Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Have you ever wondered about your bread? Just a quick glance at most store loaves will bring most health experts to their knees with a list of ingredients that are remarkably unhealthy. Most bread contains high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, soy, and many other ingredients that you should avoid. It’s a subject that I spend a lot of time answering questions on so, in this week’s blog it’s time to address the bread quandary. Frankly, I like a sandwich every now and then, but the bread you choose is important to your health, so here we go.
Overall, bread gets a bad reputation because grains are not easy for your body to digest, they can overwork your pancreatic enzymes, they contain the anti-nutrient, phytic acid, and an abundance of that dreaded stuff called gluten which bloats you, gives you gas, leaky gut and eventually wipes out your healthy gut bacteria. In developed countries, the wheat crops have been through some serious genetic manipulation in the past few decades in order to make them quicker to prepare, stay on the shelf longer and ultimately, more profitable for the food industry. But by this process of increasing profits we have allowed the processed food industry to harm our health and the FDA has done little to limit these companies from doing so.
So what’s the main problem with wheat anyway? If wheat were still like it was in our grandmother’s day we would probably not be having this discussion. But, the modern version of wheat is a far cry from the ancient plant. In fact, the newer, high-yield wheat we've been eating since the 1980s is full of genetic changes that seem to inflame our bodies, cause our guts to leak, and trigger autoimmune diseases. These are the unintended consequences of messing with nature, and they are hurting us and our health in many ways.
Unfortunately, we have been brainwashed into thinking that we need whole wheat as part of a healthy, well balanced diet. RD’s will still argue this point because that is what they were taught. It used to be true, that whole wheat was healthy and was part of a well-balanced diet. The truth is, whole wheat, whether in bread or pasta form or hiding out as an ingredient in canned soup or frozen dinners, could be sending you on a path toward diabetes, heart disease and cancer. At the very least it causes inflammation, which is the root of most all disease. Here’s the problem. Unlike 50 years ago, eating two slices of whole wheat bread could spike your blood sugar levels more than if you'd eaten two tablespoons of pure sugar. Obviously, that slow burning whole grain is not so slow burning anymore.
Chronic spikes in blood sugar and insulin not only lead to diabetes, cancer and obesity, but they also spur the growth of dangerous visceral fat. This type of fat is bad because its fat that is found encasing your liver, kidneys, pancreas, small intestines, heart, and, on the outside, your belly. This unique abdominal fat also manufactures excess estrogen in both men and women. The excess estrogen leads to hot flashes, increased breast cancer risk, bloating, swelling and tenderness in the breasts, decreased libido, irregular menstruation, headaches, mood swings, fibrocystic developments in the breast, weight gain, hair loss, Reynaud’s Syndrome, lack of energy, memory problems, sleeping issues, and increased PMS symptoms. The problem with excess estrogen in both men and women is its ability to turn testosterone into more estrogen and store greater amounts of fat. Being just 10 pounds overweight severely restricts your ability to burn excess fat, but opens the flood gates to storing fat.
Your skin is also affected. Skin is considered your largest organ and a major part of your immune system. Unfortunately, it is not immune to the influence of wheat's health effects. Wheat exerts age-advancing skin effects, including wrinkles and lost elasticity, due to the formation of advanced glycation end products, which accumulates and ages us as it elevates our blood sugar. Wheat's been shown to advance aging and cause wrinkles, but it's also linked to other skin problems, including herpes-like skin inflammation, oral ulcers, psoriasis, and erythema nodosum, shiny red, hot, painful lesions that usually appear on the shins.
Ironically, our government still pushes whole wheat as a healthy way to keep your heart in good shape, but it simply is not true. Perhaps that is why nutrition, especially in school lunch programs should be left to professionals who know what they are talking about. No matter what type of wheat, be it organic, stone-ground, or home-baked, it's still wheat, a combination of compounds that trigger high blood sugar, visceral fat, unhealthy cholesterol particles in the blood, and inflammation—all bad news for your heart, your joints and your health.
And then there’s phytic acid. Phytic acid is present in beans, seeds, nuts, grains—especially in the bran or outer hull parts. Phytates, formed in the body by eating foods high in phytic acid, are also found in tubers (type of edible root), and trace amounts occur in certain fruits and vegetables like berries and green beans too. Up to 80 percent of the phosphorus—a vital mineral for bones and health—present in grains is locked into an unusable form as phytate. When a diet including more than small amounts of phytic acid is consumed, the body will bind calcium to phytic acid and form insoluble phytate complexes. The net result is you lose calcium, and don’t absorb phosphorus. Further, research suggests that we will absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytate is absent.
Phytic acid not only grabs on to important minerals, but it also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, (needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar). Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates. This powerful anti-nutritional causes many health problems as a result, including tooth decay, nutrient deficiencies, lack of appetite and digestive problems.
The problem is, unless you have a gluten sensitivity you likely don’t know this. We live in a culture that eats too much of it in general anyway. We have been told to eat 60% of it as part of a healthy diet! We have become slaves to the advertising industry who have learned to manipulate the facts to make you think you’re getting a good thing when you’re not. If that sounds like politics to you, it is! Companies who make food need you to buy it and eat it. They spend millions each year on research to learn how to mix their ingredients in such a way that it literally causes addiction. Just take a look at the typical American diet – a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and rolls or pasta for dinner. That’s a lot of grain in just one day and very little nutrition. Even larger amounts are consumed if we take into consideration common snacks like crackers and desserts like cookies.
