Healthy bread and the great carb debate

The Good Life Letter 
26th September 2010

  • Find out what the Romans ever did for us
  • Don't miss out on the perfect bread recipe 
  • Discover healthy bread and stop denying yourself and your body

"What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Some of you should now be reciting..."Aqueducts,
sanitation, the roads... and peace", others may be
completely mystified.

Don't worry it's not some secret Masonic ritual, but part of
the script from a Monty Python film.

Avoiding the opportunity to ramble on further about the
brilliance of the Monty Python team, I need to tell you
about Roman food.

From a dietary perspective it is fair to say they made
bread a staple part of our diets. You see Roman food
wasn't all about huge feasts of dormice and suckling pigs,
at least not for the common folk.

Ancient Roman ingredients and dishes bore little
resemblance to modern Italian cuisine. Some, however,
could have formed the basis of some Italian favourites.

* Ancient Pesto. Columella, in his writings,  describes
a sauce made from ground pine nuts, hazelnuts or
almonds, mixed with oil, peppered vinegar and
cheese, with thyme or oregano.

* Laganon was the ancient version of pasta, made
from wheat flour mixed to dough with water.
Unlike modern pasta, it was fried and not boiled
and used to scoop up the vegetable sauce usually
served with it.

Most of the time, the average Roman peasant could look
forward to a plate of spelt bread and porridge after a hard
days toil. As meat and fish were rarely available, most
meals were based around cereals and vegetables and

So, when it comes to our daily bread it seems that the
Romans were responsible for popularising its usage across
Europe as their empire spread.

Now we are awash with various bread based offerings;
bagels, muffins, crumpets and croissants abound in every

Finding healthy bread is all about using your loaf...

And don't get me started on the choice of loaves. When I
walk into a bakery now, I start to get a headache.

In the good old days, like when punk rock was at its
height in the early 1970's, there was a choice of white or
brown. Now it's a choice of 25 different white breads and
a never ending list of brown & wholemeal ones. Do we
really need this choice?

It would seem so.

In my student days we delighted in combinations of
Mighty White and baked beans to get us through.
Nowadays, the university snack bar is filled with Panini,
bagels and whole seed baps.

At home we tend to bake most of our own bread, thanks
to the modern invention of a breadmaker - which takes all
of the art and skill of the baker out of the equation.

I do still enjoy making bread the old fashioned way
though, mostly because it gives me chance to experiment.
My current favourite is a honey oat bread recipe that I
picked up from a friend, which goes as follows;

* Mix 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, 1 cup strong
white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 teaspoons
of baking powder and a half of baking soda, a half
cup of plain natural yoghurt, a small pinch of salt,
an egg, 2 tablespoons of canola (or rapeseed) oil,
¾ cup of milk and 4 tablespoons of Manuka honey.
Make into a dough and place in a warm spot to rise

* Bake in the top of an oven preheated to 375F
(190C, Gas Mark 5) for about 40 minutes. Use a
skewer to check that the middle is cooked.

* Eat warm for a truly delightful experience.

Top tips for choosing your healthy bread

Of course it's not always possible to make bread every
time it is needed so the occasional trip to the supermarket
is necessary. This is when you need your wits about you.

Beware the health pitfalls when buying bread!  I have a
very simple method of choosing the right one - look for
whole grain to be listed first on the ingredients list.

It may well be that your bread contains all sorts of nuts,
wheat and country goodness, however, unless the bakery
specifically says they are using whole seeds, and list them
first on the label, chances are that all you have is the
sweepings from the mill floor.

Keep in mind that for wheat, oats, corn, rye and barley,
unless the word "whole" precedes the grain name, you
can't be sure that the entire grain is intact.

Also, avoid any bread that has added sugar and all its
processed aliases: corn sweetener or syrup, high-fructose
corn syrup, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, syrup and
sugar molecules ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose,
glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

Lastly, look out for added oils - especially those high in
omega-6. Yes, it does happen.  Corn oil, sunflower oil and
soybean oil get added to commercial bread doughs to
keep them moist. The problem is that this disrupts our
health because they compete with the omega-3 oils we
need for our hearts and brains. (see my recent letter here
on the subject):

Manufacturers can be pretty sneaky when it comes to
labelling so be sure to check any bread out carefully.

Once you have the perfect bread, you can then make the
best sandwich - and I can do no better than to leave you
with a quote from Marge Simpson...

"I brought you a tuna sandwich. They say it's brain food. I
guess because there's so much dolphin in it, and you
know how smart they are."







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