffle surrounding desiccant use of glyphosate on durum products is also interesting.  Something to chew on so to speak. 

Didn't mean to hijack this thread at all...just thought that a great community such as this, so focused on all things bread, might have some interest and/or concern about how we go about the craft of bread making and the quality of the ingredients we use.  What is important to some may not have any importance to others.  I will continue to seek out organic grain, hopefully glyphosate and chemical-free, "speaking out" with my wallet.  Getting off my soapbox now ;-)

“Pre-harvest desiccation may account for only a small percentage of overall glyphosate use,” says Charles Benbrook, a visiting scholar at the Bloomberg School of Public Health who has spent more than a decade studying the use of glyphosate and associated health risks. “But it accounts for over 50 percent of dietary exposure.”,from%20such%20crops. 

(Albeit an older article, I have not found anything more recent to indicate use is going down rather than up.  Note that I inserted brackets to explain harvest aid and green burndown as desiccant.)


Other factors contributed to rising glyphosate use. These include steady expansion in the number of crops registered for use on glyphosate product labels, the adoption of no-tillage and conservation tillage systems, the declining price per pound of active ingredient (see Fig. 2b), new application method and timing options, and new agricultural use patterns (e.g., as a desiccant to accelerate the harvest of small grains, edible beans, and other crops).

The one-time average rate of glyphosate application on Kansas wheat has incrementally risen threefold, from 0.33 kg/hectare in 1993 to 0.95 kg/hectare in 2012 ([27], Additional file 1: Table S5). The trend toward no-till and conservation tillage systems has increased wheat farmer reliance on herbicides, including glyphosate. The average two applications in recent years on winter wheat could include a pre- or at-plant spray, an application during a summer fallow period, and/or a late-season application intended to speed up harvest operations (a so-called “harvest aid” or "green burndown" use [desiccant]) [41]. The average rate per crop year—the single most important indicator of the intensity of glyphosate use—rose even more dramatically, from 0.47 kg/hectare in 1993 to 2.08 kg/hectare in 2012 (4.4-fold).

Harvest-aid [desiccant] uses of glyphosate have become increasingly common since the mid-2000s in U.S. northern-tier states on wheat, barley, edible beans, and a few other crops, as well as in much of northern Europe [4143]. Because such applications occur within days of harvest, they result in much higher residues in the harvested foodstuffs [42]. To cover such residues, Monsanto and other glyphosate registrants have requested, and generally been granted, substantial increases in glyphosate tolerance levels in several crops, as well as in the animal forages derived from such crops. 

alcophile's picture

I am a chemist by training and I cringe at the use of the term "chemical-free" when describing organic foods. Everything in nature is made of chemicals.

I do believe there can be advantages to organic farming (especially for the soil environment), but studies have shown that there is little difference in the nutritional content of organic and conventional foods:

There may be a slight advantage in the level of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, but they already contain beneficially high levels anyway. I do try to minimize my use of any pesticide in my yard and garden.

When I was in graduate school, I attended a campus-wide lecture by the Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, biochemistry professor Bruce Ames. He and research group developed the Ames test that is widely used to detect mutagens. The lecture topic was on the risks of mutagens in the environment. His belief was that the nutritional benefits of affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables, made possible by modern farming techniques, far outweighed the risk posed by trace pesticide residues on food. He also showed that many naturally occurring compounds found in plants were mutagenic or toxic (like comfrey tea, since banned by the FDA in 2001). Some pesticides used in organic farming were also shown to be toxic or mutagenic.

Here is a brief discussion on the Ames test and mutagenicity:

I think it's probably better if we confine our discussions to aspects of bread baking and leave more controversial topics for other forums.

naturaleigh's picture

Many heartfelt apologies to the chemists of the world for my omission of the word 'artificial' in front of 'chemical free'.  Certainly did not mean to offend anyone.

Surely within a thread regarding suspected gluten intolerance and sensitivity, bringing up a possible link with glyphosate is neither an incendiary nor egregious leap?  I believe this is exactly the type of forum where folks might be interested, especially those or those with loved ones who have gluten issues.  If trying to be informative and helpful equates to being controversial... guilty as charged!

Also wanted to add that I appreciate the dialog, truly, but will most respectfully agree to disagree on the pros/cons of organics, not just for our health but for the environment (air, land, water).

alcophile's picture

I am sympathetic to individuals with celiac sprue disease, as I knew an someone with severe celiac sprue that led to cancer. But TFL is not the forum for discussing the possibility that glyphosate is responsible for celiac sprue disease because the debate surrounding glyphosate is extremely controversial, and we're here to discuss bread. It is better for a celiac sprue forum. Note that the original post was on the benefits that sourdough (certainly an appropriate TFL topic) may have on gluten-sensitivity.

But I would be remiss as a scientist to fail to note that the paper published by Samsel and Seneff (who is not a biologist or doctor) implicating glyphosate in celiac sprue disease has been largely discredited. I liken the Seneff paper to the paper Andrew Wakefield published in The Lancet linking autism to the MMR vaccine. The paper had to be retracted by the journal and has contributed to the anti-vaccine movement. Please see these links for a rebuttal of the Seneff claims: (Note: this is from an actual celiac sufferer)

With regard to organic foods, I never said that there were no advantages to organic farming. In fact, I agreed with the benefit to soil health. However, the often higher cost of many organic fruits and vegetables could make them less accessible to some of the public—and that could definitely lead to negative health outcomes.

naturaleigh's picture

Thanks for the ongoing discourse on this, but again disagree with you on whether the mention of glyphosate on a thread on sourdough benefits and subsequently gluten intolerance or sensitivities (started by the first commenter to the original post and continued by several others well before I made my first comment) is inappropriate. 

I never referenced the Seneff study and was not focusing my comments on celiac. There are other studies out there that indicate glyphosate could affect the microbiome and that more research is needed on the shikimate pathway and subsequent dysbiosis. 

If I had celiac or gluten intolerance, or knew someone that was, this would be something I would be interested in investigating, hence my original comments.  I venture to guess there are more than a few people on this site that have similar interests regarding what they are baking with and eating.  

With regards to organics, I think we likely have more beliefs in common than not.

I appreciate the friendly discourse.  Your suggestions that my comments aren't appropriate for this thread and should be taken elsewhere...well, I'll leave it up to Floyd, as the administrator, to decide which comments are and aren't appropriate on the site. ;-)