Our daily bread
Put yourself in Novak Djokovic’s tennis shoes. It’s 2009. You have been playing tennis passionately since the age of 4, even beneath a sky peppered with F-117 bombers in war-torn Serbia. It is your dream to win Grand Slam tournaments and be the best. But no matter how hard you train, your body betrays you. Djokovic had collapsed in matches before and now he was defending his title in the Australian Open against top player Andy Roddick. The whole world was watching. The last thing he wanted was to bow out from fatigue before the end of the match, but that is exactly what he had to do.
He felt exhausted, his body had no fight left - it just wouldn’t do what he wanted it to. The tennis world was unimpressed and shocked that someone would give up because they felt tired! But not all the spectators were bemused.
The Serbian doctor who had been watching the match contacted Djokovic to suggest that he might be gluten intolerant. Willing to try anything, the tennis player subjected himself to a series of tests that confirmed, yes, he had a very high intolerance to wheat, as well as sensitivity to dairy and tomatoes.
The widespread theory that some people’s bodies develop intolerance to gluten because they eat so much of it is not better proved than in the case of Djokovic. His family had owned a pizza restaurant since he was a child, so what had he been eating? Wheat, cheese and tomatoes!
Gluten is a sticky protein composite found in some grains, especially wheat. The word comes from the Latin for glue and bakers love it because it is the substance that makes dough elastic and binds the crumb of cakes together. The word glue, ironically, also reflects how addictive it is — as we digest gluten, it releases an opioid peptide called gluteomorphin (whose effects mimic an opiate) and it has been suggested that this makes us crave more.
To anyone who is intolerant the word gluten probably also sounds like gluttony! Our society is literally in a gluten glut, stuffing itself on so much wheat that it’s hard to shop and eat out gluten-free.
Western society is very wheat-centric. Since the 1970s, wheat farming has doubled in the UK and of course it is our main crop. If you want to grab some lunch, it’s hard to avoid it — it is the main ingredient in most of our sandwiches, pastries, pasta and cakes.
Read more from our affiliate The Ecologist.
Bread image via Shutterstock.