Why bread is so bad

1 May 2011 at 10:21pm 15 comments

I don’t get it. Why is bread given such a bad rap these days? It used to be a family staple. What changed? Is bread actually good or bad for us to eat?

yumbly sourdough

I thought I would attempt to answer these questions by looking into bread’s basic ingredients:

  • the yeast;
  • the salt; and
  • the wheat.

The yeast. Why are people with candidiasis warned not to eat bread? I have wondered about this ever since my own misdiagnosis when, for a six-week period, I stayed away from sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten and yeast. I was told to avoid bread products specifically because of the yeast content. Although I followed my orders to the letter, I didn’t understand the full reasoning behind the ‘why’.

This I understand: those suffering from negative effects of candida albicans are advised keep their sugar intake low so as not to feed the infection. As well as the existence of natural sugars in the broken-down grains, many of our mass-produced loaves have added sugar to encourage the yeast to work faster.

Baker’s yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, works by reacting with sugars to aerate bread dough with carbon dioxide during proofing, also producing alcohol as a by-product. Depending on whether you use fresh or dry yeast, it is optimally active somewhere between 26 and 49°C (78-120°F), and yeast dies at 60°C (140°F). Bread is cooked when its internal temperature is in the range of 88-99°C (190-210°F).

If the bread is cooked, the yeast is dead, and this tells me that the yeast in the bread is therefore inactive – so why should the yeast content bother candidiasis sufferers? Personally, I think it’s more about the sugars and the yeast avoidance is a bit of a furphy. What do you think?

The salt. Salt’s bad, right? I mean, packaged food in Australia gets a little ‘heart health’ tick when it’s low in salt, so it can’t be good for you…right?

salt production in Thailand

Image courtesy of worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Salt has played a major role in human history since ancient times; it’s use as currency exemplifies its value to past civilisations. Although excess salt intake is linked to a variety of serious health problems, our bodies need sodium as a primary electrolyte to perform everyday functions – and savoury food items are often what we turn to when we crave it [incidentally, eating celery can help to stave off salt cravings in a healthy way].

You may not be aware that conventional (granulated cooking/table salt) is often mixed with a filler/anticaking agent to stop the grains from sticking together. This added extra is not usually present in sufficient percentage to warrant its inclusion on a label (ie. under 5% of a ‘compound’ food item in Australia), however I am more than a little disconcerted that such fillers have been associated with allergic reactions [for a humorous look at this serious subject, check out this blog post from Health Myths You Still Believe].

When you do use salt, I suggest looking to the relatively unprocessed alternatives of Himalayan, Celtic or unrefined sea salt, which have no cosmetic additives as well as the natural benefit of trace minerals.

It seems to me that the beneficial/detrimental effects of salt come down to the amount that you are using and its source. Although you may be limiting the amount of salt you add to your food, it is important to look for the hidden salt in packeted and canned food items.

The wheat. One of the most common ingredients in bread is wheat flour, and one of the most common recommendations I hear from naturopaths is to cut wheat from your diet, regardless of whether you are coeliac or not. This warning comes as a result of the gluten content in wheat; non-coeliac gluten intolerance is also a proven condition.

ears of the wheatish variety

Image courtesy of www.freepicturesweb.com.

The slow tradition of sourdough bread increases the nutrient content of the bread and breaks down the gluten to make it more digestible, even for coeliacs. The process of making your own sourdough is simplified on the Vegetarian Tips website and its importance is further explained via Kaslo Sourdough Bakery’s website.

The energy from wheat-based bread comes to us predominantly in the form of carbs. Carbohydrates are one of our body’s most important sources of energy, yet they too have suffered a less than positive image of late.

How beneficial a carbohydrate is for our bodies comes down to a number of factors, including the availability of the sugars to our system and whether the carbohydrate is simple or complex. White bread is low in fibre, full of simple sugars and gives a quick energy burst; if you are eating whole vegetables, fruits and grains, including wholegrain bread, you are likely to be accessing a richer source of complex carbohydrates, which have a lower glycemic index (ie. slower release energy source).

The Healthy Eating Advisor gives a useful rundown of commonly misunderstood ingredients on food labels, including “enriched wheat flour” [= white flour plus synthetic vitamins].

But wait – there’s more! There are pluses to eating bread, including the presence of the cancer-preventing antioxidant pronyl-lysine. Pronyl-lysine is 8 times higher in concentration within the crust than the rest of the loaf and is mysteriously not at all present in the raw ingredients – although it can be destroyed with over-browning. Finally it looks like there is a scientific basis for eating your crusts. And, with the early start to soup weather, bring on the croutons, I say!

These days, bread can be made from a plethora of grains other than wheat (like pepitas, sunflower seeds), and other techniques (such as sprouting) are also widely used. If you have a dehydrator, you can even try your hand at raw bread.

