Be honest. You love bread. Everybody loves bread.
However, for a number of reasons, many people are avoiding bread and other wheat products completely these days. While I’ll concede that many folks consume a bit too much starch, bread is actually a delicious and nutritious food that deserves a place in most of our diets.
One Important Caveat
There’s a lot of things labeled as bread at the market and unfortunately, as is often the case with food, all of these products are not created equally. The bread that I’m promoting up here on my soapbox, is handmade using traditional fermentation methods and is often composed of a variety of fresh-milled whole grains and seeds. Simply put—and I know this label can be nebulous as well, I’m standing up for artisan bread products baked with quality ingredients, not commercially-produced mass market products that are delivered to shelves without many of the benefits outlined below.
The Gluten Scare
We all know there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet out there and not every body digests gluten very well. In fact, some digestive tracts are quite sensitive to gluten, sounding the alarms with a number of autoimmune reactions upon its consumption. Celiac disease is a very real thing and I am by no means suggesting that those suffering from this begin to consume foods that contain gluten. However, true celiac disease is quite rare and because of some very clever marketing and “hype” many people have chosen to go “gluten free,” perhaps, unnecessarily. My sense is that going gluten free feels better mainly because oftentimes folks are transitioning away from a standard American diet that is packed full of high fat, starchy foods, thus replacing gluten containing products with more fruits, vegetables, legumes and quality proteins, which will of course vastly improve the way one feels. Whatever the case, for those that feel healthy and satisfied without artisan bread and other gluten containing foods, keep doing what you’re doing. You know your body best! However, those curious about the potential of integrating some crusty, chewy, delicious bread back into their diet may find this information useful.
A Fermented Food
Your average sliced bread found on the grocery shelves is a quick-yeasted bread that uses refined yeast that raises dough incredibly fast. This process is efficient, allowing for more bread production in a shorter amount of time. Unfortunately, the faster process leads to inferior nutrition.
Historically, bread is produced through a fermentation process known as souring. By inoculating dough with a culture, bacteria begin to digest the raw ingredients. The byproduct of this process is carbon dioxide and lactic acid. The former being the air bubbles that cause dough to rise and the latter contributing a somewhat sour flavor. Beyond its contributions to texture and flavor, souring breaks down bran and predigests many of the carbohydrates and proteins found in wheat, which has been shown to naturally reduce gluten levels present in the final product. Enzymes also develop during the fermentation process that often remain active even after baking. Artisans bake at high heat for short durations (like a properly prepared steak) to create a product with a crunchy crust and chewy interior, and that chewy interior does not get hot enough to deactivate enzymatic activity. Mark Sircus describes all of this in depth in his article “Sour Dough Bread and Health.” Simply put, the natural fermentation process that sours artisan bread creates a final product that is far easier to digest, thus the body can assimilate more nutrition without aggravating the intestinal tract.
While many artisan bread products integrate a variety of grains into recipes, wheat flour is almost always the main ingredient in bread. Most understand the benefits of eating whole-grain wheat flour over standard white flour. White flour products are created by sifting out bran and germ from the processed wheat, which makes the flour easier to work with, but also robs most of its potential nutrition. However, as bakers rediscover traditional techniques along with wheat varieties that lend themselves to whole grain baking, some incredible whole grain breads are being created.
Those that can source fresh baked whole grain bread from a local bakery are in luck. Turns out they’re getting a lot of more than a “carb fix” from these products. Whole wheat actually contains quite a bit of nutrition, including a substantial amount of B vitamins, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. Of course, with the bran left in the flour, there is also a hefty dose of dietary fiber available in whole wheat.
The Middle Path
See? Bread ain’t so bad after all! The rub here is the same as it usually is though. Those that seek out a handmade product using high-quality ingredients will enjoy something equally delicious and nutritious. Additionally, remember that you can have too much of a good thing, so do enjoy bread as a part of a balanced diet. See how you feel. You may just rediscover an old friend.