As a personal trainer in London, my clients often ask me if bread is bad for you. In the past, my advice has been to avoid white bread, and eat wholemeal/wholegrain brown bread in moderation.
Now, having researched this in more depth, my advice is to avoid eating bread, except perhaps on the odd occasion. The odd wholemeal bread sandwich is convenient if you’re on the go and not at home to cook real food, or a slice of wholemeal bread in a restaurant, will do you no harm if you eat it maybe once a week. There are far more unhealthy foods. But if you want to eat even more healthily, I recommend you avoid bread most of the time.
The gluten in bread is one reason to avoid it. Gluten is a protein in wheat, with glue-like properties that give bread dough its elastic texture. Some people are gluten intolerant: their immune systems attack the gluten proteins, causing bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, and other digestive disorders. Celiac (also spelt coeliac) disease is full-blown gluten intolerance.
There is growing evidence of non-coeliac gluten intolerance. A double blind controlled trial in 2011 by the Monash University Department of Medicine & Gastroenterology, at Box Hill Hospital, Victoria, Australia, found evidence that gluten can damage the wall of the digestive tract.
Gluten sensitivity has also been associated with some cases of schizophrenia (see the study published online on 28/11/05 in the Scandanavian Psychiatric journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica).
Top tennis player Novak Djokovic claims that his incredible rise to world number 1 was partly due to cutting all gluten from his diet. His amazing year of grand slam victories in 2011 speaks for itself.
The food industry has been quick to down-play the growing evidence of the health problems associated with gluten in bread. Their influence on the British Nutrition Foundation and the media is strong to say the least. A headline in the Telegraph on 14/09/12 trumpets: “White Bread is Not Bad For You, Experts Say”, and goes on to say “a paper by the British Nutrition Foundation has dismissed decades of warnings that white bread can cause bloating, lead to an increase in wheat allergies, and spark weight-gain.”
Bear in mind that the British Nutrition Foundation is funded by the UK food manufacturing industry, and its members include Nabim (the representative body for the UK flour milling industry), and Premier Foods, manufacturers of Britain’s leading brand of bread, Hovis.
What is the compelling counter-evidence to show that bread is actually good for you? The article says: “white sliced bread contains vital vitamins and minerals”. It doesn’t mention that vitamins and minerals are abundant in real food (as opposed to manufactured processed foods like bread), so you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need very easily without eating bread. Nor does the article even mention the word gluten.
Could it be that James Hall, consumer affairs editor at the Telegraph, simply copied a British Nutrition Foundation press release, and added a few journalistic phrases of his own, without researching this issue for himself, or even questioning the motives of the British Nutrition Foundation?
The article quotes Dr Aine O’Connor: “health professionals need to dispel the myths (about wheat allergies etc). Bread is an important source of nutrition.”
I totally disagree with this statement on every conceivable level. What health professionals need to stop doing is compromising their professional integrity and stop receiving their funding from the food manufacturing industry. I’ve stopped eating bread, and increased my consumption of oats, brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. Bread is not an important source of nutrition at all. You can easily do without it and eat natural foods, without any reduction in nutritional value. Indeed your nutrition is enhanced by cutting out bread.
The article continues: “Dr O’Connor said that despite falling bread consumption, Britain has the biggest obesity problem in Europe, suggesting that bread is not to blame.” This is strange, this claim that bread consumption is falling, given that the Mail Online (04/02/11) reported that “sales of bread are rising for the first time in 36 years: Tesco, Asda, and the Co-Op have each reported an overall increase of up to 10%.”
For your occasional sandwich, there are gluten-free breads on the market.
As well as failing to mention the word gluten, the Telegraph article on the British Nutrition Foundation’s promotion of bread fails to mention another key word in the debate, phytic acid.
Most grains, including the grains that are used for bread-making, contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid. This molecule inhibits absorption of essential minerals such as zinc, calcium, and iron.
There is a bread with reduced phytic acid called Ezekiel bread, made from sprouted grains, for a less unhealthy version.
Alternative sources of fibre-rich carbohydrates, such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potato, contain no phytic acid, yet the British Nutrition Foundation doesn’t mention these alternatives as being preferable to bread. Why not?
Mail Online article ‘Use Your Loaf!”
Here’s more pro-bread propaganda courtesy of the Mail Online article by Lydia Slater on 04/02/11. “Experts admit bread is actually good for you.” I scoured the article to find out which experts said this, or what research these experts are basing their findings on, but there were no such details. It did say: “nutritionists have declared that far from being a food to avoid, bread is positively beneficial.”
Strangely the word ‘gluten’ is absent from this glowing article, as is the term ‘phytic acid’. There is passing mention, and dismissal of wheat allergies: “although it has been fashionable in recent years to claim to be allergic to wheat, the numbers of people genuinely affected remains very small…..if you do feel a little bloated after eating bread, nutritionists say that’s probably related to the effects of eating fibre and is good for you.”
Who are these nutritionists who don’t even mention gluten as being a likely cause of bloating for most people? Could it be the British Nutrition Foundation, whose members include the manufacturers of Hovis? Lydia Slater of the Mail Online didn’t even mention the source of her information, or even question its validity. Much more fun to dismiss wheat intolerance as some fussy fashionable fad.
In part 2 of this blog article, I’ll explore the links between bread and raised LDL (bad) cholesterol, and also the British Nutrition Foundation’s report entitiled “Myths about Bread” in which it dismisses all the health concerns about bread, and promotes bread strenuously.
Meanwhile I’m going to continue avoiding bread!