Description: Bread is essentially finely-milled whole grain, or flour and water. A staple in the diet of many cultures throughout the world, bread varies in both quality and digestibility. A wide range of options exists in the bread department; from doughy white bread to hearty, sprouted whole grain bread; quick-rise yeast breads to long-rise sourdoughs; an abundance of choices creates the appearance of diversity. However, most, and often all breads available in supermarkets are mass market and do not meet our standards for good nutrition.
Most bread in the supermarket is made from wheat flour, which may be either bleached or unbleached, and likely enriched with an inexpensive synthetic blend of vitamins and minerals. Before the industrial age, breads were created from fresh, whole, stone-ground grains. This preserved the nutrient rich germ – the delicate oil portion – and the outer coating, called the bran. Bread made from this flour is not suitable for mass-production, due to the ease of spoilage of these fresh, fragile nutrients and the time required to produce such high quality loaves. As a result, all mass-produced bread today is created from grains that are milled at very high temperatures (400°F), and separated from the germ and bran. This high temperature also destroys many naturally occurring vitamins. White bread is further treated with chemical bleach, similar to Clorox. This “wonder bread” is especially pernicious, as it contains toxic chlorinated hydrocarbons, dioxins, and other toxic residues. Almost all white flour used in supermarket breads, baked goods, pastas, breakfast cereals, pizza dough, and pretzels has been bleached. Whole wheat flour is not much better; although it has not been bleached, it is highly refined, treated with chemical preservatives and stabilizers to lengthen shelf-life, and is bereft of natural vitamins and minerals. More than 30 different chemicals are approved by the FDA for addition to bread, despite a lack of knowledge about their long-term, cumulative toxicity.
“Enriched” flour is another ingredient to avoid as it is treated with a mix of four B-vitamins, and one or two minerals (iron and calcium), in an attempt to replace nutrients lost during the refinement process. If the bread requires enrichment, you can bet the quality of the flour is extremely poor to begin with. Furthermore, without the germ and bran, flour is actually a refined grain that the body responds to as if it were a sugar. Without the whole grain intact, refined white or wheat flour leads to spiking of blood sugar levels. Eating refined carbohydrates can lead to numerous health problems including hypoglycemia, diabetes, obesity, diverticulitis and other digestive disorders, food allergies, and addiction to both carbohydrates and sugar that can undermine even the best of health.
Traditional, stone-ground grains use a method that produces very low heat, creating whole grain flour that is a nutritious and nourishing food. The process of milling whole grains slowly into flour, without exposing them to high heat, preserves valuable nutritious oils, vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Stone-ground flour must be refrigerated to preserve these nutrients, and is generally baked fresh at small, local bakeries, or, can be found at natural foods stores. Whole grain, stone-ground bread is heavier, chewier, and more flavorful than typical, grocery store bread, and this rich, incredible tasting bread is almost a meal in itself. Fresh-baked, whole grain bread requires refrigeration if not eaten in one or two days, and can be kept frozen for up to six months.
Another increasingly popular choice is sprouted bread. Sprouted bread is made from grains that are first soaked and sprouted to activate their natural enzymes, then formed into loaves and baked at low temperatures. Many people who have allergies to wheat find that sprouted wheat does not cause a reaction. Be sure to read the ingredients on sprouted breads, as many of them contain refined flours and other fillers. Pure sprouted breads are sweet and sticky, and taste much like cake as the natural enzymes produced during the sprouting process convert the grain into simple sugars, making them easier to digest.
What to look for: Organic ingredients, stone-ground whole grain flours, breads produced from a wide variety of flours, sprouted grains, seeds, nuts, and herbs, and made with unrefined sweeteners. Look for breads produced locally or in small batches from a neighboring bakery. Try new and unusual styles of bread from fresh, locally baked, to raw, dehydrated bread options. Wholesome bread is dense and chewy, bursting with an earthy, healthy flavor that is both filling and satisfying to eat.
Uses: Toast, sandwiches, snacks; whole grain bread is the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of soup and a salad. Spread with hummus or avocado and top with sprouts for a quick meal. Enjoy whole grain bread in small quantities, as a nutrient-dense form of fiber in your diet that can replace refined, empty-calorie breads.
Where to find: Small, local bakeries, farmer’s markets, natural food stores and online resources. Make bread in your own kitchen; start a bread baking co-op with a couple of friends and switch off baking weeks; consider investing in a quality bread machine and a blender that will grind whole grains; or, come up with your own creative idea of how to get you and your family the very best quality bread you can eat.
Avoid: Chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers, and dough conditioners, or any other synthetic additives. Avoid refined, bleached white flour, enriched flour, and both refined sugars and sugar substitutes. Do not eat soft, mushy, squishy bread, bread produced in mass, or bread found on typical grocery store shelves. Avoid non-organic bread products.