To bread or not to bread, that surely must be the question? We imagine you have sat at a table surrounded by at least one or two people who have claimed a ‘gluten free’ diet, or off ‘wheat’ or ‘whites’ for the sake of weight loss, solving their intestinal issues or even just to have a healthier lifestyle. While some of you might laugh at the sanction of gluten free, think it’s a fad, or wholeheartedly support it; bread and its contribution to modern day diet is definitely a conversation piece that has found its way into our trendy culture.
A lot of nutritionists will attest to the positive health effects of going gluten-free. Some have gone years without gluten or wheat while others don’t need to cut it out. But we have definitely spent a long time studying grains, pseudo grains and their effects on the body.
The information to the public on why a gluten-free trend has become ever present in our society is scarce. What the advertising industry isn’t telling you is why. Why can some of us down pizza followed by pasta followed by a sandwich and not feel any different, while others would be keeled over with intestinal cramping after a series of wheat consumption? And is it just the gluten or is there another piece to this puzzle?
All of us are different, some of us are sensitive, while others are built with guts of steel (we wish we were). But, at the risk of sounding cliché, our differences are what make us amazing as a species so let us be the ones to explain to you why you might feel that way and what to do about it. Also, let’s dip into the world of the grain and give you some history and insight as to why and how this has happened over time.
Who really wants to spend the rest of their lives saying no to a freshly baked piece of bread or never have a sandwich again? The good news is that regardless of your situation, you don’t have to (more on that later).
The grain is one of the most ancient foods our civilization has cultivated, and no, there weren’t ‘gluten free’ diets back then so what happened? What’s changed? And what can we do about it?
The Rise And Fall of The Almighty Grain
Grains are small, hard, dry ‘seeds’ that have layers attached to them. We understand these as commercial ‘grain crops’ producing the stuff we know as cereal grains (wheat, barley, rye, corn, rice, sorghum, and millet). There are also what we call a pseudo grain, which is becoming ever so popular, and we find stuff like quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth – these will be labelled as gluten free in our local grocery store and not what we are focusing on today because they are traditionally better for your gut and have not reached that level of processing yet.
Historically grains were cultivated relatively easy and stored easily to last through the harsh winter climates, so they became an important part of our diets, and still are today. We have always seen some refining process from Egyptians crushing the grain between two rolling stones to Greeks using rotary grindstones. Over the years, the refining process became more detailed and efficient, and we have since learned that because of this, more nutrients are lost.
By the nineteenth-century bread’s integrity hit an all-time low. People began storing bread longer, but the wheat germ became rancid (because of the delicate fats it contains). By stripping the grain of the germ entirely, you could store bread for much longer. Introducing chemicals to pre-made loafs made the process even more efficient but left us with something almost entirely void of nutrients, stripped of fibers and high in sugar. What a bummer!
Fortunately, we are starting to see grains return the way nature intended them to. So to understand how we can make changes to bring back the HEALTHY grain we need to understand what a grain is…
So What Makes Up a Grain?
A traditional cereal grain consists of:
- Bran the outer shell of the grain that contains important antioxidants, nutrients, and most notably fiber. It is what makes the grain a slow release carbohydrate.
- Germ is the embryo inside of the grain which contains important nutrients such as B vitamins, healthy fats, and protein. It has the potential to sprout into a new plant.
- Endosperm is the inner part of the grain containing starchy carbohydrates, protein and a very small number of nutrients – this is where the gluten protein is found. It is essentially the germ’s food supply.
Now that we’ve covered our basics, we ask ourselves…
What Wheat Problems?
If you pick up a pack of big brand white bread in your grocery store and take a long hard look at it and say to yourself “yes, wheat, grains, fiber, this is good” then it should also be followed by “ha, just kidding.” White bread is made from processed flour that has been stripped of everything that makes a grain good. Why does that matter? Well, if it were up to us you would find white bread in the dessert section of the grocery store because that’s pretty much what it is. Sugar.
We’re also not too excited about what years of processed grain consumption – bread, cereals, pastry, sauces, syrups – and pretty much most processed foods have done to our intestinal system. It’s made it weak. It’s made it helpless. And continued assault on your digestive system with this processed and refined, chemically laced white bread is not doing it any favor to heal and get back into shape.
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What is Gluten Sensitivity Anyway?
Before explaining this further, we just want to say that we are not talking about celiac disease here that is an autoimmune disorder affecting about 1% of the population, and we are also not referring to wheat allergies.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) has been reported to affect up to 13% of us. Gluten means “glue” in Latin, and it is what gives elasticity and the amazing chewy texture of bread that we’ve come to love. It is also added to products you may not think of like ham, sauces, ketchup and ice cream to name a few.
In layman terms, gluten sensitivity is your body’s immune system reacting to proteins found in the grain (gluten proteins called glutenin and gliadin). This reaction might only affect one part of your body – your intestinal system or in some cases it might cause symptoms in other areas of your body.
