Alternatively speaking: Breaking bread

Alternative medicine expert Natalie Marx answers your questions: Are there any health benefits of not eating bread for one week?

Alternatively Speaking - Natalie Marx (photo credit: Courtesy)
Alternatively Speaking - Natalie Marx
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Q. Dear Natalie, I was wondering if there are any medicinal uses of bitter herbs? I need any excuse to encourage my dinner guests to consume the bitter herb, maror (horseradish)! Thank You.
A. As well as bitter herbs bringing tears to our eyes whilst encouraging us to recall the bitterness of slavery, mankind has for centuries been consuming bitter herbs mainly to enhance the digestive system. In ancient Rome, people consumed aperitifs (bitter drinks) before eating meals to improve digestion.
Since then, the use of bitters to stimulate the digestive system can be done in various ways. One way is to drink bitter herbal teas or try a digestive bitter supplement before a meal to give your digestive organs a jump start. By consuming bitters we stimulate the liver's bile production, thereby preparing our bodies for the arrival of nutrient-rich blood from the intestines allowing the food to be processed more effectively.
One of the bitterest compounds known to science is the gentian herb, medicinally used to stimulate digestion. Once consumed, gentian not only stimulates the flow of bile from the liver but can also be treated for a wide range of nutritious digestive disorders such as gastritis. I suggest drinking 2g of the dried root as a tea half an hour to an hour before eating.
Dandelion root and leaf is a popular bitter liver tonic herb. Dandelion too enhances good digestion by stimulating the liver to produce more bile. This action cleanses both the liver and gall bladder. Besides the effects on digestion, dandelion root also provides nutrients to the liver and a may have a mild diuretic effect. A more moderate bitter is ‘Globe Artichoke’. As well as supporting the digestive system it has a pre-biotic effect that promotes a healthy gut flora. Lastly, a popular household remedy; Chamomile flowers are also considered bitter herbs, despite their bitterness not being too severe. Chamomile flowers can be used as a general stomach tonic. I commonly prescribe chamomile tea for heartburn, acidity and flatulence. It is also an antispasmodic and is a wonderful remedy for more serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis where stomach cramping and diarrhoea are prominent symptoms.Q. Dear Natalie, are there any positive benefits of not eating bread for one week? Thank you.
A. There are indeed many positive health benefits achieved by not consuming bread in your diet. Although bread products do provide us with nutrients such as iron and B vitamins, when consumed in large amounts bread can increase weight gain due to its caloric value. Per every 100g serving, white bread contains 266 calories, while a serving of 100g whole-wheat bread contains 247 calories. A plain 6 1/2-inch-diameter white pita has approximately 165 calories!
It is often the methods of preparation that strip nutrients from the ingredients in bread and thereby raises its level of unhealthy carbohydrates. Due to its high carbohydrate content and glycemic index, bread which is made from refined flour can raise our blood glucose levels making it unhealthy. When we cut bread completely from our diets, we should aim to increase our intake of healthy carbohydrates including more fruits and vegetables. Several kinds of breads are made of gluten grains and this can cause an immune response in the digestive tract of susceptible individuals.
Some of the digestive issues resulting from this include stomach pain, bloating and fatigue. Most types of bread are not very nutritious and the proteins in them aren’t of much use. The pulverized wheat is easily digested and therefore rapidly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which can not only lead to overeating but can also stimulate overeating.Q. Dear Natalie, can you recommend any ways to stay awake for the entire seder night without consuming coffee? A. There are many herbal remedies which can boost energy and help fight fatigue. You will often find Panax Ginseng as an ingredient in many energy supplements. It is known for its mild stimulating effects and I often prescribe it to my clients to protect against the physical effects of stress such as exhaustion and adrenal burnout. It's most effective when taken consistently over a period of two weeks in doses of 500mg daily.
Another traditional favorite from the Amazon Basin is the herb guarana. This herb contains approximately twice as much caffeine as coffee beans. Research by the National Institutes of Health states that guarana improves the ability to perform attention-related tasks boosting mood and alertness. A wonderful herb less likely to cause being jittery as when you drink too much coffee is Yerba mate tea. It has recently gained much popularity in the US as a coffee substitute and is also rich in minerals. If you are able to snack on some fruits during the evening it will improve your chances of staying awake! I recommend pineapple since it contains high levels of vitamin C and is an excellent aid in digestion.
Consuming fruit will provide you with an energy burst without elevating your sugar level as much as starches and simple sugars, so you will not suffer from the same drop in energy. Lastly, make sure you are drinking enough! Staying hydrated throughout the evening is essential to helping you feel awake and energized.
Natalie runs a clinic both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offering a wide range of natural treatment, including a women’s clinic every Wednesday. To make an appointment please email [email protected].
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer, email Natalie with your question at [email protected].