My choice. I love my raw bread and I won’t feel bad about eating baked bread when I feel like it either, particularly not those thick-cut slices of markets-purchased sourdough loaf with a generous blanket of homemade butter spread from antioxidant-rich crust to antioxidant-rich crust.

ohsogoodbutterybread

Hence a little bread isn’t such a bad thing in my books. Its health effects depend largely on the source, the ingredients and your body’s reactions. I have come to the conclusion that it’s all a matter of personal tolerances, mindfulness and balance. What do you think?

H :)

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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dab  |  1 May 2011 at 10:50pm

    I’ve started baking bread for work sandwiches for lunches in the last week. :)

    Reply
    • 2. Hannah  |  2 May 2011 at 10:09am

      Nice work, dab! There is not much more comforting in life than fresh homemade bread.

      H :)

      Reply
      • 3. dab  |  8 May 2011 at 1:29pm

        and the smell as it bakes?! Ahh the smell….

        However, I’m going to have to find much faster recipes than 7 hours of proving…or limit myself to only weekend food. Bench space necessitates a non-breadmachine approach.

  • 4. Aileen Sforcina  |  2 May 2011 at 4:39am

    Thank you for your research – very insightful and thorough. The true value of bread is in the whole grains. It is processed and refined foods that we need to avoid – the whites: white flour, white salt, white sugar, white rice, etc. That 5% loophole in our food laws is a real trap. Harmful additives don’t need to be present in great quantities to do real harm. 282 preservative is in most manufactured bread and needs to be avoided. I appreciate your systematic approach and logic. Thanks Hannah. Mum

    Reply
    • 5. Hannah  |  2 May 2011 at 10:21am

      Thanks, Mum. I appreciate your thoughts – especially your comments about avoiding ‘the whites’ and additives. If you happen to be vulnerable or allergic to a substance, you don’t need to eat a lot of it to get an adverse reaction.

      H :)

      Reply
  • 6. Conor @ Hold the Beef  |  3 May 2011 at 12:14am

    Very interesting indeed, Hannah, given my current wheat-free diet and the discussion I was having this very day about sourdough! I am hoping when I try to ween myself back into the land of non-GF breads I will be able to tolerate the joyous sourdough once more. The thought of that crusty bread is enough to send me off into a little swoon. If only I had some soft bready innards to cushion my fall..

    Reply
    • 7. Hannah  |  3 May 2011 at 6:00pm

      Conor, I do know what you mean! Well-buttered crusty bread is so simple and yet so decadent.

      Let me know if you try sourdough & how it affects you. I am mildly gluten intolerant & have no issues with it, however I know we are all different!

      H :)

      Reply
  • 8. Sean  |  7 May 2011 at 7:01am

    I have to say this is one of the most sensible articles on bread I have read in ages. I have to disclose I own an artisan bakery which specialises in the sourdough style breads and the information here is spot on.
    Sean

    Reply
    • 9. Hannah  |  7 May 2011 at 7:13pm

      I appreciate your feedback, Sean. I look forward to visiting Three Loaves if I ever make it to Townsville; your wares look so delectable!

      H :)

      Reply
  • 10. 2-minute Noodle Cook  |  8 May 2011 at 12:37pm

    I’ve no problem with pasta and homemade bread, but supermarket bread makes me sick. Perhaps it is 282 as Aileen suggested.

    Reply
  • 11. Annette @ Wellnesss WA  |  8 May 2011 at 2:12pm

    I love bread too! But am highly aware of the crazy salt content in 99% of breads.

    Would never eat white though, no no no! x

    Reply
  • 12. Hannah  |  8 May 2011 at 9:54pm

    >dab, from my limited knowledge of bread-making, it seems the longer the proving, takes the better it is for you. I always favour truly handmade bread. It’s the loving touch that makes all the difference!

    >2-minute Noodle Cook – thanks for visiting again! If you are interested in preservative 282, I managed to find this factsheet that explains more.

    >Thanks for your comment, Annette. I recall one health educator telling a group of eager learners years ago that “most people are digging their graves with their teeth”, with particular reference to white bread and other refined food products. I absolutely believe that is the case.

    H :)

    Reply
  • 13. janelle  |  4 June 2011 at 2:08am

    I was diagnosed with Candida but then it actually turned out to be IBS. Ever since then bread in general has been a nightmare for me. But thats just my body. Everyone else is different and react in different ways to bread. I don’t think there is anything wrong with bread though, everyone needs some fiber in their diets. Just not the kind of bread you get at the supermarket, that is gross town.

    Reply
    • 14. Hannah  |  4 June 2011 at 9:04pm

      Thanks for your comment, Janelle!

      I totally agree with you re supermarket bread. It brings back memories of a video I saw in the early 90s – I think it featured Covert Bailey – talking about people “digging their graves with their teeth”, in respect of refined food products.

      Diet, health and food preferences are very personal things, and there are some universal facts when it comes to wellness. If we stick to primarily whole and plant-based foods, we shouldn’t have any problem getting the fibre we need in our diets.

      H :)

      Reply
  • 15. pete  |  6 October 2013 at 3:16pm

    Very insightful ideas about yeast and wheat in bread. I wonder if we can make bread without yeast and if the yeast in our breads is making us sick over time. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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