Additionally, commercially available grain-based products that line grocery store shelves and are served at restaurants are equally unhealthy. They are full of ingredients that are not food. One such ingredient is azodicarbonamide, the same chemical in yoga mats and shoe rubber! That’s not all though, other chemicals are put into dough conditioners, added sugars, artificial flavorings or coloring and GMOs are now lingering in your innocent white bread. The flour they use to bake bread can be treated with any of 60 different chemicals (approved by the FDA! Yeah, incredulous huh) before it ends up on the store shelves – including chemical bleach! Also, the industrial processing destroys nutrients, such as Vitamin E and fiber. It only takes 4 ingredients to make bread – flour, yeast, water and salt, there’s really no need for all that other stuff. And yet bread has way more in it than that. Let’s look at some of the ingredients:
These are totally unnecessary in traditional bread making. They make the process of making bread faster and cheaper for the food industry because they can eliminate the dough rising stage. Many dough conditioners like azodicarbonamide (which is banned all over the world except in America by the way), DATEM, monoglycerides, diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate are linked to health issues, but bread makers use them anyway. Many dough conditioners start with manipulating fat – like soybean oil or corn oil, which is also most likely GMO and has its own added health issues when consumed. Brands such as Nature’s Own, Arnold Bread, Wonderbread, Martin’s, Sara Lee, and many other popular brands are guilty of using dough conditioners.
Bread is supposed to be fresh and eaten within a few days from baking unless it has been frozen. But without preservatives bread goes bad very quickly, so manufacturers preserve the bread with chemicals. If you see preservatives like calcium propionate, which is linked to ADHD, put the bread down and keep searching. Warning: Pepperidge Farm uses this ingredient to “retard spoilage.”
Unfortunately, the majority of commercially available breads contain at least one if not many genetically modified ingredients. These include soybean oil, soy lecithin, corn starch, corn oil, or soy flour. GMOs have not been tested long term on humans, however we know that the pesticides sprayed on them are toxic and considered to be carcinogenic. Some GMOs are created by inserting a toxic pesticide into the seed itself to make an insect’s stomach explode when they try to eat it! They are not safe for human consumption.
This is a big one, and an area where you really need to watch out. There’s nothing wrong with a little honey to bring out the sweetness in whole wheat bread, but most manufactures are using high fructose corn syrup, GMO sugar made from sugar beets, or some other artificial sweetener like “Sucralose” that are not the best forms of sugar and can pose health risks. Almost all commercially baked brands have some form of added sweetener – especially “light” breads, which often contain more added sugar or fake sugar so you don’t realize your bread is being sweetened.
Artificial flavors and coloring
These ingredients are made from petroleum and are linked to several health issues like hyperactivity in children, allergies and asthma. They are easy to spot on the label because the FDA requires it. However, ingredients like “caramel coloring” can fool you into thinking this ingredient is a real food. Most industrial caramel coloring is created by heating ammonia and is considered a carcinogen when created this way. Martin’s potato rolls have Yellow #5 and Yellow #6, and Thomas’s English Muffins have caramel coloring.
No matter what I say about good or bad bread, you should severely limit grains in your diet. Certainly they are great for getting your fiber, but so is ground flax seed, and that does not have the major GMO issues and preservative issues that bread has. Fact is, your diet should consist of mostly plant based foods such as vegetables, seeds, beans and nuts along with grass fed or wild caught meat.
So, when you do want to have a sandwich, what should you choose? The answer is Sprouted Grains. While technically not a grain anymore, sprouted grains are more vegetable in nature. To sprout a grain, you soak it until it begins to sprout into a little plant. These sprouts are then ground up to make bread. When you eat a grain that has been refined into flour, your body quickly metabolizes it like a sugar, which causes your insulin to spike. The sprouted bread grain is much more easily digested than starchy flour, and contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than whole grains but without the sugar spikes. Phytic acid is also destroyed when the grain sprouts, so your body is able to absorb the nutrients in these grains – which makes them that much better for you!
The best sprouted grain bread is – Ezekiel 4:9, by Food for Life – it’s made up from six different organic sprouted grains and absolutely no flour! This combination of sprouted grains contains all 9 essential amino acids, which makes up a complete protein. There are no preservatives in these breads, so you need to keep them in the freezer and take out only what you eat. But if you are gluten sensitive the sprouted grain breads will likely still cause a reaction, although less of one. Even sprouted bread is not gluten free.
Other good sprouted breads are Manna’s Sunseed bread and Dave’s Killer Bread Sprouted Wheat both being a healthy combo of organic sprouted wheat and seeds. Traders Joe’s sells sprouted bread too but it is only mostly made out of sprouted wheat. The benefit is that the bread is much easier to get used to. In fact, it mostly tastes like regular bread! (better than regular bread in my opinion) You can use Trader Joe's Sprouted Bread as a stepping stone to 100% sprouted, or just as an easy way eat healthier without a noticable difference.
When purchasing bread, you might see something on the label about "Ancient Grains". Ancient Grains (spelt, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum) & Gluten-Free – Unlike wheat, these grains are called ancient because they haven’t changed for thousands of years. They are packed with nutrients and many of these grains can be used to make gluten-free bread. Just make sure that the bread you are buying is labeled as “gluten-free” if you are trying to avoid gluten – not all ancient grains are gluten-free because they can be blended with wheat. Manna makes a good gluten-free bread with brown rice, sorghum, millet, amaranth, quinoa and chia seeds. Please note, almost all gluten-free breads contain added sugar in the form of honey, molasses, agave nectar or evaporated cane juice which can increase your blood sugar spikes. No matter how good something looks, always read the label and ingredients!