The reason why Americans are so afraid of bread is actually valid…if you know what really goes into store-bought carbs.
Bread has been an integral part of human culture for at least 10,000 years, if not longer. It holds deep, symbolic meaning in so many cultures as a biblical gift from God, a cultural reason for revolution, and even a wedding shawl for newlyweds to don as a symbol of their fertility.
Yet, bread keeps falling further out of fashion as more people adopt keto, carnivore, and paleo diets. Some consumers are genuinely fearful that a bread roll with dinner could pack a few extra pounds around their waists…and while that may be blown a little out of proportion, there’s a kernel of truth to that fear.
Giving a hard pass to the breadbasket is actually justifiable because store-bought bread lacks the nourishing, nutritional quality that bread historically has had. It might be time to rethink your grocery staple, and here’s why.
The Four Basics of Bread
Check out any “rustic” or “artisan” recipes for bread and you’ll see that real quality bread made with tried and true practices has very few ingredients. Flour, water, salt, and yeast are the four core ingredients with slight variations depending on cultural regions.
Focaccia from Italy is known for its olive oil and herbs, cornbread from Native American tribes is made with cornmeal instead of flour, Irish soda bread subs in baking soda for yeast and soured milk or buttermilk in lieu of water, roti from India is unleavened but moist thanks to added ghee or oil, shaobing from China is dressed up with sesame seed, injera from Ethiopia is naturally gluten-free and fermented, and pandesal from the Philippines is garnished with additional carbs in the form of breadcrumbs.
Flour, water, salt, and yeast are the four core ingredients of bread.
Bread is a universal food, but the American styles of leavened bread descended from Europe have taken over the Western diet and made their way onto store shelves worldwide.
In the early 20th century, breadmaking was commercialized to make the process less lengthy and more consistent for mass production.
Unsliced bread was apparently burdensome or even dangerous to housewives, so inventor Otto Rohwedder built a tool to slice bread while prolonging freshness. In came the Continental Baking Company’s Wonder Bread which adopted Rohwedder’s slicing innovation and solidified white bread as a staple in the American diet.
Everything was fine and dandy until the Food and Drug Administration and food experts needed to respond to the pellagra “epidemic” by enriching bread and corn with additional vitamins and nutrients. From that moment on, commercial bread was enriched. As we now know, fortification and enrichment can actually be counterproductive to a healthy diet and lifestyle by contributing to weight gain.
How Else Is Modern Bread Sabotaging Your Health?
Big Bread varies in terms of additives, but there are a few common ones you should know about.
Chlorine, like what’s found in pool and tap water, is used as one of the bleaching agents in bread flour. Chlorine gas has also led to a high presence of Alloxan in bread products which is a compound that genuinely causes diabetes by creating free radicals and insulin.
Another bleaching agent known as Azodicarbonamide (or ADA) also gives Big Bread its foamier, fluffy texture. Where else can we find that same texture thanks to ADA? Yoga mats, rubber shoes, and fake leather.
Of course, some commercial breadmakers are removing this ingredient from their recipes, like Subway did after word got out that their bread shared similar ingredients to yoga mats. Others have chosen to keep this chemical compound in their long ingredient lists, despite signs pointing to ADA potentially being a carcinogen or a DNA disrupter.
Speaking of carcinogens, another common ingredient in Big Bread is potassium bromate. Banned in many countries like South Korea, Canada, China, the entire EU, UK, Sri Lanka, Peru, Brazil, and Nigeria, potassium bromate is used to mature and strengthen gluten.
Chlorine, like what’s found in pool and tap water, is used as a bleaching agent in bread flour.
Bromated flour has proven links to cancer to the extent that states like California require baked goods with bromate to be labeled with a store-level cancer warning. If you’re looking to avoid potentially life-threatening thyroid, kidney, and renal cancers, you might want to give this “flour improver” a second thought.
It also goes without being said that the emulsifiers and preservatives that Big Bread manufacturers slip into their products should raise major red flags as well. Calcium propionate, monoglycerides, and diglycerides make it so your bag of bread can last suspiciously long after production without a speck of mold. Studies have shown that for the most part, these are non-toxic but claims have also been made that it causes cognitive issues or headaches.
An entire exposé of the modern bread industry was done by neurologist David Perlmutter in his book Grain Brain which discusses the connection between our diets and mental health. After all, the whole idea behind the ketogenic diet was to treat epilepsy. Grain-free diets aren’t for everyone, despite this book claiming that they are, and while gluten can be inflammatory for a lot of people, it’s not necessarily harmful in smaller amounts for most people.
We’ve been eating bread products for a long time now, and it’s too ingrained as a cultural staple worldwide to completely ditch it. That being said, we have moved dangerously away from the original recipes that didn’t cause sensitivities or physical damage to our bodies.
I Still Love Bread, So What Should I Do?
Bake Your Own Bread
Ideally, making your own bread at home gives you the ability to control the ingredients. Plus, you can test out a bunch of different recipes from super clean and simple bread to more complicated options like multigrain, cornmeal, or flavorful options that include fruits, spices, and other wholesome ingredients. Taking your nutrition into your own hands can feel really rewarding.
The level of involvement for breadmaking at home can be as simple or as complicated as you would like it. Popular homemaker and blogger Caitlyn of Mrs. Midwest details just how easy and frill-free breadmaking can be.
As a homemaker, she has the time to let her bread rest and rise for optimal dough, but she also raves about breadmaking machines that, like your kitchen staple InstantPot, allow you to put in ingredients, choose when you want to start the baking, and come home from work to fresh bread.
Making your own bread at home gives you the ability to control the ingredients.
Buy Better Bread
If baking isn’t your thing, then your next best option is to get your bread from a local bakery or buy better quality, smaller batch local bread that’s distributed to your local grocery stores.
Local bakeries can provide you with proper bread selections made from short, historic ingredient lists, but you also need to use discretion because some bakeries don’t even make their bread or the dough. If it’s a small business, you can likely speak with someone at the bakery who can let you know if they bake without sketchy ingredients.
One of my favorite, cost-efficient, and waste-free ways to purchase bread is by finding refrigerator and freezer-dependent bread, like Ezekiel or similar local sprouted grain bread. These are nutrient-dense, are better sources of fiber, have shorter and cleaner ingredient labels, and have fewer anti-nutrients in them than typical grains thanks to the sprouting.
Since these styles of bread are preservative-free, they freeze very well without losing taste or texture. I find this to be particularly useful in my own life since I don’t run through bread fast enough without wasting some of it once it's stale.
Keep in mind that not all brands of “healthy” bread are made equally though. Grocery store white-label “health” brands like Kroger’s Simple Truth Bread tout themselves as organic, but also contain added sugar, palm oil, and soy byproducts. Even Oroweat’s healthiest looking offerings, like their 100% whole wheat bread, contain added sugar, soybean oil, emulsifiers, and preservatives. Be sure to read the ingredient list!
If we can thank the internet for anything, it has been doing a great job as a platform to be able to share nutritional knowledge that would otherwise be lost to time. Even though you’ll see the media promote bread-free diets as the best way to achieve health, the type of food can’t be blamed.
The way that manufacturers have fundamentally changed breadmaking has given Americans a valid reason to fear bread, but we can take back our cultural staples by making smarter shopping choices or by baking our own bread at home.
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