3rd November was National Sandwich Day in the UK, and it reminded us that we often get asked about bread. Is it a Good Thing, a Bad Thing, what sort of bread should we eat and how much of it should we be eating? As with all these sorts of questions, there’s no easy answer and you can always find contradictory opinions.
For example there are some experts who feel that, in evolutionary terms, we have only been eating grains for a short time, and our digestion hasn’t evolved enough for us to properly digest them. Consuming grains has therefore been blamed for the increase in diabetes, cancer, auto-immune conditions, Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Other experts say that grains provide healthy fibre and nutrients that help feed our gut bacteria, and therefore influence many aspects of our health and reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.
So who is right? Is bread good or bad? Well, we would say that it depends who’s eating it, and it also depends on the type and quality of bread that we eat.
If you have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (CD) it is important to avoid gluten completely. CD is an immune response to gluten that can lead to atrophy of the villi of the small intestine, malabsorption of nutrients and a range of other symptoms. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Coeliacs need to completely avoid gluten to prevent further erosion of their gut lining. The incidence of diagnosed Coeliac Disease is increasing, but is currently around 1 in 100 people.
However, it can take years to get a diagnosis of CD, and it’s thought that only 30% of people who have it get an actual diagnosis.  That means that 70% of people go on struggling with digestive and other health issues.
Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity
Even without Coeliac Disease, many people struggle to eat gluten without a degree of digestive discomfort. A new condition – Non-coeliac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is starting to be recognised although criteria for diagnosis is hard to get agreement on, and many medical professionals would refute that it exists.
Nevertheless, many people experience digestive discomfort when they eat bread. Typically symptoms of bloating after eating bread, gas, abdominal pain or cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, fatigue are reported. Sales of Gluten Free products in 2018 reached £837 million, an increase of 133% since 2013.
A Gluten Free Muffin is still a Muffin!
However, just because a product is Gluten Free, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Your average loaf of supermarket GF bread will often contain a range of non-nutritious starches, sugar, yeast, thickeners, stabilisers and synthetic vitamins/minerals.
And a gluten free muffin is still a muffin, and will often have even more sugar that its’ gluten equivalent.
Quality is everything
If you’re going to have bread in your diet (assuming you’re not coeliac) go for really good quality bread. Good bread should really have no more than 4 ingredients – flour, salt, yeast, water, so be suspicious of anything with a long list of ingredients.
Artisan bakers are springing up all over the place, so find your local baker and ask them what are their ingredients and how is their bread is fermented and baked. A slow fermentation process will break down a lot of the gluten, making artisan sourdough bread much easier to digest than “normal” bread.
Sourdough and Rye may be best
Rye bread can also be easier for some people (but not coeliacs) to digest, and may bring additional health benefits. A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland found wholegrain rye sourdough bread reduced the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and colon cancer.  The benefits of rye have been known for a long time, although the mechanisms are poorly understood, but seems to involve interplay with gut bacteria.
Give up this day your daily bread
The other thing to bear in mind is that the more often you eat something, the more likely you are to develop an intolerance to it. Try not to have bread or wheat every day. Rotate with rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rice cakes, oat cakes or just add more veggies onto your plate.
When you do have bread, buy the best quality you can find, slice up the whole loaf, serve yourself one slice, and put the rest straight in the freezer. That way, you’re not tempted to keep going back for another slice. Freezing bread also has some nutritional benefits – it increases the resistant starch which feeds your gut bacteria, and slows down the release of the sugar from the carbohydrate.
Dietary Intolerance Testing is available to book at Homefield: https://www.homefieldgrangeretreat.co.uk/treatment-menu/wellness-clinic/