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is bread really healthy?

Posted Mar 04 2010 3:33pm
I wonder who it was who originally thought to grind some grains of wheat, mix them with water and bake the resulting paste on a hot stone, to create the world's first version of bread? Whoever it was began a trend in food that has brought us to the massive selection of bread available today, and the many ways we have discovered to use it.

The earliest forms of bread were so heavy – whole grains were ground between stones before water and salt were added, along with a wild yeast to produce a dough that took many hours to ferment and rise. The resulting slices would have taken a lot to chew and been very filling with all that fibre! Labour intensive to make and labour intensive to digest! But those were whole grains, full of valuable vitamins and minerals.

Fast forward to modern times: Commercial bread takes just one hour of rising to produce a light, fluffy product that requires almost no chewing, and contains lots of additives. Only the central part of the grain is used – and it doesn't contain as many nutrients as the whole grain bread did. Worse, white processed bread is high on the glycemic index, making the regulation of your blood glucose more challenging.

Some modern bread makers are returning to traditional methods, using sourdough (wild) yeasts, and whole grain breads. These are certainly better than their fluffy commercial cousins, but even so, its still possible to have too much bread in your diet.

If you've ever had to follow a grain-free diet, you'll fully appreciate how easy bread is to use. You can toast a slice to hold your breakfast egg; sandwich some meat and salad for your lunchbox. The problem is that its too easy, and bread can easily come to dominate your diet, elbowing out other, potentially more nutritious foods like protein, legumes, vegetables and fruit.

Wondering if you're eating too much bread? An easy way to find out is to stop buying bread for a week. If you find it rather challenging to locate other foods to eat, there's your answer – yes, there was too much bread in your diet.

What are you going to eat instead? For breakfast, make yourself a vegetable and egg omelette. Pack a lunch box with a colourful salad, some high quality protein like tuna or chicken. Add handful of cooked chick peas or some starchy vegetable like steamed baby potatoes, or a cooked cob of sweet corn. And a delicious dressing. Yum!

For most people, one or two slices of heavy, whole grain or multigrain bread per day is enough. Flat bread can be good too, as it is traditionally made without yeast and sugar.

And what to spread on the bread? Stop buying butter or margarine, and switch to nutrient-laden avocado, nut butters or banana. These healthier spreads will give you the creamy texture that enhances sandwiches, without the empty calories.

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