can bread be healthy?

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From Indian naan to African injera bread, Italian ciabatta, baguettes, bagels and delicious Lebanese pitta, bread is a fundamental mainstay of peoples diets the world over.

Bread is deeply entwined in our daily lives, there have even been wars over it.  Millions start their day with a round of toast, fuel themselves with sandwiches and accompany an evening meal with a slice or two. Let’s face it a bowl of pasta or soup just wouldn’t be the same without a crusty loaf.

Humans have been eating grains for over 15,000 years and today 50% of the world’s population rely on them to provide more than half of their daily calorific needs, in some regions such as Indonesia up to 80%. So, why has such a dietary mainstay and enjoyable food become so intolerable to our digestive systems? It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 5 people are affected by wheat bread, resulting in a long list of symptoms that include bloating, fatigue, joint pains, muscle aches, depression, headaches and sinus problems?

Several years ago a client who had suffered with severe psoriasis for over 25 years, to the point of hiding his legs away in summer through embarrassment, began to see improvement in his symptoms after just one week on a wheat free diet.  How can a food wreak so much havoc in the body?

The answer may lie in the current way we grow grains and prepare bread. Wheat has become one of the top 17 foods that provide 90% of the worlds food supply, without it the world could not nutritionally support its 6 billion inhabitants.  Due to high demand modern wheat has been re-designed to work in harmony with artificial fertilizers and pesticides, at the expense of its vitamin and mineral content, leaving behind more of the proteins that cause intestinal problems such as leaky gut syndrome.

The method of producing bread has also changed.  Traditionally most dough was left to rise for at least six hours or overnight before baking, which allowed fermentation to occur. This ferment produced beneficial bacteria that broke down the bread proteins into a more digestible form, as well as increasing the levels of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B’s in the bread.

Phytic acid, an organic acid is found in the bran and outer hull of grains, if ingested it can bind up important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, Iron and zinc and stop it from being absorbed into the blood stream, unfortunately phytic acid also inhibits the body’s enzyme capabilities, making the digesting of foods much more difficult.

These days dough contains higher levels of yeast than it used too and is left to rest and rise for around half an hour instead of six, which does not give enough time for the phytic acid and proteins to be broken down, which may explain why we are experiencing so many health problems when eating our daily bread.

So, how do you choose healthy bread? The answer lies in finding someone who still makes bread in the traditional way with less yeast, preferable sough dough which is a natural ferment and rests the dough for an appropriate length of time. I have found many people can tolerate these ‘real’ breads without all the associated symptoms. Health food shops will stock a variety of organic loaves which ensures the quality of the grain but not the processing of the loaf. However, the healthiest bread available is sprouted bread, a very dense loaf which is far from the light and fluffy products we have become accustomed too. If you can get your hands on some of this bread, you can be assured of a quality loaf that will provide an abundance of nutrients in an easy to digest form.


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