Choosing Your Daily Bread

April 4, 2013 | by

Breaking bread. It hearkens back to ancient times when all was good. Unfortunately, bread isn’t so good in modern society. Not only do most people get too much of it, it may be the cause of many of the ailments we suffer from. Everything from diabetes to heart disease to Alzheimer’s to irritable bowel syndrome may be linked too too much consumption of bread.

Bread is made up of carbohydrates, which are sugars. And too much sugar is one of the main reasons our bodies suffer from both acute and chronic illnesses. Moreover, most bread is not very nutritious. While there is a huge calorie spike with bread, there is not much nutrition associated with it.

“Ah hah, Dr. Patel,” you say. “But what about multigrain bread that has not been refined? Isn’t that OK to eat?”

To which I would have to reply, “Pull up a chair. Here’s the thinking on breads.”


The Paleo Camp


One of the major movements in nutrition currently is the Paleo movement. Well researched and described by pioneers like Robb Wolf and his mentor, Dr. Lauren Cordain, the premise is that as we humans evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, we were hunters and gatherers. We ate what we killed and what we found. Modern agriculture has only been around for 3000 − 10,000 years (estimates vary, but nowhere near long enough for us to genetically adapt to it). So we were never exposed to the sheer volume of grains and dairy that we are now. The belief is that we all have some level of inflammatory reaction to grains and dairy — the question is simply how much. We’ve all heard of people who have severe gluten allergies or dairy allergies that prevent them from eating any of it. But many of us could have much milder symptoms that present only as skin rashes, or nasal congestion, or weight gain.

In the Paleo model, any grain or unfermented dairy is bad and should be avoided. Thus, in the Paleo model, there is NO bread that you should eat. Meat, fish, healthy fats, and vegetables are the staples here.


The Healthy Grains are an Essential Part of Your Diet Camp


For the last 100 years or so, a healthy breakfast has included cereal and toast. What could be more healthy, except a bagel? Maybe a power bagel. The USDA Food Pyramid has recommended grains as the staple of the American diet, essential for good health. But unfortunately, we’ve only seen rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease rise under this model, even with the consumption of the venerable oatmeal that was promised to fix our cholesterol levels and stamp out heart disease.

But all grains aren’t created equal. We knew that the process of refining grains to make it more yummy was stripping them of their vitamins and minerals, so they were all added back in to make “fortified” cereals and breads. Then we realized that white bread still wasn’t so good, and then we went to “wheat” bread as our new healthy choice. Well, it turns out that a lot of “wheat” bread was just white bread with molasses added to it to make it look “wheat-ish”. And anyway, it was still refined and then people wanted bran and oats and other kinds of grain — because, of course, that was healthier.

Enter the multi-grain bread. This bread has barley, oats, wheat, buckwheat, flax, and other grains to make it “multi-grain.” But BEWARE: just because it’s multi-grain, doesn’t mean that it’s not refined! You can have multi-grain bread made with multiple refined flours and that’s still refined and not so good for you.

You really have to look for “whole grain bread.” This is the most traditional type of bread that actually would have the grains in their most unprocessed form (almost). The whole grain, multi-grain combo is probably the best traditional bread you can get…..if you believe in the healthy grain model. The healthy grain model asserts that essential vitamins and minerals are found in the husks (really, bran and germ) of grains, and that by eating these whole grains, you will derive the benefits of those grains.


The “Healthy Grains Pro” Camp


If you’re going to eat grains, why not eat the best ones for you? If you’re serious about eating grains for nutrition, some say, eat sprouted grains. What are sprouted grains? These are grains that have been allowed to sprout before they are milled and baked into bread. Sprouted grain breads are lower carb, have higher protein content, and lower fat content than their non-sprouted counterparts. They contain less gluten and can be easier to digest. Not only can you get sprouted wheat bread, you can also get sprouted multi-grain bread, containing not only wheat, but other grains and legumes like soy and lentils. This is the kind of bread that would blow the lid off a Paleo Camp person (and I don’t disagree with their point of view).


The Dr. Bhavesh Take on Your Daily Bread


So what kind of bread, if any, should you have next time you’re at breakfast and you’re asked, “white, wheat, english muffin, sourdough, or pancakes?”

In a perfect world, I tend to agree with the Paleo Camp. Avoid the grains. But I’m also a Chicagoan, and I love a great pizza. I’m gonna get grains in my diet at some point. So if I look at this from a least harm to your body perspective, I first have to determine what is most harmful to your body.

For some people, any grain will cause adverse reactions, such as fatigue, bloating, rashes, nasal congestion. These people definitely fall into the Paleo camp and should avoid all grains.

However, most people tolerate grains to some degree. Not that it’s optimal, but the trade-off in adverse effect versus pleasure of eating the food isn’t so stark. Depending on where you fit on that spectrum, a whole grain bread may be a reasonable choice. If grains don’t seem to affect you all that much, then I would go for a whole grain bread or sprouted grain bread. I would skip any refined multi-grain bread (in my opinion, a refined multigrain bread is the least desirable choice).

The astute reader may have noticed that most people would consider the refined white bread to be the worst. However, if you are someone where the allergy and inflammation to the bran and germ are so significant that such bread is not a good choice, but a refined bread doesn’t cause that problem, then the white, enriched bread could be the best choice… if you’re going to eat bread at all. When considering the gut inflammation, I have started moving some patients from brown rice to white rice. Similarly, the white bread may be a better choice than the wheat bread or multi-grain bread.

To summarize the above, avoid the grains. But if you’re gonna do it, especially sparingly, the white refined type may be the best choice due to the lower antigenicity. If you don’t have problems at all, then the whole grain or sprouted grain are the best.

If you’re avoiding grains, won’t you miss out on all the nutrition? The reality is that all of the vitamins and minerals in grains can be found in vegetables and animal sources. So while there is nutrition available in grains, in today’s society of plentiful foods, those nutrients would be superfluous and certainly not outweighed by the negative aspects of eating grains.

You can find out if you have problems with grains in a few ways. The easiest way is to just eliminate them for a month and see how you do. Food intolerance testing is also available which would tell you what, if any, reactions you have to different grains. I personally use the ALCAT test, but there are others. It’s helpful to get tested if you’re suffering from symptoms that don’t have a clear diagnosis. Food intolerance is often the cause.


Who knew something so simple as breaking bread at dinner was actually so complicated?