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ZOE Science And Nutrition Summary : Can bread be healthy?

Podcast: ZOE Science And Nutrition
7 min. read

— Description —

It’s no exaggeration to say that bread shaped modern humanity - it was the cultivation of wheat for flour that transformed our ancestors from hunter-gatherers to city dwellers. Today, millions of us start the day with a slice of toast, and most lunches in the US and UK are wrapped in a slice of bread or a burger bun as a cheap, flexible, and delicious energy source. But modern industrial processes designed to reduce the time and cost of baking mean today’s bread would be unrecognizable to our ancestors. Today’s bread tastes good but has lost most of its nutritional content. With most of its fiber gone, and no time for bacteria to work its fermenting magic, bread has become a simple starch, rapidly turned into sugar in our blood and offering little to support our gut bacteria. For this reason, bread is increasingly demonized as an evil carb. In today’s episode, Jonathan speaks to two authorities on the subject to ask: Can bread can ever be healthy? Vanessa Kimbel is an author, founder of the sourdough school, and a specialist in bread nutrition and digestibility. Tim Spector is a co-founder at ZOE and one of the top 100 most cited scientists in the world. Download our FREE guide — Top 10 Tips to Live Healthier: https://zoe.com/freeguide

Can bread be healthy?

Key Takeaways

  • Bread has played a significant role in human history, with the cultivation of wheat for flour transforming our ancestors from hunter-gatherers to city dwellers
  • However, modern industrial processes have resulted in bread that is unrecognizable to our ancestors, resembling a sugary drink with little nutritional value
  • Many store-bought breads are ultra-processed and lack fiber, leading to negative effects on gut microbes
  • It is important to check the label and ingredients of bread before buying, looking for a high proportion of fiber and choosing whole grain options for better nutritional value
  • There is a wide range of flours available, with modern breads often being the pure inner part of the grain, lacking the nutritious bran
  • White breads release starch as sugar very quickly in the system, while sourdough bread has a long, slow fermentation process that contributes to its ultimate health benefits
  • Sourdough neutralizes phytic acid and unlocks minerals, making it easier to digest and more nutritious
  • It also plays a role in gut health and has an impact on mental health
  • Gluten sensitivity has seen a significant increase in the last 20 years, with around 10% of people reporting sensitivity
  • However, only 1% of people have a real sensitivity or allergy

1. Bread and Human Health: Nutrition, Digestibility, and Misconceptions

  • Archaeologists found fossilized breadcrumbs from over 14,000 years ago, indicating the significance of bread in human history
  • The cultivation of wheat for flour transformed our ancestors from hunter-gatherers to city dwellers
  • Modern industrial processes have reduced the time and cost of baking, resulting in bread that is unrecognizable to our ancestors
  • Today's bread resembles a sugary drink, with most of its nutritional content lost
  • Bread has become a simple starch, rapidly turned into sugar in our blood and offering little to support our gut bacteria
  • Bread is increasingly demonized as an evil carb due to its lack of nutritional value
  • Good sourdough bread is healthy for most people
  • There's an extreme difference between different processes of making bread
  • The choice of bread has a crucial impact on large parts of a diet
  • For many people, it can be the only source of fibre
  • People who have crisp sandwiches or basically have it three times a day in its worst cheapest form are having a very poor diet indeed

2. Bread and Sugar Levels: Impact on Health and Evolution of Bread Making

3. Flour Variety for Baking and Impact on Gut Microbes

  • Flours range from einkorn, spelt, coristan, barley, oats, and rye
  • Modern breads are not whole grains in general, they are the pure inner part of it and all the nutritious bit is taken off
  • Many breads that appear healthy are actually dyed brown to give the appearance of being whole grain, but the inside is still very starchy and sugary
  • When roller milling, the fibre is separated from the starch, which means a lot of the bran is broken away from the starch
  • Spelt, rye, and einkorn are different types of flour with unique flavors and nutritional benefits

4. Bread Selection for Health: Effects on Gut Microbes and Whole Grain Understanding

  • Ratio of fiber to sugar content in bread is a good guide to its health benefit
  • Most store-bought bread is ultra processed and contains more than 10 ingredients
  • Extra ingredients in store-bought bread can have negative effects on gut microbes
  • Always check the label and ingredients of the bread before buying
  • Look for bread with a high proportion of fiber, at least six grams per hundred grams
  • Choose bread labeled as whole grain for better nutritional value
  • Words like granary and malted loaf may not necessarily indicate whole grain bread
  • When buying bread, look at the carbohydrate to fiber ratio, which should be relatively low, around four or five to one for a decent loaf

5. Gluten Sensitivity: Concerns and Misconceptions

  • Only 1% of people have a real sensitivity or allergy to gluten, known as celiac disease
  • In the last 20 years, there has been a significant increase in gluten sensitivity, with around 10% of people reporting gluten sensitivity
  • About 80% of them turn out not to be gluten sensitive when tested blind with gluten-free pasta or gluten pasta
  • Gluten may be associated with other foods, leading to mistaken beliefs about its effects
  • The worse your state of your microbes, the less you're able to deal with some of the foods we eat

6. Sourdough Bread: Fermentation, Health Benefits, and Identifying Authenticity

  • Acid triggers enzymes in the grain, which chop everything up and change the structure of the flour and the behavior of the dough
  • Long slow fermentation in sourdough neutralizes phytic acid and unlocks minerals, making it easier to digest and more nutritious
  • Fermenting sourdough overnight using the retarded method generally breaks down the flour more, making it more nutritious, easier to digest, and healthier than short-fermented bread
  • Studies show that people with celiac disease can tolerate sourdough bread better than normal bread
  • Everyone's sourdough starter is unique due to a hybrid of body's microbes, dough, and air microbes
  • Supermarkets are selling fake sourdough that has nothing live or real about it other than perhaps the smell
  • In the UK and the USA, there is no regulation for sourdough, so consumers have to rely on the words on the packaging to identify real sourdough, such as 'long-sleugh fermented using live culture'
  • Sourdough is a combination of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria
  • It plays a role in gut health and has an impact on mental health
  • Bacteria feast on available sugars and produce lactic acid (yogurty flavor) and acetic acid (vinegar flavor)

7. Bread as a Healthy Choice: Tips for Consumption and Historical Significance

  • Sourdough itself is a process. Look at what you're actually processing. If you're still processing refined white carbs, no.
  • Always choose rye and whole grains and breads with mixed flours and added seeds
  • When faced with having to eat refined bread, you can change the way your body assimilates the bread by eating a little bit of fibre-rich food beforehand
  • Bread matters because it's a huge source of the world's calories.
  • Sourdough bread has a long, slow fermentation process which contributes to its ultimate health benefits
  • Gluten is not an issue for most people, with only a few having celiac disease and 10% having sensitivity mainly caused by foods other than gluten
  • Top tip for healthier bread consumption: Check the label before buying, similar to buying a wine
  • Be mindful of what you pair with refined bread
  • It's about understanding the balance and nothing should be off.