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Bread - Is it Bad for You?

Yummy bread! Tastes nice, is filling, accompanies meals in many different countries and cultures - but is bread bad for you? Does bread have potential issues that may impact on our health? If issues potentially exist, then what are the solutions that can enable us to continue to eat it?

Let's first start with what is bread? It's a dough, usually simply made from wheat flour, yeast, salt and water, and baked into many different varieties as shown below. Nothing too complex so you would think it couldn't have too many problems associated with eating it. Let's explore if that's the case.

Pictorial of 35 different types of bread
There are so many different types of bread from different country origins that go with different dishes.

Is Bread Bad for You? - Potential Issues and Solutions

Some potential issues that have been found with bread consumption include:

Starch and Glucose Spikes

Bread is considered a starch as it's made up traditionally from the endosperm of wheat. Of interest, other starchy foods include potatoes, rice and pasta. Starch will be broken down in our bodies once we eat it, and convert to glucose (sugar) that can cause a blood glucose 'spike' in our blood, which is a blood glucose reading higher than desirable after eating. A high spike, causes insulin to kick in hard to lower it, which can end up making you hungry again with subsequent overeating. Over time, this can lead to glucose dysregulation, Metabolic Syndrome, and Diabetes. The solution to reduce this impact, is to add to your bread some healthy fats (like avocado), protein (meat, cheese etc), and add fibre to it (like bread with seeds and nuts), and obviously include some leafy greens. Sourdough bread is also better as the fermentation process transforms some of the starch so our glucose spike should be less. Certain strains of Lactobacilli bacteria (probiotics) used in the sourdough starter, or the yeast version in regular bread (Saccharamoyces cerevisiae) are great for our gastrointestinal health as well. Dark rye bread is also a good choice, and is considered more nutritious than wheat bread.

Low in Nutrients

Bread is low in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, fats) compared to other foods, but very high in carbohydrates, which can lead to glucose dysregulation. The solution - Sourdough options provide more nutritition, and if you bake your own bread and sprout the seeds prior, then the nutritional content increases. Consume bread in moderation and have it with healthy fats, proteins, and salad options.

Gluten Issues - Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten is a protein present in certain grains in bread that enables bread to rise by giving it the elasticity needed. Gluten also provides a lovely taste. Gluten is found in breads based on wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a blend of wheat and rye). Oats are gluten free but sometimes they get contaminated in production lines. Gluten is also present in other other processed foods created from those grains, like soy sauce, seasonings etc. At its most basic level, gluten can cause bloating (its a rising agent), stomach aches, and intolerance in some people. This is termed Non-coeliac guten sensitivity and should not be confused with Coeliac Disease as discussed below. The solution - organic, gluten free options.

Coeliac Disease - severe Gluten intolerance

Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune disease which can cause an immune response with severe inflammation and damage to the mucosa of the small intestine. Who has Coeliac Disease? Those with confirmed HLA DQ2/ DQ8 genes that predispose them potentially to Coeliac Disease, and who have formed active antibodies (tTG IgA and DGP IgG).

Those with confirmed Coeliac Disease must strictly be Gluten free else the resulting nutrient absorption issues can potentially cause malnourishment. Importantly, you can be asymptomatic (feel no symotoms) with Coeliac Disease until you feel the effects of nutrient depletions, like anaemia as one example.

The solution for those with gluten issues from Coeliac Disease is gluten free bread (ensure it is authenticated as some gluten free products can still contain gluten). Breads that may be gluten free include rice flour, potato flour, oat flour, soy flour, amaranth, buckwheat, arrowroot, chickpea, and cornflour are some examples.

There is a caution with commercial gluten free breads as they may be loaded with extra sugar, fat, salt and artificial substances to make it taste better.

Buckwheat is a popular option at the moment using organic hulled buckwheat, and just salt and water in any easy fermentation process with minimal hands on time required. Despite its name, it does not contain wheat and is gluten free. Send me a message if you'd like access to some great gluten free bread recipes you can make yourself.

Wheat Allergy

Those with a wheat allergy must avoid all wheat products else they face serious life-threatening anaphylactic issues. The solution - avoid all wheat products and check labels for any wheat added on the ingredients list.

Leaky Gut

Gluten can act on our small intestine and cause the release of Zonulin, a protein that keeps our intestinal cell junctions nice and tight. The cells normally are selective for what they alllow to pass through the tight junctions to the bloodstream. When Zonulin is released, the tight junctions become less 'tight' allowing the free passage of things that normally shouldn't travel through to the bloodstream. Our bodies see these substances as foreign and mount an immune response. In this way, gluten can potentially lead to chronic, low grade, systemic inflammation if there is repeated exposure. The solution - eat organic, gluten free options.

Phytates (or anti-nutrients)

Phytates (Phytic acid) are present in any grain, including legumes. They act by binding to our minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium and prevent them being absorbed. When not present in our diet in a large way, this shouldn't really pose a problem but if your diet is largely based on grains including bread then you may have issues. The solution can be to sprout your grains - repeatedly soak and rinse your own grains and then bake bread from that. This lessens the amount of mineral binding and as a result enhances the amount of nutrients available for us. In addition, sprouted grains not only neutralise the effects of phytic acid, but sprouting lowers the fermentable starches in them that contributes to gas Read my SIBO blog. If you would like a documented plan on how to sprout your grains to avoid these issues, please email me and I will send you a copy.

