Friday, February 13, 2009

Rethinking the whole baking thing

I love to bake. I always have. I love how food smells when it comes out of oven. I love how it looks when it rises above the pan. I love cooking with Pampered Chef stones and just acquired another one last week (the bundt pan, well, they call it the fluted pan). I love how it heats up the house in the winter time. I love how it fills me up when I'm really hungry (or not -- often it just makes me want to eat more and more despite how much I've decided I'll eat before hand).

When I was younger, I learned to bake cookies and breads partially because it was a fun thing to do and partially because my mom never bought snack foods or desserts - - if we wanted something besides apples, oranges or saltine crackers, we had to make it from scratch. I didn't mind. I loved it and my dad would often call me "Cookie" because I baked cookies so often. It was fun to bake and see everyone excited about what I made. I loved to give baked gifts to friends. One Christmas I made several Teddy Bear Bread loaves to friends and relatives -- the dough shaped like a teddy bear with a plaid bow tied around its neck. Very fun.

I also liked to eat what I baked. Sometimes I'd hide the cookies or muffins in a big paper bag to keep my 4 brothers from eating them all up. One of the most clever hiding places was the dryer. They never thought to look there. Once I hid some cookies in a low cupboard way in the back. I guess I forgot about them. A few months later, my mom was cleaning out the cupboards and found the bag of stale cookies along with a stiff mouse. Glad I wasn't doing the cleaning that day!

Anyway, the habit was born and I really didn't put on any weight from it until college. I baked way too much in college and my metabolism had slowed down a bit. I gained 20+ pounds and never felt all that energetic. When I got married, I saw a pattern emerge. When I baked, I put on weight. When I didn't bake, I either lost weight or remained the same. But now that I'm in my 40's, I can't eat any baked goods without gaining weight. I just stepped on the scale this morning for the first time since New Year's and I've put on 5 pounds. I was stunned! I shouldn't have been if I'd stopped to think about how much baking I've done in the past several weeks. I could just do the math and it would be evident what the result would be.

I'm not sure why -- okay, maybe I am. I was going to say I'm not sure why flour has such an effect on me. I've eliminated white flour and have seen big improvements from that in my digestion and pelvic floor strength. But even whole wheat flour seems to make me feel more stuffed (well, yeah, I eat so much of it) and triggers the urge to eat more. Back to the "maybe I am" from the top of the paragraph -- I should know why -- I eat too much bread, muffins, or whatever I bake. The calories just add up.

There's also talk about the leavening in breads, muffins, cookies, etc. - - that they add gas to your body whether it's yeast, baking powder or whatever. I've noticed this the most when I've been eating raw foods for weeks then eat even a bit of bread. My body gets really gassy (like you wanted to hear that, huh? :))

I remember when I first tried the Eat to Live program. For the first week, I lost 8 pounds. I was eating the cup of grains/starchy vegetables during those days mostly in the form of cracked wheat (boiled into hot cereal with raisins, cinnamon, and ground flax seed - - so hearty and yummy). Then I decided to bake bread one day. From that day on, my weight loss stopped. At first I was keeping to the portions recommended, but still the weight loss stopped. And then I ate too much. It was a slippery slope that I couldn't handle.

So why am I writing all this? Well, the weight gain thing - - now I have to embed this into my brain even more so to stop baking so much, to eat more vegetables instead, and to get my grains in more whole forms (even though most people consider fresh ground flour whole - - my body doesn't receive it as well as with the fiber intact). Notice how I said "stop baking so much" ? Why couldn't I just say "Stop baking" ? I've done it before. I can do it again. I really can (even if I am coming up with a bunch of excuses in my head as I type).

I'll do some actual research by doctors and nutritionists on this subject and will add that knowledge to my own musings on the subject. Hopefully they'll mesh together well and benefit your life as well. For now, I need to get my kids in bed (way past their bed time!) and I'll be back soon.

Added the next morning -- Here's a Q&A I found from Dr. Andrew Weil's website on the subject of wheat being better for you in it's whole form (not ground into flour). I remember something similar from him when I subscribed to his Self-Healing newsletter a few years ago. Now it's making more sense to me now that I see how my body responds.

What's Wrong with Whole Wheat?

Q - In your book "Healthy Aging," you recommend eating whole grains but not whole-wheat flour products. Why?

A - Answer (Published 11/29/2006)
I recommend eating whole grains because they're a great source of important nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and, especially, carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index (GI), a ranking of carbohydrate foods on the basis of how they affect blood sugar (glucose).

This is important for many people because eating a lot of foods that are high on the glycemic index will produce spikes in blood sugar that can lead over time to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is associated with obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood fats, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

Grains in their natural form have a low glycemic index, while processed carbohydrates, including those made with flour or puffed grains, have a high GI. The reason is that it takes longer for digestive enzymes to reach the starch inside whole grains or grains cracked into large pieces, slowing down the conversion of starch to sugar. True whole grains include wild rice, barley, quinoa, millet and wheat berries. You can be pretty sure you're eating a natural grain with a low GI ranking if you have to chew it or can see grains or pieces of grains in food products. The more your jaw has to work, the better.

But when grains are pulverized into flour, whether whole or not, their surface area expands dramatically, providing a huge, starchy surface area on which the enzymes can work. Consequently, the conversion to sugar happens very quickly. Whole wheat bread and products labeled "whole grain" are usually made with flour.

If you check a list of the glycemic index of various foods, such as the one at, you'll see that finely textured whole wheat bread has the same GI as white bread ? about 70, making both high GI foods. I recommend cutting down on all products made with flour and increasing consumptions of grains in their more natural state.

Andrew Weil


  1. Sounds to me like you might be gluten intolerance. I was diagnosed this year. Have you looked into gluten intolerance yet? Here are some links

  2. I don't think I'm gluten intolerant. If I were, wouldn't I experience the same problems with wheat in any form? I don't have a problem with it sprouted or cracked. And my biggest problem with it with flour is that it triggers more hunger and I eat too much of it. I really don't have those celiac side effects. (I did buy a few books about gluten intolerance when my son was first tested allergic to wheat -- he doesn't have a problem with gluten -- just with refined wheat products).

    Anyway, I'm going to look into it more, but I remember Dr. Weil saying that when you eat a grain or starchy vegetable (like potatoes without the fiber in tact (the skin or the hull on the wheat berry) it digests too quickly and is absorbed into your body more like a sugar and your body doesn't handle it as well. I just found a quote from him on this. I'll add it to the end of my post.

    Back to your original comment though, Jennifer, that's great that you were able to identify your gluten intolerance. I bet it's helping you tremendously to figure that out and to be able to work your diet around it.

  3. I loved your cookies. I bake like crazy and have gained a ton of weight. I just can't stop! Maybe I don't want to "enough" yet.

  4. I know Laura -- it's hard to get to that point of wanting to more than you think you'll miss the cookies.

    I'll have to agree with you on my cookie baking talents. They become creations of mine as I bake. I may just have to do it once a year for Santa though. :)