Is Bread Healthy?
Clients frequently ask me about bread and wonder whether they should eat it regularly – or at all. So, I’m about to wade into a somewhat touchy subject and discuss some of the pitfalls of bread and what to look for in choosing bread that supports your health goals.
Four Problems with Today’s Conventional Bread
It might surprise you to know that this is actually the least of the concerns that I have about bread. Yes, gluten IS problematic for everyone. But the other issues below are more concerning.
We know that gluten causes mild leaky gut in EVERYONE, not just in people with celiac disease or even those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Some people can get away with eating more gluten regularly because their bodies just recover more quickly and are able to clean up the onslaught.
Due to hybridization, our wheat today contains more gluten than in the past, so we get an even bigger punch in the gut from our beloved baked goods. Add to that the quick-rising method of baking and the lack of fermentation, and you can see how today’s bread contains so much more gluten than it did when our ancestors ate it.
Some people can handle more gluten – more often – than others. The elimination diet is the gold standard in determining how you feel and whether you experience symptoms from wheat. However, just because we don’t experience symptoms doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t have to work hard to mop up the mess that a deluge of gluten can make in the GI tract, and as a result, in your entire body.
Now that we know that our gut health affects all other aspects of our health, we would do well to limit those foods that we know can negatively impact our gut microbiome.
What about gluten-free bread? While it is gluten-free, the other 3 concerns below still apply. And what is that stuff made of anyway? Most of them (if not all) have a loooonnnnggg list of crazy ingredients that are difficult to pronounce.
2. Extra Ingredients, Especially Emulsifiers
This is a big problem with conventional breads sold in stores. In most breads, there are a myriad of extra ingredients from preservatives to emulsifiers. Emulsifiers enhance the blending of ingredients, make bread softer, and keep it fresher longer. But emulsifiers also emulsify our gut lining!
This is a quote from a recent review on the topic:
“The number of in vitro, animal, and human studies is growing to show how certain emulsifiers could contribute to developing metabolic and inflammatory diseases through the modulation of the gut microbiota.“
Certainly, there is some debate on this topic, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. My goal is to eat foods that PROMOTE a healthy gut microbiome and PREVENT metabolic and inflammatory diseases. Conventional bread does not seem to be in line with this goal.
Did you know that conventional wheat grown in this country is routinely sprayed with glyphosate (aka Roundup) before harvest to aid in the drying process?
This is my deal-breaker. If you’re looking for a good scare around Halloween, just take a peek at some articles resulting from a PubMed search on glyphosate. You’ll be shocked at the many and varied health concerns surrounding this ubiquitous herbicide.
Among many other concerns, we know that Roundup was first patented as an antibiotic. Circling back to the points above on gut health, regularly eating something that destroys your gut microbiome just seems like a really bad idea.
4. (Most) Bread is Not Real Food
Most of the bread we’re talking about here is made in a factory. Eating conventional bread takes up room on our plates that we want to fill with nutritionally-dense, whole foods. If your goal is to support your health, or especially if it is to promote healing, we need all the space we can get to pack in as many nutrient-dense foods as possible.
Bread that Your Gut Will Appreciate
So, can ANY bread today be heath-promoting? ABSOLUTELY!
Here are some things to consider when buying or making bread:
- Opt for organic. This is the only way to reduce the risk of glyphosate contamination. Of course, if you could ask the farmer whether the wheat was sprayed, this would be another way to avoid glyphosate. Currently, wheat is not genetically modified, so thankfully we don’t need to be concerned about that at this time.
- Look for minimal ingredients – or at least ingredients that you recognize – to avoid the emulsifiers and chemicals that are routinely found in bread products.
- Sourdough with basic ingredients (flour, salt, water) is ideal, as the fermentation process breaks down gluten and lectins in the flour.
- Freshly milled flour is the best way to get all of the nutrients that wheat has to offer. After wheat is ground into flour, the oxidation clock start ticking and precious nutrients are lost over time. Flour ground just before baking ensures a more nutrient-dense bread.
Want to try your hand at making your own sourdough bread? Check out Dr. Hartman’s instagram video where he shares his recipe for homemade sourdough!
I hope that this article clears up some confusion around bread and equips you with information to make the very personal choice of whether (and what kind) of bread to include in your diet. While it is a little more challenging in the factory-food culture that surrounds us, it is still very possible to include some healthy, nutrient-dense bread into our diets.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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