Bread: Staple food or one to avoid?
Few foods are as problematic to those with one eye on the world of nutrition as bread. This seemingly innocuous foodstuff is so prevalent that its debated merits might never have occurred to many people, but the increasingly negative connotations attached to bread are growing ever more established; so much so that the status of bread has achieved an almost complete shift from ‘staple food’ to something that is unquestionably to be avoided at all costs. What makes bread so interesting is the sheer scale of the disagreement about its health values, and in the public eye few other foods provoke such divergent attitudes.
White bread is widely hailed as being of poor nutritional value, and whole grains are often championed as the way to go. However, many whole grained types of bread are actually still predominantly made from pulverised wheat, and this readily digestible enriched flour can cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels, also resulting in possible overheating. Similarly, breads are widely made using gluten grains, and, of course, this can become a point of contention with people who are avoiding gluten due to intolerances in their diets. Furthermore, bread is sometimes a processed food that can bring all of the sugars and ‘anti-nutrients’ that are so commonly associated with such products, and many argue that any nutritional value that bread does possess can easily be obtained through other means instead. Some also attribute cholesterol and weight increase to bread as well. Because of these traits, many luminaries claim that whole grain breads are simply less harmful than refined breads, but should still be avoided by anyone with digestive complaints or who are seeking weight loss.
What makes the consensus over bread so difficult to reach is the number of conflicting opinions out there. In fact, many of the objections raised in the last paragraph are vigorously refuted by other sources. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, no irrefutable scientific evidence is accessible to suggest that bread contributes to any specific digestive concerns, and apparently white bread – universally acknowledged to be a less nutritious form of bread – still provides around 10% of our daily intake of fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Also, the recent media coverage over wheat and gluten avoidance is estimated to be disproportionately large when compared to the small number of people who are actually allergic to these substances; resulting in calls for people to actually be diagnosed as intolerant by a qualified professional, rather than simply rejecting wheat or gluten as a precaution.
Fibre rich breads that are 100% wholewheat, as well as multigrain and sprouted breads, are not likely to cause problems for a person without identified intolerances, and, as mentioned, the presence of such conditions should always be professionally diagnosed rather than merely guessed at. To hear that cheap and processed loaves are not very good for us should come as a surprise to no-one, but we should be far less eager to embrace the growing idea that bread is just plain ‘bad’ from a nutritional sense. Balance is very often the most prudent attitude to take with regards to nutrition, and, until categorically proven otherwise, bread should doubtless be treated just the same.
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