Personally I’m not a fan of cutting anything completely out of your diet — it’s rarely medically justified and can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
But many people I meet at the clinic have chosen at one stage or another to cut one staple from their diet: bread.
The low-carb movement, its association with weight gain and, of course, the gluten it contains have helped move bread to the diet equivalent of a naughty step in many people’s eyes.
But bread can be a convenient source of nutrients and, let’s face it, a freshly baked slice of bread is one of life’s pleasures — and I don’t want to start denying people that.
Personally I’m not a fan of cutting anything completely out of your diet — it’s rarely medically justified and can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies, writes Dr Megan Rossi (pictured)
For any of you who have turned your back on bread, let me explain why you might want to think again.
Wholegrain breads (sold as wholemeal, for example) can be a good way to include wholegrains (eg wheat, barley, oats, rye) in your diet and there is growing evidence that wholegrains can improve gut health, help with weight management and reduce your risk of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
The ‘whole’ grain is made up of three parts: the bran (the fiber-rich outer layer); the germ (the inner part full of nutrients), and the endosperm (the middle part filled with starch).
The fiber content keeps you fuller longer and feeds your gut microbes, which convert this fiber into short-chain fatty acids that help maintain the lining of the gut, regulate appetite hormones and reduce inflammation.
The evidence for including whole grains is compelling – one study involving 400,000 people found that those with the highest intake of whole grains had a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease than those with the lowest intake. Another study, with 130,000 people, found that whole grain intake was associated with lower body weight, the journal Nutrient reported in 2019.
Bread can be a convenient source of nutrients and, let’s face it, a nice slice of freshly baked bread is one of life’s pleasures — and I don’t want to start denying people
The ideal is three portions of whole grains each day — one portion equals a slice of bread, half a cup of cooked cereal or 40g of raw oats, for example. Remember variety is key.
Bread can also provide many other nutrients, depending on the type you eat.
Nutritionally, sourdough is hard to beat. It is made using flour and water and left to ferment for up to 36 hours (rather than adding baker’s yeast as most breads are usually made).
Do you know?
Even ‘healthy’ oils can become unhealthy if they are heated above their smoking point. At this point the fat quickly decomposes and the oil emits smoke. Most good quality oils — including extra-virgin olive oil, thanks to its protective plant chemicals — can be used for most home cooking methods, with smoke points around 190c to 210c.
Bacteria and wild yeast naturally present in the flour slowly ferment the bread and this unlocks nutrients such as zinc and B vitamins, so it is more easily absorbed than other breads.
The fermentation process also lowers the gluten levels in bread (gluten is the protein in grains that gives it the sticky quality you see in raw dough) — this may benefit those with gluten intolerance (although it’s not low enough. levels for people with celiac disease , whose body reacts to the presence of gluten by attacking the intestines).
Some research also suggests that sourdough gives less of a spike in blood sugar than other breads and in my clinic I tend to find it a better option for those with diabetes.
But be aware, some mass-produced sourdoughs will add yeast to reduce the fermentation time so they are cheaper to make – but this reduces the health benefits. Pure acid should have a slightly sour taste and chewy powder.
I’m a big fan of homemade bread — and let me explain why you might want to try making your own. People think making bread will involve a lot of kneading and time. But my recipe (see box) is one of the easiest things I’ve ever made.
The problem with most mass-produced breads is that they’re highly processed — breads tend to contain additives to keep them fresh and emulsifiers to give them that soft, doughy texture.
These additives have passed rigorous safety testing – but these tests predate more recent research that suggests some of them may interfere with our gut microbes and promote gut inflammation (something my team at King’s College London is currently exploring in human trials).
What’s more, sliced white bread — a mouthful, a national favorite — is made from whole wheat that has been stripped of its nutritious, fibrous outer grain.
Whole grains contain about 75 percent more nutrients than the refined version.
The lower fiber content of white bread (two whole-grain slices provide 6g of fiber; white bread provides less than a quarter of that) means that the sugar in the bread has nothing to slow down its digestion, so it tends to cause your blood sugar to rise. — which often causes hunger again immediately after eating. Making your own bread, on the other hand, means you don’t need extra ingredients and you can maximize its nutritional potential.
I was inspired to add carrots to my recipe (above) after reading a study by Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand in 2021, which showed that adding vegetables to bread makes you feel fuller and reduces insulin release.
Of course, there are times when it’s not appropriate to make it yourself. In that case, use this checklist to help you make the best choice:
1. Check the ratio of fiber to carbohydrates. You need at least 1g of fiber for every 10g of carbohydrates.
2. Make sure there is no added sugar — look for names like glucose or dextrose.
3. Choose varieties with extra seeds (eg pumpkin) and mixed grains (eg oats) — the more plant variety in your diet, the better.
4. Check for food additives, aim for no more than one, if any.
And the best way to eat it? Instead of making it a simple cheese and tomato sandwich, layer it with at least three plants — for example, roasted peppers, tomatoes and beets work perfectly with quality cheddar, keeping both your taste buds and your gut microbes satisfied.
Try this: Sourdough wheat bread
Make 1 loaf
I fell in love with wheat bread in Ireland and my father-in-law entrusted me with a recipe that was not easy. With a few gut-pleasing tweaks, I present a game-changing bread with a crunchy crust and delicious moist crumb — you’ll never have to buy bread again.
- 300g wheat flour
- 200g live thick yogurt
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
- 100g grated carrot
- 3 sprigs of thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas mark 6.
Mix half the flour with yogurt and 100ml water. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let it ferment for about five hours.
When ready to bake, mix in remaining ingredients, using a butter knife to combine. Be careful that the dough is not too hard as this will make it tough.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured baking tray and mold it into a loaf. Score the cross on top with a knife.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden, and make sure the base is dry and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely.
Well wrapped, it will keep for two days at room temperature, five days in the refrigerator, or three months in the freezer. I freeze mine in individual portions so I always have a delicious loaf of bread on hand (just defrost in the microwave for a minute).
I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and switched to a gluten-free diet. I don’t know how long I’ve had it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s been my whole life. Is there a way to tell if there is permanent damage to the lining of my intestines?
I am sorry to hear that you have had undiagnosed celiac disease for so long. You’re certainly not alone, around half a million people in the UK are believed to be unaware they have this autoimmune disease, where your body attacks its own tissue when you eat gluten. A biopsy is the only way to confirm that your intestinal lining has fully recovered.
The good news is that for most people who completely avoid gluten, their intestinal lining tends to heal within 12 months.
It’s also worth discussing your bone health with your GP, as people who have been living with undiagnosed celiac disease are at risk of osteoporosis. You may be referred for a bone density scan to get a better look at your bone health.
Although there is currently no cure for celiac disease, there are several promising clinical trials underway to test drugs that block the body’s response to gluten (similar to peanut allergy). Fingers crossed.
Contact Dr. Megan Rossi
Email [email protected] or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — please include contact details. Dr. Megan Rossi cannot do personal correspondence. Reply should be taken in general context; always consult your doctor with health concerns.