And this problem is really amplified from inflammation due to years of NONFOODS – such as chemicals, preservatives, processed foods, alcohol, stress, etc. Your intestinal system becomes weakened, the microvilli (tiny hair-like structures that help you absorb your food) may become damaged, and gluten is just another piece of that problem. Also, gluten affects some of us more than others.
A particular gene more common in people with certain autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease is activated when gluten is consumed. This increases zonulin’s activity – a protein made in the body that affects gut permeability. Zonulin makes the gut more porous and larger undigested protein particles that cannot usually pass through this gut wall make their way, enter the bloodstream and cause a whole load of symptoms within the body.
There is no concrete medically established way to test for gluten sensitivity just yet; however, there are two ways to consider:
- If you suspect gluten sensitivity, you can get in touch with your licensed medical profession get some blood or other tests*.
- You can also do an elimination diet by removing gluten for 12-weeks with a re-introduction to see if the symptoms disappear and re-appear.
*If you suspect that you may have celiac disease or it runs in your family, it is important that you speak with a medical professional and do not attempt self-diagnosis.
Top 10 Signs You Might Have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
- Brain fog/Inability to focus
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive issues: IBS like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal cramping/pain, bloating and gas
- Fibromyalgia/muscle pains
- Skin issues including something called keratosis pilaris (bumps on the back of your arms, like chicken skin)
- Hormonal issues for women: such as PCOS or PMS
- Mood issues: highs and lows or even ADD
Other Bread Problems
In addition to gluten, grains also contain lectins and phytates that are dubbed as anti-nutrients (although within them there are a few beneficial ones, that is a story for another post).
Lectins are present in grains and raw legumes as part of the plant’s defense mechanisms and they can cause damage to your intestinal lining by slowing down its natural repair processes. Phytates are a storage form of phosphorus in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and they are also part of the plant’s defense mechanism. Phytates bind to minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium in your GI tract making those minerals inaccessible.
What Not To Eat
So we have gone through the history, the wheat, what gluten sensitivity is and now you must be thinking that we are leaving you with NO BREAD to eat! How could we do something so cruel?
We are nutritionists, and we love our food, so we are here to tell you that there are options and we are listing them for you from the things you’re better off without to your delicious healthier alternatives.
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Usually found in the bread section of your local grocery store. Big name brands you have definitely heard of such as:
- All But Gluten (gluten free)
- Country Harvest
- Glutino (gluten free)
- Promise (gluten free)
- Udi’s (gluten free)
- No name breads
These brands are generally laced with preservatives, chemicals, sugar and rancid GMO oils to ensure shelf stability. Even many gluten-free products are made with sugars, are starch heavy and have chemicals and preservatives in them. These types of bread are high on the Glycemic Index, making the sugar rapidly absorbed during digestion and causing spikes in your blood sugar, leaving you cranky and irritable.
Just check out the ingredient list in Dempster’s 100% whole wheat. You would think 100% whole wheat means you’re getting a clean bread right?
Wrong. Half of the ingredients below are not even recognizable!
Whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ, water, glucose-fructose/sugar, yeast*, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), wheat gluten, salt, vinegar, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, sorbic acid, monoglycerides.
Other Ingredients You Should Be Careful Of
Self-explanatory. Sugar. It’s not necessarily something you need as an extra ingredient in a loaf of bread. It is added for taste and to create volume, and if there is sugar in your bread you should try to look for cane sugar. Not processed and refined sugar like glucose/fructose.
Canola and/or Soybean Oil (GMO)
Canola and soybean oils are typically genetically modified to be able to have a high crop yield and resist most strains of bacteria and pests. These oils are heavily used in modern day packaging but have been processed and changed from their original structure to be shelf stable, avoid rancidity and to be versatile. They essentially have been processed to death, becoming a “non-food” food.
Acetylated Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono and Diglycerides
Woah, that’s a long ingredient. Are you food? What are you? DATEM (for short) is a lab made emulsifier used for processed bread products. It is what adds that springy and chewy texture when you bite into the cake, bread, biscuits, etc. Nature has its own emulsifiers like egg yolk and milk, but this specific emulsifier allows companies to lower cost for their products. It has been labeled safe, but there have been no studies on long term effect of this ingredient on gut flora.
Another ‘what is this’ in an ingredient list. Usually, if you can’t understand what the ingredient is, it probably it’s probably made in a lab. Calcium Propionate is also known as E282 (so it’s not even a word, it’s a number), and it is added as a preservative to maintain shelf life. This ingredient’s primary role is to kill bacteria and prevent mold.
That being said little studies had been done with this ingredient and human consumption. One study on children showed that it increased inattention and irritability. You can avoid this by buying freshly baked bread, which usually doesn’t contain it or ensures to read the ingredient list.
Oh gosh, make it stop. When you have to look up what an ingredient is in BREAD, it’s a red flag. Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate is an FDA approved food additive used to improve the mix tolerance and volume of processed foods, and it is generally recognized as safe; however, caution is recommended in pregnant women and children which for us is a red flag.
