As human beings, we have eaten bread as a staple food for around 10,000 years. So surely we should be able to eat it without any problem? Mmm… possibly not. Over the last 50 years, a lot has changed in the way we cultivate grains and how we (commercially) bake bread. Let’s look at how eating bread may may cause digestive issues and hinder weight loss.
You may already think that the culprit in bread is gluten – the protein found in wheat – and you are partly right, but it’s not the whole story. In the UK, 80% of our bread is baked in plant bakeries (bread making factories). The Supermarket’s own bread accounts for a further 17% of sales, but much of this is a pre-mix or part-baked dough also supplied by the plant bakeries too. The lovely freshly-baked bread smell literally wafted around the supermarket, is therefore a bit of a con. Only about 3% of bread sold in the UK is made by artisan or independent bakers.
So, what does it matter? Well, the plant bakeries bake bread in a way very different from how you and I or an artisan baker bakes bread. Virtually all plant-bakery bread is made using the Chorelywood Bread Processing (CBP) method whereby enzymes and various chemicals under the innocuous name of ‘flour improvers’ are added to the flour. The enzymes help speed up the rising process whilst the other chemicals with the controlled heat and humidity as well as the addition of fat, means the dough can be risen just the once before baking, instead of twice. This saves time and money. The flour improvers also allow the wheat to absorb more water – making the bread springier and less likely to go stale. Yuck! The enzymes are killed off when the bread is baked and so they don’t have to be declared on the ingredients list. Finally, bread baked in the plant bakeries is often sprayed with sorbate or calcium propionate, which are anti-fungal agents to stop the bread going mouldy.
Bread or any food made ‘in-house’ in a supermarket are exempt from labelling laws so rarely are the ingredients listed.
Sometimes the the adverse reaction to eating bread is not down to the gluten—or not just the gluten, but the way the bread has been baked. If you suspect that bread may be causing you problems, one of the first steps you can take is to switch away from mass produced bread to an artisan baked bread.
Felicity Lawrence, research journalist for the Guardian newspaper, wrote an excellent book, “Not on the label” which has truly eye-opening details of what really happens behind the scenes in the world of bread making and food production.
What is the problem with Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in some cereals. It has a glue-like, elastic property which enables it to capture the gas released in a fermentation process, making it ideal to create the honeycombed texture that we’re familiar with in leavened bread. However, digesting gluten can be problematic for some people.
Gluten is found in all forms of wheat including spelt, durum wheat (used for making pasta, semolina and cons-cous) kamut, faro and bulgar. It’s also found in barley, rye and oats. However, the word ‘gluten’ is actually a composite name for several different proteins which include:
- Gliadin found in Wheat
- Harden found in Barley
- Secalin found in Rye, and
- Avenin found in Oats.
Coeliac Disease is an inflammatory response in the small intestines caused when gluten is ingested. It can be mild or severe, but it is usually discovered in childhood as it can cause severe diarrhoea, malnutrition and stunted growth. However, many people may unknowingly have a mild form of this disease that has not been diagnosed or, more commonly, a gluten intolerance (sometimes called gluten sensitivity). This causes milder forms of digestive problems such as bloating, excess gas and discomfort in the stomach soon after eating food containing gluten, or in particular to the gliadin found in wheat.
Surely if you had an intolerance to gluten, you would know about it? Not necessarily. If you eat bread and/or wheat products everyday, your body uses resources to cope with it as best as it can. And so whilst you might be aware of some discomfort, you might not be sure what is causing it. If your body is struggling in this way, your digestive system becomes sluggish and less efficient which may make weight loss more challenging.
On my Eat Well—Be Well programs, I take people through a Body Cleanse for 2 or 4 weeks. This includes entirely eliminating wheat from your diet for this time. And then a wheat test is done by introducing a small amount to see what happens in the next 48 hours. Because you have not eaten wheat for several weeks, the resources that used to help your body cope in digesting wheat have been reallocated. And so the sudden reintroduction catches the body out. If there is no reaction, that’s great news! No-one should eliminate a food from their diet based on a whim. But if you have a reaction, it’s then important to do some further testing.
How bread can raise blood glucose levels
When we eat carbohydrates (carbohydrates—carbs—are not just flour, rice, sugar and potatoes as is widely believed, but includes all vegetables, fruit and grains) the body breaks them down into sugars that give our body energy. Some carbs break down into sugar quickly and others take much longer to break down. A healthy diet aims to limit carbs that break-down quickly, for example; white flour, white rice and sugar. And at the same a healthy diet includes small amounts of wholegrains and plentiful amounts of vegetables as these carbs break down into sugars more slowly. For example, most coloured vegetables especially beans, pulses, broccoli, carrots and spinach. Fruit that has a high fibre content, for example; apples, pears and all berries, can also be eaten in ample amounts.
Why is this important? When you eat foods that break down into sugars quickly, sugar floods into your blood stream, raising your blood glucose levels. When this happens, it triggers your body to release insulin to mop-up it up. Insulin either temporarily stores the sugar in your liver or muscles or it converts it and stores it as body fat. Insulin does its job so well, that it can make blood glucose levels dip. This then sends a craving for more sugary, sweet foods and so a vicious cycle is created of blood glucose levels going up and down as if on a roller-coaster.
If we eat carbohydrates that are slowly broken down, then the sugars trickle into the bloodstream and lessen the need for insulin to do a mop-up job and so the highs and lows are avoided.
Much of the bread eaten in the UK today not only contains flour—so much of which is still white—but also sugar. This can easily lead to an insulin response and the rollercoaster effect and an increased likelihood of storing body fat.
Eating bread that is wholemeal, multigrain that you or an artisan baker has baked is less likely to cause problems with weight gain. However, I recommend to limit the amount of bread you eat, that omitting it later in the day is a good choice and that bread is no longer the default ‘filler’ you go to when hungry. I also recommend that you find your local, independent baker so when you do enjoy it, it does not contain any ‘flour improvers’ or enzymes. See realbreadcampaign.org for a map of your nearest real bread baker.
Cereals that are naturally Gluten free
If you find, that like me you are intolerant to wheat, you may find that oats, rye and barley don’t cause the same problems because they don’t contain gliadin. It’s about carefully testing each grain to see how your unique body reacts or doesn’t react. Some forms of wheat may also be easier to tolerate, such as spelt, durum and kamut as they contain lesser amounts of gliadin.
You can buy an increasing number of gluten free products in the supermarkets, but please read the labels carefully as whilst they usually contain naturally gluten-free foods, some have been adulterated with sugar, food additives and gums. However, there are grains and seeds which are naturally gluten-free. These include: corn, rice, millet and sorghum as well as seeds that are sometimes labelled as grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth.
There are many wheat-free recipes available online today. Check-out my favourite cooks and chefs; Anna Jones, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Deliciously Ella for they all have produced some excellent wheat/gluten-free recipes. Most of my recipes on this website are also gluten free. Two of my favourites are Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberries and Pizza with a Twist.
I hope this has helped you gain a better understanding of the problems that can arise when eating bread and gluten intolerance.
Eat Well—Be Well 🙂