Is Bread Now a Health Food?
Disclaimer: This story deals only with 100% whole grains, gluten-free grains, fermented grains and never, not once, takes into consideration Wonderbread or any permutation of bleached or sugar-added flour.
I have a theory that bread is making a health food comeback. I’m 28% sure that this theory is in fact a simple combination of wishful thinking and newfangled personal investment in grain consumption. But when I was in L.A. last month, all the chia and dandelion green and charcoal warriors that I encountered were talking about sourdough (fermented bread) and embracing the tender love of an open-faced sandwich topped with wild smoked salmon or avocado.
My husband, who practically wrote the book on eating to live, takes down three slices of Ezekiel toast (sprouted bread made from whole grains) every single morning. I am positive that this decision has been made not because he enjoys the taste of ancient grains but because he has discovered that consumption of this particular bread type will increase his lifespan. That last bit is speculation on my part but then again, so is everything.
You may remember that I tried to tout cheese as decent for you a few months back. I enlisted advice from multiple physicians who reside in the nutrition space (sorry I just said “the nutrition space”) only to learn that in spite of the manifold benefits Google attributes to the dairy product (hormone regulation! Probiotics! Enzyme breakdown support!), it’s not great.
Google is similarly optimistic about bread, complimenting its ability to promote mental health (something about wheat germ and vitamins B, E, magnesium and zinc, or whatever), digestive benefits (dietary fiber represent!) and reduced risk of heart disease. There is even something on here about weight loss. Lol!
Of course, the majority of these comments come with caveats. There are plenty of people who can’t tolerate gluten (cue the wheat germ), and per the bit about weight loss? It probably would be true if we consumed the recommended amount, but Americans wouldn’t know moderation if it hit us over the head (which I guess it does with sobering statistics about heart disease and diabetes), so we eat bread like it is water — as a staple required to survive.
According Robin Berzin, Man Repeller’s unofficial health food oracle and Parsley Health’s official founder, you should stay the shit away from it. “It is generally bad for you as a source of refined carbs, does not maintain a high nutrition source of calories and is generally a source of inflammation.”
Per its trendiness? “It may be trending but it’s the one thing that I see patients cut out and see immediate results in weight, energy, focus and mood.”
But what about sourdough! “Sourdough has lower gluten content so people use that as an excuse to over-eat bread, but it’s still a refined carb.”
Nutritionist McKel Hill echoes Berzin’s sentiments. “If I recommend bread on a client’s nutrition program, it’s homemade and typically using gluten-free grains or nuts and seeds as the base; they both contain a bit more fiber, healthy fat, protein and minerals. I’m not a huge fan of store-bought bread; the way grains are produced nowadays are drastically different than true ‘ancient’ grains that were actually quite dense.”
But she provides a silver lining: “We have to respect the pace of our lives — having store-bought bread occasionally isn’t going to be disastrous to your wellness/nutrition plan, but it’s not the optimal choice if you’re consuming it every day nor is it part of a ‘balanced diet.'” (So basically, learn what moderation means, America, and then you can eat some fucking bread.)
She continues, “I’d rather see folks eat actual whole foods that contain carbohydrates along with fiber and nutrients you can’t get from bread like sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, barley, farro, amaranth and rice.” (Her website boasts recipes for yummy-ass grain-free breads, like this nut-and-seed version.)
And on the topic of Ezekiel and sourdough? “When it comes to store-bought, I think Ezekiel is a good choice — sprouting grains can increase their nutrient density. Homemade sourdough would be ideal, but overall because sourdough goes through a fermentation process it might be easier to digest.”
What about bread of the gluten-free variety? Typically packed with sugar.
Oh yes, public enemy #1.
Conclusion: I’m hungry; got a bagel?
Photos by Krista Anna Lewis. Bread Courtesy of Amy’s Bread.