Sourdough, gluten-free, Paleo: Which bread is best?
Sourdough, white, wholemeal, multigrain, brown, sprouted, spelt, paleo and gluten-free. With this abundance of choice, it is no wonder I am asked on a daily basis in my clinic, ‘what bread can I eat?’ Bread is a food that is often feared and has a bad reputation. It is associated with bloating, weight gain and other digestive issues and is commonly avoided. But bread can also be enjoyed and savoured – it’s just a matter of know what to look for and what to avoid.
History of bread
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. It is believed that humans started processing and consuming grains and making bread at least 30,000 years ago. According to Michael Pollan, in his book Cooked, A Natural History on Transformation ‘Bread is simply… an ingenious technology for improving the flavour, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass’. Pollan explains how the Paleolithic hunters would eat whatever grass seeds they could find. To improve the digestibility, the seeds were ground and boiled in water to create a porridge and the next progression was to cook this ground porridge on hot stones to form a flat bread. Over the years technological innovations like leavening and the introduction of refined flour and mechanical slicing, have turned bread into what it is today. It is through these innovations that the shift from a simple four ingredient wholesome food, towards the highly processed white loaf that we see today.
Not-so-healthy breads and ingredients to avoid
There are more unhealthy, then healthy breads on the supermarket shelf.
When deciphering which bread is best, I encourage you to become a food detective and look at three things: where the ingredients are sourced from, what the bread is made from and how the bread is processed. As discussed in my book, I Am Food – Eating Your Way To Health, breads that we consider not-so-healthy are ‘cooked by fast methods such as quick chemical leavening, or yeast leavening which do not allow the grain to fully ferment. The consequences are poor digestion, bloating and binding to valuable nutrients.’
It is important to avoid these breads that are made by fast cooking methods as well as those made from highly processed, refined, chemical or genetically modified ingredients. Below are a list of unhealthy ingredients that you should look out for when selecting a bread.
- White flour
White flour is typically used in your stock standard supermarket loaf of bread. It is a highly refined cocktail of bleached white wheat, with maturing agents and preservatives and is processed in a way that removes all the nutrition from the grain.
- Chemical and natural additives
These are often found in bread to enhance flavour, stability and texture. Chemical additives are made from chemicals and can include flavours, colours and stabilisers. Natural additives are highly processed food products devoid of nutrients such as refined salt and vegetable oil.
Many people do not expect to see sugar on an ingredient list for bread but unfortunately it is very common amongst highly processed options. Sugar is used as a sweetener and preservative and is highly refined. It is very addictive and it is implicated in tooth decay, cravings and other age-related diseases.
Synthetic preservatives like calcium propionate are now used in many foods. Traditionally, food was preserved by using salt, vinegar or fermentation. Today food manufacturers are using chemicals to inhibit mould growth and emulsifiers and stabilisers as anti-staling agents.
- Large ingredient list
The most important thing to look at besides the actual ingredients of the bread is the amount of ingredients. A list of more then five ingredients tends to indicate a highly processed, highly refined loaf of bread. Read the ingredient list and don’t be afraid to look up any ingredients that you do not understand. An example of your typical ‘wholemeal’ bread ingredient is listed below. ‘Ingredients: Unbleached Wholemeal Wheat Flour (60%), Water, Wheat Gluten, Yeast, Hi-Maize (2.4%), Vinegar, Canola Oil, Iodised Salt, Soy Flour, Emulsifiers (471, 481, 472e), Food Acid (Citric), Mineral Salt (Calcium Carbonate), Vitamins (Niacin, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Folic Acid), Minerals (Iron).’ Although this bread is marketed as wholemeal and healthy, it is filled with artificial flavours, emulsifiers and chemicals.
The healthy bread guide – now it is time for the good news…
There are some absolutely delicious, gut-friendly breads that are good for you. Healthy bread is simple and are prepared in a way that makes them more digestible. The types of bread that I recommend are sourdough bread, gluten-free, Paleo and sprouted bread:
Gluten – Free Breads and Paleo Breads
- Gluten is a protein found in some cereal grains such as wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt (low gluten) and can be difficult to digest. Gluten-free grain alternatives include millet and rice or pseudocereals like amaranth, quinoa or buckwheat.
- Sourdough is made from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast with flour and water. This is used to help release the anti-nutrient, phytic acid in breads and increase the nutrient density. Sourdough is the most original form of leavened bread.
- Sprouted bread is made from wholegrains that have sprouted (germinated), allowing them to retain their natural plant enzymes. These enzymes help destroy the anti-nutrient, phytic acid and are beneficial for digestion. Sprouted grains have more vitamins and nutrients compared to a standard processed flour.
With the rise of food intolerances and allergies, there has been a growth in unhealthy ‘gluten-free’ products. For those of you avoiding, intolerant or allergic to gluten, I urge to you select your gluten free alternatives cautiously. In my experience, gluten-free products can be highly processed and made from refined gluten-free alternatives such as potatoes, corn, soybean and rice.
When selecting a gluten-free bread opt for a freshly baked, a buckwheat loaf, for instance with a short shelf life rather than a pre-packaged gluten free product.
Paleo breads are another gluten free alternative that can be a healthier option to enjoy. The Paleo diet avoids refined sugar, grains, legumes and dairy. Breads following the Paleo principles are often made from whole nuts, seeds and coconut rather than highly refined and processed ingredients.
By eating a high quality grain, in moderation we can enjoy bread in a healthy way. My favourite breads include: Iggys, Sonoma, Naturis, Pure life Sprouted breads and Paleo bread.
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