I was recently struck by the words of a famous Indian philosopher who explained his incomprehension that modern people are so divorced from the true essence of life that barely anyone knows how to make bread; a food at the centre of the human experience. Bread is so much more than something to eat, and has been suffused with religious meaning and metaphor since the dawn of human history; included in religious and cultural stories, ceremonies, and celebrations. Much of life is devoted to growing the cereals, grinding the flour, and providing the fuel to cook the bread. Bread illustrates beautifully the unbreakable link between food and all aspects of our lives; social, religious, and economic. What then does the sliced white loaf say about our culture?
As the bedrock of the cuisine of all cultures, there is a rich heritage of bread recipes using different flours and ingredients. If you are lucky enough to have a quality bakery close to you, you will know the variety on offer; earthy rye breads, rich Challah with eggs, bagels covered in blue poppy seeds, flat breads like chapatti, naan, and tortilla, classic cottage loaves, sourdough, and seeded granaries; the list goes on and on. And yet the supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of uniform rectangular soft sliced loaves in plastic bags; where is the flavour, the crunch, the fine ingredients, the aroma, the nutrition?. These loaves are processed, and chemically treated, some brown loaves are even coloured to make them look ‘healthier. ’ More concerning is the fact that bread is the single highest dietary source of salt, with a serving from some loaves delivering a large percentage of the day’s recommended salt allowance. It is thought that lowering the salt content of bread could help reduce the nation’s overall blood pressure, which would translate into a reduction in heart disease and heart attacks. There are now some loaves offered with a lower salt content, although these are also often highly processed.
Since the Atkins diet, bread has been given some bad press, and many people who I speak to avoid it because they associate it with weight gain or bloating. There has been a mountain of publicity about wheat allergy and intolerance, with almost 30% of people reporting that they are concerned that they or their children may have adverse reactions to different foods. Actual wheat allergy or intolerance is rare, with less that 1% of the population suffering. The people who push the wheat intolerance message are often those who stand to make most money out of it; selling their products, therapies and ‘allergy tests;’ ranging from the scientifically questionable to the downright nutty. If you are concerned about wheat intolerance or allergy I would strongly advise against these methods, and against self-diagnosis which could mask a potentially more serious health concern; talk to your GP and ask to be referred to a specialist.
Bread can be a valid and nutritional addition to your diet. Wholegrain breads are a rich source of energy, vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you are concerned about your weight, then have just one piece of good bread with your meal, or choose wholemeal pita as an alternative; these can be stuffed with all manner of mouthwatering and healthy salads. It is a shame that so many people are forgoing the pleasures of quality bread, when there is such an amazing variety on offer.
Check out local bakeries, delicatessens, ethnic and health food shops, and farmers markets. Don’t be afraid to ask what is in the bread, and beware; many supermarket bakeries add hydrogenated fats to their bakery products, which should be avoided at all costs. (If you ask they should provide you with a book showing the ingredients of their baked goods). If you are concerned about high salt content, or what has been added or taken away from your bread, then it is a great idea to bake your own. I guarantee that it is easier than you think, and may just enhance your enjoyment of life!
Vikki Scovell BA(hons) PG DIP is a fully qualified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach. She is a qualified Nutrition Adviser and runs successful Community Exercise classes. Vikki is a consultant in Healthy Eating and Exercise initiatives to schools in the independent sector and publishes School and General Healthy Living newsletters. Vikki lives in Bristol in the U. K. with her partner Jeremy and two young children.
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