Is Bread REALLY The Devil In Your Diet?
By Michelle October
Bread’s had a bad rap lately. If the cauli brigade is to be believed, one sarmie will make you sick and fat. Or will it? WH sorts the wheat from the chaff.
The gluten-free market has skyrocketed. Before, you couldn’t pronounce the word; now we have entire diets centred on it, special sections in your local supermarket and very annoying dinner guests. But what the heck is it? Gluten is a Latin word that literally translates to “glue”. A grain protein composite, it binds the ingredients in bread, making it chewy and fluffy. Catherine Day, dietician and lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Division of Human Nutrition, says that if you didn’t replace gluten with something else, your loaf would be crumbly and wouldn’t rise well. Suretha de Kock, senior lecturer in food technology at the University of Johannesburg, agrees. “All the things we like about baked products (texture, smoothness, uniform crumb structure and airiness) are because of gluten,” she says.
The good, the fad and the fugly
Gluten’s bad reputation most likely stems from coeliac disease – an inability to process the protein, leading to painful cramps and, ultimately, an erosion of the intestinal wall. An estimated one percent of the population has it, says nutrition counsellor and coeliac disease specialist Lucille Cholerton. Yes, that’s right: one in 100.
So why the fuss?
“There are probably other factors and conditions which contribute to the fear that’s been created around gluten,” says Day. “Like celebrity endorsements of gluten-free products and misinformation regarding irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other intolerances.” If you’re not sure you’re gluten-intolerant, your stomach will tell you – expect painful cramps after eating anything containing gluten. And we’re not just talking toasted cheese sandwiches: gluten lurks in couscous, pasta, some sweets, rye and even soy sauce.
Read More: Foods That Trigger IBS
The gluten-free fad is huge – in the US alone, the market for gluten-free goodies was estimated at close to R125-billion in 2013, and this figure is growing the world over. Globally, non-coeliacs drive the market, many of whom don’t have a clear idea of what gluten actually is. A study conducted at Australia’s Monash University set out to see how many people who believed they were gluten-intolerant actually had the disease. They found 62 percent of subjects hadn’t properly investigated coeliac disease and only 28 percent of respondents were actually diagnosed as having some form of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Twenty-seven percent of subjects weren’t even following a gluten-free diet – but thought they were.
Read More: Do You Think Bread Is Fattening?
What’s in a loaf?
Proponents of gluten- and grain-free diets claim that modern breads are to blame for generational weight gain – and mass-produced loaves are said to be injected with chemicals, leading to upset stomachs and weight gain. But Day says a homemade loaf is pretty much the same as a store-bought one. In fact, in some cases, mass-produced bread is better. “The ‘additions’ to industry bread are often beneficial to the population at large – government fortification of bread flours with B-vitamins, iron, zinc and vitamin A,” says Day. “There are also additions of enzymes and preservatives that could contribute important micronutrient intake.” Then there’s wheat. A seed, it’s genetically hardwired to protect the nutrients inside it that’ll grow its plant. Researchers reckon that’s why it is, indeed, hard for some people to digest. If you have no negative symptoms, however, wheat is a valuable contributor to your daily fibre intake. Plus, that gluten makes it rich in protein, says De Kock.
Read more: Is This Carb-Free Bread Good For You?
Have your slice
So… do you avoid that pizza or what? The short answer: yes – but only because that’s junk food, most likely made with refined, processed flour. “Excluding food groups for no medical reason (like a diagnosed allergy or intolerance) can be detrimental to your health,” says Day. “For example, cutting out gluten means that you’re removing whole grains from your diet – that results in a low fibre intake and studies show this puts you at risk for colon cancer.” And if you’re cutting out bread, but replacing that gap in your diet with heaps of energy-dense foods (think sugar and fat), you’re most likely not doing yourself a favour, says Alex Royal, registered dietician at DailyDietician.co.za.
“Wholesome bread is wholewheat and low-GI,” says Day. “Ensure that the bread has a high fibre content (more than five grams per serving, or two slices).” Look out for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Diabetes South Africa and GI Foundation logos to make sure you’re getting the best loaf. And if you’re looking to cut carbs, remember that they’re in other foods, too, says Day. “Overall, the amount of energy you need to fuel your body will determine the amount of food you can eat.”
Looking fore more info on bread and carbs? This is what happens to your body when you try and cut carbs (even the good ones) and check out this woman who ditched her white bread addiction and dropped major kilos.