Bread – what is it we are actually eating?
(From an article featured on my monthly newsletter – click here to sign up for regular updates)
Bread is part of the staple diet of millions of people – but what is it that we are now actually eating? Bread has been made since the dawn of civilisation – in fact, it can be argued that bread is the foundation stone of civilisation as we know it, and it still forms part of the staple diet of millions of people around the world. Every day thousands of children ask for their daily bread when reciting the Lord’s prayer. But what is it exactly that they’re actually praying for? If they knew then they may well have second thoughts.
Lets start with some facts. Changes in bread making have been quite drastic over the last 40 years. In 1961 The Chorleywood Bread Process was created, which used chemical additives, intense energy and high quantities of yeast to produce the maximum amount of loaves in the shortest time. Mostly all bread in the UK is made by this method or one that uses similar additives.
The trouble comes if dough is not allowed to ferment for several hours. Natural bacteria doesn’t then have a chance to destroy harmful elements in the dough and therefore make important nutrients available to the human body. There is also the addition of genetically modified enzymes, added to flour and dough to make loaves larger and more “squishy”, so they have a longer shelf life. Worryingly some recent research has suggested that transglutaminase, an enzyme used in baking and food manufacturing, may change the gliadin protein in wheat flour into a form that may be toxic to the human body. If you’re thinking going organic will solve this problem, think again as even organic loaves made the same way can contain this, and cause the same problem.
We have bred wheat to produce high yields in intensive growing conditions with little regard for its nutritional quality. Modern varieties have 30-50 per cent fewer minerals than traditional ones. Fast roller milling separates grain into its constituent parts so effectively that white flour has up to 88 per cent less of a range of minerals and vitamins than whole wheat. A recent study showed that organic stone-ground flour had 50 per cent more magnesium and 46 per cent more zinc than chemically grown roller-milled flour. So, what about refined flour – why is it so bad? Modern roller milling is extremely efficient at stripping away the nutrient rich outer layers of wheat grains, leaving behind not much more than starch and gluten. Additionally, the heat generated by the process actually destroys some of the compounds. Compared to whole wheat, refined white flour is highly depleted. These are the average amount of vitamin loss: Vitamin E 93%, Vitamin B6 87% ,Vitamin B2 81% ,Vitamin B3 80%, Iron 70% and Calcium 56%.
To clear up any confusion, white bread is no longer bleached – they stopped that in the late 1990’s. Soya flour is often added to whiten it. Wholemeal or wholegrain will guarantee you the benefit of grain, however a loaf labelled “brown bread,” could be white flour coloured with caramel. Again, check the labels.
Ok, so hopefully now you can see that bread is not all it appears. What ingredients should be in a real loaf? Simply… flour, water, yeast and a little salt.
Let’s have a look at what other lovelies are now being added:
E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid), E260 (acetic acid). Soya flour, vegetable fat and dextrose are just some of the other things that you might find in industrial bread.
Bread additives explained
Calcium Propionate. This is used to inhibit mould growth in bread – meaning that the bread has a much longer shelf life. However as well as being toxic to mould, calcium propionate can also be toxic to humans; possible side effects include: migraines and headaches, stomach upsets, skin rashes, nasal congestion, depression, tiredness, irritability, restlessness and attention problems to name but a few.
Mono-and diglycerides. These chemicals are known as emulsifiers and are found in a variety of baked goods. Basically they allow oily substances and watery ones to mix more efficiently and give the finished bread a smoother texture. Mono and diglycerides have the additional function of prolonging the life of bread by keeping it from becoming stale.
Potassium bromate. When added to bread, this acts as a dough conditioner and strengthener. Under the proper baking conditions, this additive is completely used up and doesn’t pose a threat to health. In certain cases where the bread isn’t baked long enough or at the proper temperature, small amounts may remain in the bread. This is of some concern since potassium bromate is classified as a possible carcinogen and banned in Europe as a food additive. This is best avoided when possible.
Dextrose. Sometimes you’ll see dextrose on the ingredient list of a packaged bread. It is just another term for sugar. A small amount of sugar can be used when baking bread to provide fuel for the yeast that help the bread to rise.
Sodium stearoyl lactate. This food additive helps to give the bread a lighter, more uniform texture. There doesn’t appear to be any significant health issues associated with its use although those with lactose intolerance, may find it exacerbates their symptoms.