Gluten Intolerance and IBS

As the prevalence of people reporting issues with gluten is increasing, with most not having Coeliac Disease, we need to turn our thoughts to what else the underlying issue may be.

Gluten Intolerance is often attributed to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but it may also be FODMAP foods. For more information, check my post on SIBO and FODMAP's. If you don't appear to have issues with bread when in Europe, it should be noted that many artisan breads in Europe use soft wheat that is lower in gluten, and have a long fermentation process with resulting lower levels of Fructans, meaning less digestive issues in those that are sensitive to FODMAP foods. The solution - speak to a qualified naturopath to assess why you are having digestive issues.


Another consideration - is it gluten or the glyphosate? Glyphosate is a pesticide sprayed on crops that interferes with crop and bacterial replication. It is used in Australia but has been banned in some other countries. It has been used in farming practices since 1974 while curiously at the same time world obesity rates have tripled since 1975.

Glyphosate has a proven negative effect on our gut microbiome. Roundup weed killer contains glyphosate and other chemicals. Glyphosate is a weed killer, so if it is present in foods we eat it can kill species in our microbiome via the same inhibitory pathway mechanisms it uses as a pest control on plants. Glyphosate also impacts negatively on Phase 1 detoxification in our liver. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reclassified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, and there have been links (not necessarily causative links) with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Roundup has been found to be even more toxic than glyphosate on its own. The solution - eat organic grains to avoid pesticides.

As an aside, there are concerns that the use of Glyphosate has impacts on insect populations, which can have dire impacts on the food chain and human health. Germany has recently banned gyphosate use for this reason.

Genetically Modified (GMO) Hybridisation of Wheat

Crops have been around for a long time, but modern agriculture has bred strains that are resistant to pests through genetically modifying them. The original grain has been hybridised with other grains and in doing so, they have become products that our body hasn't 'evolved with' so we can see them as foreign, and mount an immune response. Additionally, these crops are often sprayed with glyphosate and Roundup. The solution - eat foods made from organic grains.

Folic Acid Fortified Foods

As bread is low in nutrients, but consumed a lot, many countries have bread that is fortified with vitamins and minerals. One vitamin initially fortified in bread was Folic Acid - the manufactured, synthetic form of folate. Folate is naturally in our fruits and vegetables, while Folic acid is synthetically produced. Folic acid fortification is mandatory in Australia. This fortification was to reduce the rate of Neural Tube Defects, and has been hugely successful.

Additionally, Folate as a food source, is needed to keep Homocysteine levels in normal range - if too high, we can be predisposed to cardiovascular health issues and potentially cancer issues. See my blog on Homocysteine

However, over the years what has been found is that there may be unwanted side effects from Folic acid fortification, that may be related to the amount of Folic Acid we are exposed to.

Studies tracking the effects have trended an uptick in colorectal cancer that is still being investigated. There is evidence that dietary intake of folate (via our fruits and vegetables) reduces the cancer rates, while intake of Folic Acid has resulted in an increase in cancer rates. There are now so many foods fortified with Folic acid, and people taking supplements to improve their health, that we may be exceeding the upper limits we should be consuming. There is now speculation that Folic acid at these high levels can block our biochemical pathways rather than enhance, and so the desired effects may not be realised.

This is obviously a contentious topic, and seems very much linked to the amount of Folic Acid ingested. On another note, increasing Folic Acid levels may mask Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause irreversible peripheral neuropathy if it goes on too long.

The solution - eat plenty of folate rich foods (fruits and vegetables), and minimise the amount of Folic Acid fortified foods (commercial breads, cereals and grains).

Special Note: If you are trying to conceive, speak to a qualified Naturopath about a potentially better form of folate supplementation - Folinic acid, that is naturally found in folate foods, mixed with other B vitamins as an option to reduce Neural Tube Defect potential. Folinic acid may also be better for those with methylation issues.

So what bread can I eat?

It is important that fibre be included in yoir diet, and bread can form part of that intake. Choosing organic, gluten free, preservative free breads, using sprouted grains, or sourdough starters, may all be options depending on your personal circumstances should the topics covered in the blog concern you.

Sourdough bread can be an option for those not having Coeliac Disease or a Wheat Allergy. If the ingredients say anything other than the grain used, water, sourdough culture and salt, then the bread may not be so desirable to eat. Gluten free sourdough breads are also available.

In moderation, bread can be enjoyed by many people, sometimes with the necessity to work around issues discussed above. Reducing the amount of bread consumed may reduce the effects people experience, wherever those effects are coming from. Pairing bread with healthy fats, proteins and additional fibre will help. Moderation is the key once again - the Goldilocks effect!

If you would like to discuss your personal circumstances, get testing for any issues with eating bread, then please don't hesitate to book an appointment with me.

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