Better Bread For You
Here is an example of Ezekiel’s 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread ingredient list: Organic Sprouted Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Sprouted Barley, Organic Sprouted Millet, Organic Malted Barley, Organic Sprouted Lentils, Organic Sprouted Soybeans, Organic Sprouted Spelt, Fresh Yeast, Organic Wheat Gluten, Sea Salt.
So we don’t have to do much explaining here. All these ingredients are plucked from the ground (minus wheat gluten) and are all whole, minimally processed foods. These are our top five reasons to switch to whole grain, healthy selection loaf.
Grains that haven’t been processed (bran and germ still intact) are very high in B vitamins which help with energy production and control metabolism.
Slow Release Carbohydrates
A grain stripped of its protein and fiber is essentially a high starch carb and has a blood sugar spiking effect on the body. So a grain in its natural state (intact) contains the fiber and protein your body needs to make sure your blood sugar stays stabilized and doesn’t get out of control.
Along with blood sugar stabilizing, a whole grain is heartier and healthier and doesn’t have the craving ‘after effect’ that white or heavily processed bread does.
We know fiber is good for us, and unfortunately, the North American diet severely lacks fiber. White bread is a fiber-less bread, which is kind of ironic because whole grains are one of the most fibrous foods. So picking a loaf with whole grains and a variety of grains means you are eating something high in fiber. Fiber is great for your digestive system, and it keeps things moving and aids in expelling toxins. Eating a high-fiber diet is one of the most important things you can do for health and your gut (yes, some types of fiber even help to feed your good gut bacteria).
Sprout It For More Health Benefits
When you sprout a seed, you essentially are soaking it until little sprouts appear. This is beneficial to us because it allows for better absorption of vitamins and minerals, it increases nutritional content, it reduces the gluten content, and it reduces or destroys anti-nutrients in grains such as lectins and phytates*. Sprouting grains is hands down the best and healthiest way to eat them.
What To Look For When Shopping For Bread
So now that your bread knowledge is very detailed and you have some pretty solid reasons to avoid certain types of bread at the supermarket, we should probably tell you what to look for when you are shopping.
Again, this means the entire grain is intact. No fiber, no B vitamins, no minerals have been taken away. The less processed, the better, and try to look for brands that explain the exact grain they are using: wheat, barley, rye, etc. Most whole grain bread will be a blend of grains – ’12 grain’ being one of the most popular term used. If you can see 12 different types of whole grains on your ’12’ grain bread, then that’s a good thing. Some of those loaves of bread will have added flaxseeds or chia seeds so added anti-inflammatory omegas.
Whole Grain Sprouted
Exactly the same as whole grains but the sprouting process has taken place (see above for sprouting benefits). Some of the healthiest loaves of bread out there are sprouted loaves of bread. The best thing is that these loaves of bread basically taste the same as a whole grain bread so if you can choose between sprouting or the latter, go sprouted.
Whole Grain Sourdough
Not very common in your local grocery store, but if you can find a fresh baked sourdough loaf then the Gods are on your side. Sourdough has gone through a fermentation process and very rich in those wonderful little bacteria that are beneficial for the gut (probiotics).
Ancient Whole Grain
Ancient grains are like whole grains in a sense that they are minimally processed, can be sprouted and are very good for you, but they are grains that have been out of production until the popular culture has brought them back. Ancient grains to look out for are spelt, amaranth, quinoa, millet, and Kamut. Some of these contain gluten (but in lower amounts), and some of these are pseudo grains and don’t contain any gluten.
Whole Grain Gluten Free
There is a common misconception that gluten-free must be good for you. There is some gluten free brands that go through a similar refining and processing procedure that white bread does (fibers stripped away, turned into a very starchy product high in sugar, etc.), so it is best to avoid gluten-free products made with potato starch, tapioca, and white rice. The best gluten free whole grains to look for are quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown/ wild rice, teff, and amaranth.
Grain Free Bread
Not as common to find in your grocery store, but also very easy to make. Some grain free bread include coconut bread, sweet potato bread, almond flour bread, etc. There are so many grain free bread recipes out there, and they usually take little to no time to prep and bake. Often made with nuts and seeds, these breads are very high in protein and healthy fats which make them very excellent for keeping you feeling full.
Here are some ‘sexy’ bread brands to look for, but remember to always check the label:
- Canyon Bakehouse (gluten free)
- Ezekiel (Food For Life)
- Silver Hills Bakery
- Stonemill Bakehouse
- Manna Bread
So there you have it. Now, you have the knowledge and confidence to go and pick up the healthiest bread on the store shelf or even better from your local bakery. Pick up the best for your body and enjoy it as part of a varied whole food diet.
Here are a few delicious gluten-free bread recipes you have to try!
This amazing guest post was written by Jenni + Mimi, Registered Holistic Nutritionists and founders of Naughty Nutrition. They’re research-lovin’ nutrition mavens that have made it their mission to connect you with the most accurate, up-to-date, science-based health resources alongside simple and delicious recipes. You can download a list of their Top Free Resources here to kick-start your health and make this newfound lifestyle stick, for life.
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