It’s Real Bread Week this week, did you know? If you regularly read my blog, Facebook posts and Nutrilicious News, you’ll know that I am on a mission to promote Real Food. What I mean by that is easily explained: Real food is natural food – as much as we can still get that in this day and age.
Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, whole grains, meat, fish, eggs, honey. Foodstuff you buy, take home, and make a meal of. I am not expecting you to grind your own flour or make your own nut butter, but really that should be as far as ‘convenience foods’ go, at least most of the time.
So what’s ‘real’ bread then? Shouldn’t that – if you buy it – fall under processed foods? In most cases yes, but some (artisan) bakeries still produce real bread using natural ingredients. To make bread, you need flour, water, salt and a raising agent such as yeast, baking soda or sourdough. If using yeast, you will need a little sugar to get it going. That. Is. It. The result will be ‘real bread’. Of course you can enhance the product by adding in some nuts and/or seeds, spices, herbs or even olives and sundried tomatoes.
If you pick up a packet of sliced bread in the supermarket and check the ingredients you will see something like this:
“Wheat Flour (with calcium, iron, niacin (B3) and thiamin (B1)), Water, Yeast, Salt, Soya Flour, Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed, Sustainable Palm), Emulsifiers: E471, E472e, E481; Preservative: Calcium Propionate (added to inhibit mould growth); Vinegar, Flour Treatment Agent: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).”
You’re looking at at least 13 ingredients, including some E-numbers. The minerals and vitamins in this white wheat flour are listed separately, because they have been added back in. The processing of flour would have stripped them all out. If you count them as ingredients then, the number goes up to 17.
White flour is highly processed and the wheat has gone from unrefined complex carbohydrate to refined, almost simple carbohydrate. What that means is that it is not very far removed from becoming sugar. Your digestive system will make short work of it and turn it into glucose in no time, thus raising your blood sugar levels sharpish. Wholemeal flour still contains all the fibre of the grain and while all starchy carbohydrates turn into sugar in the digestion process, unrefined complex carbs don’t raise blood glucose levels as fast or as high as white bread.
Real bread does not contain preservatives and nothing to inhibit mould. It’s meant to be eaten fresh rather than sit on supermarket shelves for as long as possible. If you’re going to eat your fresh bread, you won’t need any of that.
Real bread has vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the whole grains, nuts and seeds, particularly B vitamins, magnesium, selenium and copper – minerals that are becoming more and more scarce in our diet.
Real bread has fibre, which feeds our good bacteria. They even extract more nutrients from it, especially more B vitamins, and manufacture vital short-chain fatty acids from it. Fibre keeps our bowels moving and mops up substances for excretion, such as old hormones and excess cholesterol. Moreover, fibre slows down the rate at which bread raises blood glucose levels.
There is of course much more to be said about bread. Gluten, for instance, is a protein contained in bread made of wheat, rye, barley, spelt or kamut, a protein over which there is a lot of controversy. There is also the question of whether we need bread at all, given that it did not even feature in the human diet as recently as 10,000 years ago. For millennia, we did just fine without it. But those are subjects for future blogs. For now, let’s just leave it there.