Personally, I’m not a fan of cutting anything out of your diet entirely – it’s rarely medically warranted and can put you at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
But many people I see in the clinic have chosen at one time or another to cut out a staple food from their diet: bread.
The low-carb movement, associations with weight gain and, of course, the gluten it contains have helped make bread the dietary equivalent of the naughty step in many people’s eyes.
But bread can be a handy source of nutrients and, let’s face it, a nice slice of freshly baked bread is one of life’s pleasures – and I don’t want to start denying people those.
Personally, I’m not a fan of cutting anything out of your diet entirely – it’s rarely medically justified and can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies, writes Dr Megan Rossi (pictured)
For all of you who have turned your back on bread, let me explain why you might want to think again.
Granular types of bread (sold as wholemeal, for example) can be a good way to include whole grains (eg, wheat, barley, oats, rye) in your diet and it is increasingly evident that whole grains can improve gut health, help with weight management and reduce your risk of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
The “whole” grain is made up of three parts: the bran (a fibre-rich outer layer); the germ (a nutrient-rich inner section) and the endosperm (the central part filled with starch).
The fiber content keeps you full longer and feeds your gut microbes, which convert that fiber into short-chain fatty acids that help maintain the gut lining, regulate appetite hormones and reduce inflammation.
The evidence for including whole grains is pretty compelling – a study of 400,000 people found that those who ate the most whole grains had a 20% lower risk of heart disease than those who ate the least. Another study, involving 130,000 people, found whole grain consumption was linked to lower body weight, the journal Nutrients reported in 2019.
Bread can be a handy source of nutrients and, let’s face it, a nice slice of freshly baked bread is one of life’s pleasures – and I don’t want to start denying people those
Three servings of whole grains a day are ideal – one serving is equivalent to a slice of bread, half a cup of cooked cereal or 40g of raw oats, for example. Remember that variety is key.
Bread can also provide many other nutrients, depending on the type you eat.
In terms of nutrition, sourdough is hard to beat. It is made from flour and water and left to ferment for up to 36 hours (rather than adding baker’s yeast as most breads are typically made).
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The bacteria and wild yeast naturally present in the flour slowly ferment the bread, releasing nutrients such as zinc and B vitamins, so it is easier to absorb than other breads.
The fermentation process also reduces gluten levels in bread (gluten being the grain protein that provides the sticky quality you see in raw dough) – this can be beneficial for people with gluten intolerance (although that it is not low enough in people with celiac disease, whose body reacts to the presence of gluten by attacking the intestine).
Some research also suggests sourdough provides less of a blood sugar spike than other breads and clinically I tend to find it a better option for people with diabetes.
But note that some mass-produced sourdoughs will have yeast added to reduce the fermentation time, so it’s cheaper to make – but this reduces the health benefits. A real sourdough should have a slightly sour taste and a soft crumb.
I’m a big fan of homemade bread – and let me explain why you might want to try baking it yourself. People assume that making bread will involve a lot of kneading and time. But my recipe (see box) is really one of the simplest things I make.
The problem with most mass-produced breads is that they are highly processed – the breads tend to contain additives to keep them fresh and emulsifiers to give that soft, doughy texture.
These additives have passed rigorous safety tests – but those tests predate new research that suggests some of them may disrupt our gut microbes and promote gut inflammation (which my team at King’s College London is currently exploring in a human trial).
Additionally, sliced white bread – gulp, the nation’s favorite – is made from wheat that has had the nutritious, fibrous outer part of the grain removed.
Whole grains contain about 75% more nutrients than these refined versions.
The low fiber content of white bread (two slices of whole grain provides 6g of fiber; white bread provides less than a quarter) means that the sugar in bread has nothing to slow its digestion, which tends to cause larger spikes in your blood sugar. – which often results in feeling hungry again shortly after eating. Making your own bread, on the other hand, means you don’t need any additives and can maximize its nutritional potential.
I was inspired to add carrots to my recipe (above) after reading a study from Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand in 2021 which showed that adding vegetables to bread makes you feel fuller and reduces insulin release.
Of course, there are times when it’s not possible to make your own. In those cases, use this checklist to help you make the best choices:
1. Check the fiber to carb ratio. You want at least 1g of fiber per 10g of carbs.
2. Make sure there is no added sugar – watch out for names like glucose or dextrose.
3. Go for varieties with added seeds (eg pumpkin) and mixed grains (eg oats) – the more plant diversity in your diet, the better.
4. Check for food additives, aiming for no more than one, if any.
And how best to eat it? Rather than making it a simple cheese and tomato sandwich, layer it with at least three herbs – for example, roasted peppers, tomatoes and beets work great with a quality cheddar, keeping both your taste buds and your gut microbes satisfied.
Try this: Fermented Wheat Bread
Makes 1 loaf
I fell in love with wheaten bread in Ireland and my father-in-law gave me his infallible recipe. With a few gourmet tweaks, I present a game-changing bread with a crispy crust and a deliciously moist crumb – you’ll never have to buy bread again.
- 300g wholemeal flour
- 200 g thick live yoghurt
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
- 100g grated carrot
- 3 sprigs of thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas mark 6.
Mix half the flour with the yoghurt and 100 ml of water. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to ferment for about five hours.
When ready to cook, combine the rest of the ingredients using a butter knife to combine. Be careful not to overwork the dough as this will make it hard.
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured baking sheet and shape into a loaf shape. Mark a cross on the top with a knife.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, and check that the base is dry and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely.
Well wrapped, it will keep for two days at room temperature, five days in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer. I freeze mine in individual portions so I always have a serving of delicious bread on hand (just thaw in the microwave for a minute).
I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and switched to a gluten free diet. I don’t know how long I’ve had it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was my whole life. Is there a way to tell if there has been permanent damage to the lining of my gut?
I am sorry to hear that you have lived for so long with undiagnosed celiac disease. You are certainly not alone, it is thought that around half a million people in the UK are unaware they have this autoimmune disease, where your body attacks its own tissues when you eat gluten. A biopsy is the only way to confirm that your intestinal lining has fully recovered.
The good news is that for most people who completely avoid gluten, their gut lining tends to heal within 12 months.
It’s also worth discussing your bone health with your GP, as people who have lived with undiagnosed celiac disease are at risk of osteoporosis. You may be referred for a bone density analysis to get a better look at your bone health.
Although there is currently no cure for celiac disease, a number of promising clinical trials are underway to test drugs that block the body’s reaction to gluten (similar to peanut allergies). Crossed fingers.
Contact Dr. Megan Rossi
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT – please include contact details. Dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter into personal correspondence. Answers should be taken in a general context; Always consult your GP in case of health concerns.
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