You’d think that wheat intolerance was a modern digestive problem, but in fact ‘Wheatless Wednesday’ is an idea first promoted in the U.S. during World War I, and an unexpected side effect of this campaign (according to a 1929 Saturday Evening Post article) was that “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse: frequently much better.”
In fact, Wheatless Wednesday was begun in 1917 as part of America’s support for the Allies rather than as a public health campaign. War in Europe had devastated the food chain and rationing now determined people’s food purchases: farmers had become soldiers, land had changed from wheatfields to battlefields, and the transport system was perilous. The newly formed U.S. Food Administration led by Herbert Hoover coined the phrase “Food will win the war” and persuaded Americans to voluntarily restrict their use of wheat, meat, fats and sugar, so that more was available for export. According to Cornell University, cutting back on wheat flour for one year enabled the United States to ship 120 million bushels to Europe, six times its usual amount.
Now that rationing is a distant memory wheat seems to have become the modern ingredient that we just can’t escape, and millions of people are reporting that their bodies aren’t happy with this overload. Most people easily associate wheat with a loaf of bread, but in fact wheat flour is also the basis of the majority of bakery goods, such as pitta bread, wraps, cakes, biscuits, muffins and cookies. As pastry it encases sausage rolls, pasties and pies. Hidden under toppings & sauces it forms pasta and pizza bases, flans and quiches. Disguised as breadcrumbs it coats our chicken, fish and meat. As a thickener it can be found in numerous processed foods… the list is endless.
Time for a truce?
As with all foods, wheat must surely be best in moderation. A good first step might be to take this lesson from history and choose one wheat-free day each week. The great thing about this is that you can replace wheat with other foods, packed with fabulous nutrients that this grain alone can’t provide.
What can you eat instead?
All fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, beans/peas/lentils, rice and other grains except couscous and spelt which are forms of wheat. So there is plenty to choose from if you choose real, unprocessed foods and check the labels of anything that is processed – wheat is just one grain! For inspiration, check out the Soul Nutrition photo albums and click on the photos that interest you.
To see if reducing your wheat intake makes you feel better, you can track the changes using Nourish, the online food diary free for 30 days at Soul Nutrition’s unique interactive website
If you’d like some wheatless inspiration, some of my favourite wheat-free recipes are in these books: