Give us our Daily Bread

Bread, a staple of our Western diet and also many middle and far eastern countries has become a point of contention in the modern healthy diet. Previously the food pyramid encouraged us to eat 6-11 serves of grain products daily (with no guidance as to wholegrain or not). With the focus now on reducing calories from carbohydrates, increasing fibre from nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetables to reduce pressure on our insulin levels and maintain stable blood sugars, bread is being left off the menu. When deciding to eat bread we need to consider a number of factors: the state of the grain (ie whole, refined, organic); the type of grain (gluten content); the fibre content; the yeast content; the additives and preservatives; salt, sugar and fat content; the ethics and status of the company (local, Australian); availability; and price.

Whole-grain flour contains the entire grain, including the bran, germ and endosperm. During the processing stages the bran and germ get stripped away. This is a problem because most of the nutrients, fibre, essential fats, and disease-fighting compounds are found here. Wheat flour doesn't contain the bran or the germ, so it's less nutritious than whole-wheat flour. Enriched wheat flour is enriched with nutrients that are lost during processing, often including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, iron, folic acid and calcium. Even though these nutrients are added back, the flour still doesn't contain the bran or the germ and isn't as good for you as whole-grain flour.

Breads containing mixed grains and seeds can appear to be a healthier option. While these are nutritious, adding to the nutritional value of the bread, they largely consist of white flour, with the grains and seeds making up only a small proportion.

Read the list of ingredients, which are listed in descending order by weight. A 100% whole grain  should be the first ingredient listed. A true whole grain bread will be high in fibre, containing at least 3 grams per slice.

Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat, oats, barley, triticale, spelt & kamut. This protein gives bread its structure or sponginess. The more gluten in a loaf the larger the holes or pockets of air & hence the lighter the texture of the bread. Many people are allergic (Coeliac) or intolerant to gluten so it is best to limit these grains in the diet.

Spelt has a lower allergenic reaction than wheat so some wheat allergic people are able to tolerate Spelt however it still contains gluten. Kamut is closely related to modern durum (pasta) wheats. It shares the same genus as wheat but is a different species, so may also be better tolerated.

Yeast can be an issue for some people especially if they suffer from candida. An alternative to bakers yeast, is sourdough bread. The rising agent is a culture made from a mixture of flour and water, various micro-organisms present in the air settle on & become mixed with the batter. These micro-organisms start to grow and in doing so produce carbon dioxide gas which causes the loaf to rise. The sour starter is similar to the method you would use to make yoghurt or traditional ginger beer at home. These yeasts that are present in the unbaked dough are broken down & destroyed when baking takes place. As the heat of the oven destroys all micro-organisms the bread is free of living yeast when taken from the oven. Traditionally made sourdough may be well tolerated by people who are intolerant to normal breads.

Samantha Warner Naturopath

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