Partially hydrogenated oils. The other name for these undesirable food additives are trans fats. You’ve probably already heard about the health dangers of trans fats. If you see mention of any type of partially hydrogenated oil or fractionated oil on a bread ingredient label, steer clear of it.
You may remember in a past newsletter about food labelling that I compared two packets of crisps and told you as a rule of thumb the lesser ingredients on the packet the better. This does not count when looking at the ingredients in bread. Due to an extraordinary labelling law the manufacturer does not legally have to declare that the following can also be added: phospholipase (can be pig or GM origin), fungal alpha amylase 9 (a known inhalant allergen), transglutaminase, xylanase, maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, oxidase, peptidase and protease. I won’t bore you with what they are but wanted you to be aware that they can be in your loaf sitting in your bread bin as you read this!
I think of myself as a rational human being(!), however if I eat bread with anti-mould agent in it, I feel like I’ve either been drugged or had to much alcohol and it takes about six hours to pass. You might like to ask yourself the question: is it the natural ingredients you are intolerant to – i.e. gluten, yeast etc., or is the additives? It doesn’t surprise me that people are riddled with symptoms when they eat “bad” bread because our poor bodies haven’t adapted to know how to digest this toxic loaf.
So enough of the doom and gloom. What can you do to ensure that you are eating delicious “real” bread? Well, there are several options and it is quite possible to obtain bread without additives. Firstly try and use local bakeries – the bread is usually of better quality and you can chat with the baker and ask what is put in the loaf. If you don’t know how to, go on a bread making course and learn to make proper real bread. Get a bread making machine and use really good ingredients – after the initial cost of the machine, each loaf should cost about 50pence. After going out of fashion, bread making machines are back in vogue!. Obviously avoid breads that have the above ingredients where you can. You can buy additive free bread and slice it and freeze it, if you are concerned about it going off. Use companies that are still making bread in a real way. Try www.village-bakery.com or go to www.realbreadcampaign.org for more information. For those of you who are really interested in this topic, I’d recommended these great books:
Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own by Andrew Whitley – or,
Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3 by Daniel Stevens, if you are looking to make your own bread.
If you think you have a problem digesting bread and have vague symptoms, go and see your GP who can arrange a blood test. These will include tissues transglutaminase antibody (tTGA) and/or endomysial antibody (EMA). More often than not it will come back negative. Coeliac disease is not just a bit of bloating, it is actually classed as an autoimmune disease. Symptoms can include: bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, excessive wind, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency, tiredness, headaches, weight loss (but not in all cases), recurrent mouth ulcers, hair loss (alopecia), skin rashes (dermatitis herpetiformis) joint or bone pain, neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia, (poor muscle co-ordination), and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet). It is hard for GPs to diagnose as you can see the symptoms are varied and some quite common.
“Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK however research suggests that only 1 in 8 of those affected have been diagnosed leaving 500,000 million people undiagnosed and at risk.” The Coeliac Society
Dr Chris Steele, resident doctor of ITV’s This Morning and Ambassador for Coeliac UK said “I strongly support the need to raise awareness among the medical profession for diagnosing coeliac disease. It is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Working together we can help find the half million people in the UK who are undiagnosed and ensure they receive the best advice and assistance.”
The average length of diagnosis is 13 years. Go to www.coeliac.org.uk for more help and information.
If you are not coeliac that doesn’t mean you don’t have problems digesting grains. There are IgE allergy tests for rye, oats, barley, maize (corn) wheat etc. which can be most useful to eliminate any underlying allergy problem. Sadly, these are not usually available on the NHS. Before you do this though, check the loaf of bread in the bread bin. You might want to swap it and see if the symptoms go. There will be a bread out there that doesn’t cause symptoms. Rotate bread types – pita or flattened breads often have less yeast, or try rye, spelt, gluten free etc. and more often than not you will find a bread that does suit you. If you guts are in good shape, you should be able to eat bread twice a day. It’s not a good idea to start the day with a grain based cereal, then have a sandwich for lunch and then pasta in the evening – that may be too much. Keeping a food and symptom diary might help eliminate the problem. Bread is so useful it seems a shame to eliminate it totally from the diet.
(From an article featured on my monthly newsletter – click here to sign up for regular updates)