Health

How did bread become the bad guy?

Humans have been eating bread for hundreds of years, so why do so many now see it as a guilty pleasure? We speak to a new generation of breadmakers and nutritionists about why you should reconsider the yeasty stuff

Like many people, I only eat bread at the weekend. I don’t keep loaves in my flat, and I try to avoid sandwiches and bread baskets during the week. In just a few years, bread has gone from being my breakfast and lunch staple to a ‘treat’ food along the lines of chocolate or biscuits. Nice, but a bit naughty. Weekend food.

I’m not sensitive to gluten or anything like that, but gradually I’ve absorbed the narrative so prevalent in society right now that bread is inherently bad for you. Unhealthy. Fattening. And so, I can guess, have many of you.

But all that could be about to change. According to Facebook’s 2019 Topics & Trends Report, bread is slated for a renaissance. By analysing conversations on the social media network throughout 2018, the report’s makers have predicted that bread will be a conversation leader in 2019, and that attitudes towards the carbohydrate are slowly shifting back in its favour.

‘Now people are saying: “hang on a sec, bread’s not the enemy here.”’

‘People are starting to come to their senses and question the information they’ve been getting,’ argues Chris Young, co-ordinator at Real Bread Campaign, an organisation passionate about spreading the word about the benefits of ‘real bread’, which they define as being additive free and baked either at home, or in your local bakery. ‘People have been eating bread for thousands of years without a problem, why are we suddenly being told it’s wrong?’

Leading the revolution is Lizzie Parle, head baker at E5 Bakehouse, a sourdough bakery in Hackney. She’s noticed a difference in the public’s appetite for bread since she became a baker two years ago. ‘People are starting to understand that bread doesn’t just mean bread,’ she explains. ‘That it can be really varied, not just in flavour and appearance, but also how healthy it is, depending on how it’s produced and the ingredients that go into it. They’re understanding that not all bread is created equal, and not all bread is bad.’

‘Now people are saying: “hang on a sec, bread’s not the enemy here, bread’s brilliant, bread’s fantastic and actually it’s not what’s causing my problems,”’ says Young. Those ‘problems’, he argues – like perceived gluten or wheat sensitivities, or problems digesting it – actually stem from the many additives that are put into shop-bought loaves. ‘You pick a wholemeal loaf up in a supermarket because you think it’s better for you. But along with the flour, water, yeast and salt, you’ll find things on the ingredients list that you won’t even recognise as food.’

Parle also agrees that there’s a difference between supermarket loaves and those that are freshly baked. ‘I don’t blame anyone for rejecting readymade supermarket sliced white bread,’ she says. ‘But there’s such a beautiful, varied world of bread, with lots of different grains and flours which you might find more easily digestible.’

This shift in attitude also comes off the back of a recent study that show adults are lacking many of the essential nutrients that can be found wholegrain bread, including vitamins A and D, magnesium, fibre, potassium and iron. These nutrients are essential for staying in good health – and, luckily, good bread packs most of them in. A 2015 study from Harvard Medical School also showed that a diet rich in whole grains lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and certain types of cancer. All in all, signs are pointing up for bread.

‘I’ve never had a problem with bread, and as a nutritionist I definitely don’t think carbs are a bad thing – I hate it when people label food as good or bad,’ says Robert Hobson, registered nutritionist and head of nutrition at Healthspan. ‘People forget about all the health benefits bread has. Even white bread is fortified in the UK, so supermarket loaves still have some nutrients.’ Like Young and Parle, though, he admits that it’s all about choosing a better type of bread. ‘A supermarket sliced loaf that lasts for two weeks isn’t the same as a freshly baked loaf from your local baker.’

‘I hate it when people label food as good or bad’

Hobson also thinks that one of the reasons that bread is making a comeback is the increased attention that fibre – and our diets’ lack of it – is having. ‘I think fibre will become a big issue in 2019. Only nine percent of men achieve the 30g of fibre a day target. Including dark rye breads and whole grains in your diet is a great way to get more fibre, which is linked to health benefits like reduced heart disease, better digestion and protection against bowel cancer.’

After years of hearing that low-carb diets are better for you, Hobson is glad that the trend is now on its way out. ‘We’ll start seeing people talking about the benefits of a balanced diet again, instead of about high protein, high fat diets, which just aren’t sustainable.’ This also follows a 2018 study that showed avoiding carbs could cost you four years of life expectancy.

If all that has made you consider reintroducing bread back into your diet, he recommends: ‘just stick to having it for one meal a day. Opt for a bread that’s interesting to eat, that’s high in fibre and has whole grains and seeds, like a dark rye.’ Of course, if you’re health conscious you’ve still got to be careful what you eat with it. ‘Think about your topping, too, to lessen the calorie load.’ He advises pairing your bread with a source of protein like eggs, tuna, avocado or lean meats, to maximise its long-lasting energy effect.

And if you need any more encouragement to give bread a go again, I’d highly recommend heading to your local bakery, and chatting to a baker there. Their enthusiasm for their craft is infectious there – and will have you craving a hearty slice of sourdough in record time. ‘Bread is a really joyful and humble foodstuff. Breaking bread with someone is symbolic, and ingrained in our culture,’ explains Parle. ‘Having really strict rules about what you do and don’t eat can cut you off from a world of joy.’