Is Bread Now a Health Food?

Leandra Medine | January 25, 2017

Bread Man Repeller-6

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.

Bread Man Repeller-28

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.”

Annoying.

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.

  • I quite liked what Michael Pollan hat to say on bread, cheese and fermentation in his Cooked (this is a link) and have never looked back since … meaning I mill my flour, bake my bread and eat it daily. Period. (I also dabble in fermentation a bit and eat cheese daily, though store bought only so far)

    • Mary

      Yes! That series was fascinating and informing. Eat real, natural food when you want, in moderation (that concept being the unattainable elixir of life…)

      • I only read the book – as I am a vegetarian, I wholeheartedly, feverishly hated the first chapter about the barbecue pits. Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t skip it, though I wanted to every few seconds. :-)) (I think it contains just the right amount of additional new information I wasn’t able to reject because, vegetarian or not, I am terribly curious). Anyway, the vegetarian parts of the book/series I can really recommend – but I also told my carnivore husband about cooking meat, the general stuff contained in both relevant chapters.

    • Miss J

      I loved Cooked! Especially the Air episode. It’s like a romantic love story of gluten + air. And anything other than sourdough is not really bread. Yeast should be used only in beer baking.

      And YES YES YES to the article, read bread IS good for you, and dairy is bad. Even worse than meat. Thank you Leandra and MR for including more food articles.

    • Trilby16

      Another miller! What are the chances! I like his video on NetFlix about fermentation and bread.

  • Ruth Lakin

    Was just going to comment about Michael Pollan! He makes a great point a out gluten intolerance too: the way we process and consume gluten now is radically different from how it was before food became so industrialized. People have been eating bread for thousands of years so I don’t think we should be so quick to eliminate it from our diets. But we should think long and hard about the bread we eat, where is comes from and how it’s made.

    • Totally agree! I think the key is to just eat better bread that doesn’t have bleached white flour.

      • MT

        And, lbr, eating less of it, because most Americans eat WAY WAY too much of it, healthy varieties or not.

  • Sabrina O’Driscoll

    Heartbreaking, just so so heartbreaking.

  • Eva Skewes

    My mom and I made our own sourdough starters last Easter and they’re both going strong and producing delicious bread. I usually add in a mix of 10-grain when I’m making the bread to add a bit of flavor. It’s wonderful for sandwiches or toast in the morning and can be quite therapeutic to make. I’ve also used it to make pizza dough, pancakes, and waffles, so it’s really earning its keep.

    This week I actually split the starter in half and began transitioning part of it to a rye starter. I’m interested to try some heartier breads.

    • Am dreaming about sourdough starter, too, and will start it one day – just need the right kind of energy (= time to do things the right way already in the beginning).

      • Eva Skewes

        It’s so easy to do! Literally just five minutes in the morning and five at night. I followed the King Arthur Flour instructions and it worked perfectly. Didn’t try to use any pineapple juice or other acidic items: just straight water and flour. The middle days are the most frustrating, because you feel like nothing is happening, but then one day it’ll start bubbling and you’ll know it’s good to go.

        The weirdest thing about having a starter is talking about “feeding” it. I always feel like I’m talking about a pet.

  • Molly D

    Toast is a natural exfoliator for the tongue.

  • tmm16

    Wait… bread was ever bad for you?!? *sarcasm*

    Good advice. I’ll admit for me, it comes down to price and laziness. It’s just so easy to go next door and pick up a loaf of bread than it is to make my own or spend an extra $2-3 on Ezekiel. I know, lazy, but it’s the truth.

  • Give me that crusty deliciousness or give me death!!

  • Caroline

    Truly eating healthy seems like a full time job these days. Then again I’m a sucker for sloth and gluttony. (or should I say gluten-y)

  • Jamie

    Gluten-free for 3 weeks now (was on and off for a few months before), and I’m gnawing my way through these pictures like a rabid squirrel…
    I’ll be fine. Truthfully I feel much better without bread, my head is starting to clear, and my stomach issues are lessening.
    But for all you amazing people with the gut health for gluten… go for it!! Esp the sourdough, that just sounds amazing.

  • I agree that a diet without bread is healthier, both for our weight and mood. But how would we do without bread? I eat every day for breakfast some bread – What could I eat instead? Yoghurt? Sorry but it’s a dairy (which isn’t good either), some eggs? Sorry, but I don’t have time to cook in the morning. And what could I make for dinner or lunch when my boyfriend is starving and I don’t feel like cooking coz I worked 10 h? I think that we eat so much bread because it’s cheap and easy. But it’s true, we usually eat too much. Now I try to eat bread only once a day. I think that that’s fair!

    How would you dress for a cold winter date? Check out my latest post for the answer 🙂
    http://www.mgluxurymarket.com/shooting-cosy-sushi-date/

    Have a lovely day! MG

    • Senka

      You made a good point. If bread is bad, and so is dairy, and so are eggs (or at least yolk) and so is meat, and sugars are a crime, what on earth do we eat? Plants? Dont get me wrong I love kale, spinach, brocolli and even green collards, because where I’m frome those are typical food, but it’s imposible to eat just that and sustain our bodies and function. Also prepairing those for breakfast for example would be nearly impossible to anyone who works full time jobs. Moderation is fine, but simply claiming all food evil doesnt help anyone.

      • McKel Hill

        A lot of people think plant-based is impossible or super boring, but there’s actually tons of variations and not so common plant proteins you can add in to your diet pretty simply. Check out this post for 10 ideas for plant protein: http://nutritionstripped.com/10-plant-based-proteins-eating/

    • Mariana

      The key really is moderation and good sense. I’m reducing my intake of bread (and with gluten in particularly) because I bloat like hell and I already consume very little dairy because I’m lactose intolerant. My suggestions to your concerns would be:
      – Buy gluten free bread and eat in the morning with eggs (you don’t have time in the morning but you can boil the night before and eat an hard cooked egg the morning after);
      – When your boyfriend is starving and you don’t feel like cooking after 10 hour shift… well… HE should cook for himself :p but you can make a bunch of rice, quinoa, chickpea and put in the fridge for times in need and make a cold salad out of it!
      But I get your point, bread is an easy resource in times of desperate :).

  • Sarah

    I love the way you write Leandra, you kill me in a good way, so my comment is not me bad mouthing you but the 100 million other articles published about what to eat and what to not, and tips and lists and yeah to gluten free, and oh hail the avocado and matcha and wine or no wine! Are we so helpless that we can’t just figure out what we need and what makes us feel good and just get on with doing what we are meant to do in the crazy short life we live? You are doing a good job at making fun of all these lists and how to live well and this and that but I’m just saying, to everyone who is so easily changed by a list – can you just do your OWN thing and be happy about it?

  • Trilby16

    Here’s an idea– grind wheat at home. It’s yummier than commercial whole wheat and way more better for you because it contains EVERY bit of goodness in the wheat berry, and it’s not that hard to do.

    I buy wheat berries on Amazon, 5 lbs. at a time. I have a Kitchenaide grain grinder but more often use a Cuisinart coffee grinder ($50) for day-to-day. Then, I keep some whole wheat yeast dough in my fridge always. It’s not “starter” but it’s close. I’ll use some dough and replenish with more wheat flour, olive oil and salt, and occasionally a pinch more yeast. Usually I make small single-person pizzas for dinner, half an hour total time spent.

    I’m not losing weight or gaining weight, just loving my pizzas and other delicious home-made wheat things.

  • William James

    Self absorbed waffle, minimal content.