All cheer, bread is actually good for us...or maybe not

Friday 21st September 2012

  • Share in a guilty bread based secret
  • Are you in possession of all the facts in the great bread debate?
  • Truth in a new report, or just a very stinky rat?

For the last few years I have been suffering from a massive guilt complex.  You see I love a good sandwich or the sheer delight of bread and honey, or even a boiled egg with hot buttered toast soldiers.

A couple of slabs of wholesome bread with a slice of cold beef and homemade horseradish sauce in between is my idea of heaven.

The problem is that I was under the impression that there was no good bread to have, just that which was less bad.

Everything that I read suggested that my appetite for bread products was deeply unhealthy.

Even if I avoided the highly processed, doughy white gloop and opted for a loaf full of nuts, wheat and country goodness then I wasn’t making a healthy food choice.
It has been enough to have me waiting for darkness and drawn curtains before I dare open the bread bin, and only firing the bread maker up when the kids are asleep!

Now though, I learn from the Daily Mail that a bunch of health scientists are of the opinion that most of the health alerts about consuming bread are myths.

These fine fellows from the British Nutrition Foundation also say that the scare-mongering about bread could also be having significant impact upon the state of the nation's health, as bread contains vital minerals and vitamins.

Perhaps the biggest revelation they publicised this week was that there was no evidence that wheat allergies are on the increase, but many people are now incorrectly convinced they suffer from wheat intolerance or an allergy to gluten (the protein found in wheat).

Indeed this is supported by recent research. A survey by the University of Portsmouth in 2010 found that one in five British adults believes they are allergic to a food, with most blaming wheat.

An interesting set of findings, but I smell a rat. Let me explain why.

The big bread debate

Firstly, I looked at the economic impact of the declining amount of bread eaten and saw that since the mid 1970’s consumption in the UK has fallen by over 30%.

So, someone is losing money.

The next thing I was keen to understand was who the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) are, and how they are funded.

I must admit that the title sounds like they are some sort of powerhouse of nutritional research, and indeed I discovered that they provide a range of information to schools, employers and government.

But when I looked into the member companies who fund this charitable foundation, I was confronted with a real who’s who of British food giants.

Asda, Morrisons, British Sugar, Heinz and Marks & Sparks are all there, and you won’t be surprised to know that also among the great and good were some of the biggest millers (General Mills & Cargills), the largest commercial bakers (Greggs & United Biscuits) and the big boys of breadmaking (Warburtons).

The rat wasn’t just smelling … it was beginning to stink.

Now I wanted to find out more about how this organisation was set up and operated.

I found a quote from its previous big cheese, a chap called Derek Shrimpton, who was quoted as saying, “In the period I was there the foundation was solely taken up with defence actions for the industry."

He said that the foundation had been constantly engaged in frustrating government committees aiming to recommend reductions in sugars, salt and fats.

On the current board of trustees (and its previous chairman) is Paul Hebblethwaite who is also chairman of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Trade Association. Many other members of the organisation’s board of trustees and oversight committees are or have been employees of the food industry.

Rattus Putridicus methinks! (Please allow my completely made up Latin grammar there.)

My dreams of bread salvation cruelly dashed

I was devastated - as much as I wanted to believe that all bread was good and wholesome and that it had been served an injustice by TV chefs and health gurus, I knew that the real truth was unchanged.

Bread, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

The product of whole grains, natural yeasts and a little seasoning is a great source of nutrients and minerals, but it needs to be fresh and as natural as possible.

The output of large scale industrial processes rarely gives us anything that is either fresh or naturally produced, and as a result the vital vitamins, minerals and nutrients that the BNF wanted us to believe were in there, have long since flown the coop.

I also doubt their assertion about the development of food allergies, or at least intolerances – which are a different thing.

An allergy is where the body’s immune system is triggered by a food stimulus, whereas an intolerance manifests when we are sensitive to a foodstuff, but don’t actually produce antibodies against it.

I know of an increasing number of people who report bloating, abdominal pain and nausea as a result of eating white bread – and this can only be evidence of a developing intolerance to this food.

I realise such statistics are anecdotal and need to be justified, and indeed they are in recent research from Holland1 which shows that 1% of the population have diagnosed coeliac disease (although this represents only 20% of those with the disease as so many GP’s misdiagnose the problem) and between 5 and 10% of the population of Western Europe have gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

The important fact is that these rates are steadily rising, especially in women.

Of course those factions of the food industry with a vested interest won’t accept such information though.

A media briefing produced by the Flour Advisory Council said that, apart from diagnosed coeliacs (those who have an allergy to a wheat protein called gluten), there is a lot of misdiagnosis of wheat intolerance.

They say,

“Studies have shown that 20% of adults and 28% of parents suspect that they, or their children, suffer from an adverse reaction to food but when actually tested using double blind placebo controlled studies (the gold standard of testing) (DBPCS) only 1.5% of adults were found to suffer from any reaction to the suspect food and only 0.1% reacted adversely to wheat.”

And to counter the increase in reported symptoms associated with white bread consumption, they go on to report that,

“A survey by the Grain Information Service (2005) revealed that the main causes of bloating were monthly female hormone fluctuations (32%), over-eating/irregular meal patterns (28%) and stress related indigestion (27%), rather than an adverse reaction to foods.”

So there we have it, the Flour Advisory Council, the Grain Information Service and the British Nutrition Foundation all reckon that white bread is good for us, won’t cause any health issues and is wrongly maligned by independent nutritionists and food experts.

Anyone going to listen to them?


Yours, as always


1Gilissen et al. (2011); Food-related strategies towards reduction of gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity. Proceedings of the 25th Meeting of the working group on Prolamin analysis and toxicity. German Research Centre for Food Chemistry, Freising








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