Foiled by the fructans

As my family knows, my favorite sandwich when I was a kid was "bread 'n' butter." I liked it cold, I liked it toasted... I refused to eat the crust of my favorite white, super soft, Pepperidge Farm bread ("Pepperidge Faaahm Remembers!" - in fact, I shouldn't admit to remembering that commercial since it dates me), which frustrated my parents. Very much. In fact, sometimes I would just take only two bites out of each half of a sandwich because the first two bites were the most delicious (similar to a pizza-eating experience) and leave the rest. My parents shuddered in horror at the wastefulness. But every day, faithfully around 2:30pm when I got home from school, I'd watch my favorite children's educational show, Magic Garden, partially eat my sandwich, and invariably spill my glass of milk on the carpet in our "TV Room." Ah, the simple life. I continued to eat bread and/or toast (or my beloved Thomas' English Muffins with their mysterious nooks and crannies) every single day through adulthood whether for breakfast, via a gorgeously pressed panini in the afternoon, or a buttertop bun with a hamburger at night. And as a bachelorette, if I refused to cook dinner for myself ("Why dirty a plate?!"), I would have my tried-and-true toast with at least 2 tablespoons of butter. After all, bread was a perfectly good delivery system for butter, which I also loved, just as much, if not more. The saltier, the better.  (In a moment of insanity at my grandmother's house, I once ate a few tablespoons of butter, straight.  I was feeling bold since Grandmother let me do anything.  Needless to say, that didn't go well.)

But it wasn't until I was 38 that my love affair with bread, be it focaccia, rosemary, pumpernickel, rye, or garlic, began to go awry. When I needed energy the most in the afternoon at work, I wouldn't have it. I felt lethargic and at times, when it got really bad, I went out to my car in the parking lot at work and took a 45-minute nap. 45 minutes! I never felt better for this but I couldn't very well fall asleep at my desk. Embarrassing. It's better that they thought I was at a meeting. I also started to get bloated and not in a way that I could hide. When I was sitting at my desk, which was an increasing rarity, that pants button was firmly unbuttoned and I'd dread times when I would be forced to get up to do something because then I had to discreetly button the pants again... and sometimes zip the fly!

Still I forced the issue, trying more exotic breads instead, learning that most foods that are white are bad due to their high glycemic (aka sugar) content. I went with dark breads, cinnamon raisin English muffins, 7-grain, 12-grain, 25-grains, you name it. If it had the word "spelt" in the description, I was all over it. Barley became my friend too. But as the bloating and discomfort continued, I started to see doctors to help me diagnose my issue...while I continued to eat the bread of course. The FDA says I need multiple servings of it anyway, right? Grains are at the top of the pyramid, baby!  #Winning!

Didn't have Celiac's, didn't have gluten intolerance, but they did see markers of early onset Celiac's, whatever that means, so my doc told me to avoid it. Go the Paleo way and avoid all bread! Yikes! No more pizza?! Frankly, these gluten free crusts you can buy and/or make are for the most part disgusting at first, but you can convince yourself of anything as I discovered, especially if you piled on tons of toppings on a piece of cardboard... and by cardboard I mean the gluten free pizza crust.

I fell off the wagon a few times because of this because I was desperate to find the love again... It just was not possible that I'd never eat bread again. I grew up on Long Island, in a community that was heavily Italian-American. Pizza places and Italian restaurants abounded. Even my mother made us her mini pizzas on English muffins in the oven. As I discovered when learning about FODMAPs, it's not necessarily the gluten's that gonna get ya, to quote Gloria Estefan... it's the fructans. It's the type of carb present in some breads that expands your waistline five-fold and either locks you up for days or moves things along a bit too much, if you know what I mean. If you want the technical explanation, fructans are also known as fructooligosaccharides. Fructans can be found in foods such as agave, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions (including spring onions, the white part), jícama, and wheat. No wonder why the gluten free bread I got from Sprouts that had agave in it still made me feel awful, tired, and bloated.

Working with a nutritionist who specialized in FODMAPs made me focus on the type of bread I was eating and how I felt afterwards. A food diary is KEY! There are even iPhone tracker apps where you can quickly note down how you feel after you eat something instead of having to carry pen and paper around (I know some like to do that and you may prefer to, but I've tried it, and I can never remember where I put the pen and paper vs. the phone which is almost always in my hand.  Sad, I know.). Many gluten-free breads also have a lot of ingredients that you may not be able to pronounce so don't think that just because it's gluten-free, it's good for you. Xanthan gum and guar gum can cause problems for many. That agave bread? A nightmare. Gluten-free with barley as its first ingredient? A horror show. But the Ezekiel bread from sprouted wheat? Excellent. Yes, I had to get used to the taste - by no means is it the soft, wondrous white bread of my childhood, but it's better on my tummy and I can live with that. The times I've told myself I can have just one slice of the oat bread my kids eat (which is healthy bread with only a few ingredients, no chemicals), I regret it and suddenly, my stomach is out of whack. I still can't overdo it - having 2 slices of Ezekiel bread also seems to cause a bit of discomfort and fatigue so you have to know your limits and test yourself. Again, the diary is a great idea. As with any elimination diet, start small, with a slice of bread or a 1/4 cup of this or that instead of going whole-hog. My one remaining comfort that even a slice of Ezekiel bread makes a great butter-delivery system.