Our Love for Bread
”Acorns were good until bread was found,”
said the British statesman Francis Bacon.
People truly love bread. Yet it is not part of our original diet. Wheat was a wild plant in the Middle East. At times people might gather enough to bake bread from it, but it was not a constant feature.
About 10,000 years ago, the continental ice sheet retreated, which changed the climate and the conditions for hunting. Many historians think that people probably preferred hunting and fishing but were forced into more systematic agriculture when hunting failed.1 Ever since then bread has been a staple of our menu.
Is Bread Healthy?
The health effects of bread have been intensely debated in recent years. Proponents of a Stone Age ("paleo”) diet, for example, maintain that we should reduce the intake of grain, because it can increase the quantity of foreign proteins and lead to inflammation.2
But bread seems to have come to stay. In Sweden, for example, each person eats an average of 55 kg of bread and 3.5 kg of hard tack per year.3
With this impressive consumption it is naturally important to consider what type of bread we eat, not least in order to prevent and handle lifestyle diseases.
The Quantity of Sugar Varies Considerably
The quantity of sugar in different types of bread normally varies between 2 and 12 grams per 100 grams.3 Sugar, syrup or honey are often added to start fermentation. In unsweetened bread, this sugar is used during fermentation, while an excess of sugar has been added to sweetened breads.
Unsweetened bread does however always contain sugar from the flour - flour is a carbohydrate! For that reason, even unsweetened bread at too high amounts can lead to weight gain. Bread contains only a little water, which means that we can eat large quantities without getting full. The body simply does not keep track of the number of slices of bread – we have to count them ourselves.4
Sourdough Produces Slower Carbohydrate Uptake
Before baking yeast became common, sourdough was used to get volume, especially in rye bread. In recent years sourdough has become very popular. Sourdough increases the uptake of minerals such as iron and zinc.3 The quantity of lactic acid and acetic acid in sourdough gives the types of bread a different character. Acetic acid provides a more pungent flavor than lactic acid.3
Try to Replace Wheat
It is beneficial to replace wheat with other kinds of grain. Oats, corn and rye contain soluble dietary fiber that form a gel in the bowel, which means that various types of sugar are absorbed more slowly. This results in less strain on the blood vessels and on the insulin-producing cells.5
By binding bile salts, dietary fiber also lowers bad cholesterol. Dietary fiber has been shown to protect against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.5
A slice of white bread, for example, has 0.5 g dietary fiber, while a slice of whole-grain bread has 3 g. It is suitable to eat 25-35 g of dietary fiber per day, but not all of it should come from bread. There is also dietary fiber in vegetables, root vegetables and legumes.
Besides a lot of dietary fiber, whole grain bread also contains vitamins B and E as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, manganese and selenium. Whole-grain bread also binds larger quantities of water and results in longer satiation.
Good Sandwich Fixings
Naturally it also matters what we put on the bread. Fish toppings are a good source of unsaturated fat such as omega-3. Avocado, hummus, radishes, sprouts, beans or fruit are other examples of toppings that give good fats, vitamins or proteins.
On the other hand honey, marmalade and jam produce a strong rise in blood sugar.5 Cheese and sausage contain a lot of fat and thereby many calories. Two slices of 28% cheese provide as much fat as 12 slices of ham or three cans of tuna fish. Two slices of salami have as much fat as 74 slices of corned beef.6
There are currently over 400 different kinds of bread. Please look at the packaging for sugar and fiber content or ask at the bakery and store to navigate more easily in this jungle. If you eat a lot of bread every day, then bread can have a major impact on health.
For that reason, it may be worth experimenting a little and not just sticking to the same old variety.
How can you improve your daily bread habits?
1. Skovmand S. [In Swedish: Bonniers världshistoria]
2. Lindeberg S. [In Swedish: Maten och folksjukdomarna]
4. You are what you eat; http://www.erlanson-albertsson.se/
5. Statens Beredning för medicinsk Utvärdering, [In Swedish: Mat vid Diabetes, bakgrundsmaterial]
6. Region Skåne. [In Swedish: Bra mat - smörgåsar.]