There is no question that wheat is one of the most controversial topics in nutrition at the moment, and as a result many people are finding it difficult to decide what loaf to buy or whether to buy one at all.
Popular questions are "Is bread bad for me?" "Will I gain weight if I eat bread?" "Does it make a difference if I eat whole wheat or white bread?"
Jenna (co-writer of this article and dietetic intern) was pondering those same questions a few years ago when Dr. William Davis' Wheat Belly came out. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, Davis argues that eliminating wheat from your diet is essential for long-term weight loss and management, and can prevent the onset of an array of digestive health problems and chronic diseases.
In his book, Dr. Davis writes, "Modern grains are silently destroying your brain." That's right, a credible doctor told the public that wheat is killing us. So, what happened next?
The wheat-free market skyrocketed and wheat-free products became available all over town. Like so many others, Jenna decided to follow the trend and eliminate all forms of wheat from her diet: white, whole, multigrain, sprouted and stone-ground. A few months after parting ways with wheat, she realized that she didn't feel any different than her wheat-eating self. Jenna began questioning the validity of Davis' arguments and wondered how such a huge staple of our diets became suddenly so bad for us.
Recently, Jenna read Stephen Yafa's book, The Grain of Truth, and the controversy around wheat started to make sense. Yafa argues that Davis' Wheat Belly misinformed the public about wheat: it is not the grain itself that is bad for us, but rather how the grain is processed.
The wheat kernel has three components: the bran is the outer layer of the wheat kernel that is high in nutrients and fibre. The germ is the embryo of the kernel, and where many nutrients such as our B-vitamins are located. The third and largest component of the wheat kernel is the endosperm, which is made up of mostly starch. When bread is milled, the highly nutritious bran and germ are removed from the kernel and often used for animal feed. The remaining endosperm that contains the least amount of nutrition is what is used to make the loaves of white bread on our grocery shelves.
Since the endosperm does not contain any of the fibre or nutrients, the bread will break down rapidly in your body and lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar. For many of us, eating white bread in moderation would not lead to digestive issues. However, individuals who consume white bread in large quantities could be at risk for developing obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Good news is, there are tons of healthier alternatives to white bread on the market. A loaf of 100 per cent whole wheat bread or whole grain, for example, contain all three components of the wheat kernel: bran, germ and endosperm. Therefore, these breads contain fibre and nutrients which slow down the rate at which it digests in our bodies, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar.
In The Grain of Truth, Yafa discusses the benefits of long sourdough fermentation. When you allow the bread to ferment, the bacterial cultures break down the gluten molecules in the bread further so that you only need to do a little bit of the work when you digest it. This can be a relief for those individuals sensitive to gluten, because it can reduce the likelihood of getting an upset stomach or feeling bloated after consuming bread. These good bacteria also help nourish the bacteria in our guts... another benefit to choosing breads that have been fermented.
All of this leads to my final point about bread: not every bread is bad for us, we just need to be more careful about what breads we buy.
Here are some tips to choosing a healthy loaf of bread:
1. Look for words such as "sprouted" and "fermented."
Sprouting increases the grain's nutrients such as the B-vitamins, vitamin C and fibre. Some say that sprouting allows the grain to become less allergenic for those who are sensitive to gluten. Fermented grains, as Jenna mentioned, contain bacterial cultures that help break down that tough gluten molecule so that it can be digested easier in our bodies. If you are curious about fermentation and baking bread, I recommend that you read Michael Pollan's Cooked, a great resource for any wannabe breadmaker.
2. Choose unrefined, 100 per cent whole wheat or whole grain bread.
These breads contain all components of the wheat kernel, and therefore offer an array of fibre and nutrients.
3. Read the list of ingredients on the bread package.
The best types contain only a few ingredients such as flour, water, starter culture (such as lactobacillus and yeast) and salt. Try to avoid breads that contain ingredients such as potassium bromate, partially-hydrogenated oils and added sugar.
4. Choose bread that are rich in fibre.
Fibre has countless benefits for your health, including preventing the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Fibre allows the bread to break down more slowly in your body and leads to a more gradual rise in blood sugar. If you are wondering whether a bread is high in fibre or not, you can refer to the % Daily Value (DV) located on the right hand side of the nutrition facts table. If it is higher than 10 per cent, the bread is a good source of fibre.
A few of Jenna's favourite loaves are Ezekiel's Sprouted Flax Bread and Country Harvest's Sprouted Multigrain. She also loves visiting her local bakeshops for their fresh daily sourdough bread.
Co-written with Jenna West, Dietetic Intern
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