/ Food & Drink

Is bread a cornerstone of your diet?

Traditional bread making has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years, with a wave of TV shows and festivals promoting real bread and home baking. Is bread a key part of your diet?

This Friday sees the launch of the first ever Real Bread Festival in London. It’s the latest festival to embrace Britain’s renewed love of baking. The Cake & Bake festival took place a couple of weekends ago, while TV programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Britain’s Best Bakery continue to draw in viewers.

But while home baking is enjoying a boom, and a whole new generation of artisan bakers is promoting real bread, there’s an obvious ambivalence towards bread in our culture. Most consumption is still of the supermarket, quick-fermented variety, while lots of us now avoid bread altogether on health grounds. Have we lost confidence in the role of bread our diets?

Give us this day our daily bread?

While bread has gone through a multitude of fads and phases over the millennia we’ve been eating it, it’s invariably been seen as an essential part of a nutritious diet. Phrases such as ‘breadwinner’ and someone’s ‘bread and butter’ show how integral it’s been to our culture.

But since working as a researcher at Which? and talking to lots of people about bread making, I’ve been struck by the number of us who no longer subscribe to the belief that bread is a daily essential, and who now question its nutritional benefits.

My mother has celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten – and her necessary avoidance of bread was considered extreme when I was growing up.

Now, I’ve lost count of the number of friends who have decided to give up wheat, yeast or gluten for one reason or another. ‘I’ve got a breadmaker but it just sits in the kitchen cupboard now that I’ve given up bread,’ a friend told me the other day. It’s a common (admittedly largely middle-class) tale that often sees all bread tarnished with the ‘evil foodstuff’ brush.

The stuff of life

Yet, one aim of the Real Bread Festival is to get us to differentiate between real bread and, as Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign referred to in his guest Convo, ‘the other stuff’.

That is, the industrial ‘plastic loaves’ full of salt, excess yeast, artificial additives and (sometimes undeclared) enzymes, which have accounted for most of our bread consumption since the 1960s. It’s these factory and supermarket loaves, it seems, that are responsible for bread’s reputation among many as inherently indigestible.

In contrast to this, the expert bakers who’ll be appearing at the Real Bread Festival all emphasise the health benefits of a proper daily loaf, and our right to access them. Food writer Rachel de Thample says:

‘A nice loaf of bread from a bakery may cost a little more, but you’re actually buying something that’s good for you, as opposed to something that could wreck your digestive system.’

Will real bread rise again?

Do you still see bread as an important part of your diet? Would you like to see new regulations to make it easier to distinguish real bread from industrial loaves?

And if you’ve given up bread for health reasons, are you willing to try eating ‘real bread’ again to see if you find it more digestible?

If you’re a Which? member who makes your own real bread at home, join us for our online bread-making live Q&A with expert baker Patrick Moore tomorrow from 12pm to 2pm. You’ll be in with a chance of winning a Best Buy breadmaker if you sign up.

Gerard Phelan says:
4 October 2012

Until I retired I ate a slice or two of bread in the evening as a tea/supper meal, my main meal being lunch in the works canteen. Now I am retired, I cook every day that I am at home, so there does not seem to need to continue eating a second meal based on bread. Having written that I made a wholemeal loaf today in my bread machine, but immediately worry that it will go mouldy before I find the opportunities to eat it.

I find it very odd that the British are so keen to regulate life, by passing laws, in this case on bread labelling, which just inspires an sub-industry of advisers on how to circumvent the rules. Our neighbours over the Channel solve the same problem by educating themselves and their children into recognising and demanding quality food.

I’m afraid I settle for nothing less than Waitrose’
most expensive wholemeal, making oneself had
done so (long) years ago but not anymore.

An alternative is good French bread.

I’m afraid following what I’d said earlier, most supermarkets almost w/out exception stock very poor breads as lacking in taste, roughage, fibre ecetera which taken to any (significant) extent causes constipation apart from anything else. These include Waitrose’ budget range.

There is no need to be concerned abt breads going
mouldy as they freeze rather well.

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 October 2012

When I go abroad it’s easy to get good bread. Back here I have to hunt for it. I think it summed it all up one day when I got long life, bake-it-yourself rolls at breakfast in a B&B in the Highlands. I’ll never forget it.

par ailleurs says:
4 October 2012

If you’ve the time make it yourself. You know what’s in it then.Otherwise buy the best you can afford, preferably from a baker. ‘Real’ bread lasts quite a while without going mouldy and makes truly delicious toast when not quite so fresh. Our tastes have changed over the years and we seem to worry about stronger, more robust textures and flavours.
Obviously coeliac sufferers must avoid gluten but the rest of us might be surprised at the differences between good bread and that baked by the Chorleywood process. The real thing hardly affects me but the C’wood stuff makes me bloat up and feel uncomfortable, even when labelled as wholemeal. Hence I no longer eat it. With this approach bread can be a nutritious daily treat in all its varied forms.

Price does seem to be a good measure of quality.

I don’t believe that there is any reason to condemn the Chorleywood process. Yes it is mainly used for bland mass market bread, but it can equally be used for specialist breads. The essential feature is that it requires a very powerful mixer, allowing bread to be made more quickly.

I enjoy fresh wholemeal bread with lots of chewy bits in it, though ordinary wholemeal bread is acceptable for sandwiches. I enjoy eating good fresh bread on its own, without butter or any of the ghastly grease spreads on it. I don’t eat bread every day, because I run out and can’t be bothered to go shopping or to bake it.

I would not feed white bread of any type to ducks.

par ailleurs says:
4 October 2012

Don’t agree with you on Chorleywood bread wavechange. There might be variations of it but certainly in one type it is actually injected with extra liquid gluten.
Whether or not this is detrimental to well-being is debatable but it certainly seemed to affect me in larger doses hence I no longer eat it if possible.
The definite thing about C’wood that makes it unacceptable to me is that it is purely a means of producing large amounts of uniformly shaped ‘bread’ at high speed without the need for long proving etc. A couple of slices of home made or good baker’s bread is very satisfying but I could eat half a loaf of the other stuff in sandwiches and just feel bloated but not satisfied.

Mass production of uniformly shaped bread predates the Chorleywood process. Since bread is not labelled with how it is produced, neither of us know how it is produced. The sort of bread we prefer is unlikely to come with a list of ingredients. Unevenly shaped loaves and organic breads can come out of big factories too.

I’m not disputing that you might have problems with certain types of bread but without knowing all the facts it is not fair to damn the process.

The Q&A is live now by the way if you’d like to join in or get your question answered (if you’re a Which? member) http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/kitchen/reviews-ns/breadmakers-live-qanda-2012—which-member-exclusive/breadmakers-live-qanda/

It is high time that all bread is sold with a list of ingredients and nutritional information. The nutritional information might have to be approximate for a small bakery but they can certainly list what they put in their products.

The same should apply to all products that do not currently list ingredients.

I make virtually all my own bread – it is easy with a bread machine – my recipe is personal with reduced salt etc. I also have an electrical food slicer which slices the bread beautifully. Frankly I wouldn’t bother to read a list of ingredients – I’m not interested unless processed bread was an enormous portion of my diet which it isn’t.

That said I do enjoy Warburtons wholemeal bread for taste and texture as a rare change. My dogs prefer my fresh warm bread to any other – so I must be doing something right.

Made my own bread -by hand – since I was a boy. Fresh from the oven, the first steaming slice with butter is one of life’s little treats and to hades with the indigestion!!.

Nigel says:
9 November 2012

My older daughter is Coeliac and therefore can not have most grains in any shape fashion or form. At 5’11” I was 17st 2lbs in early March. I looked around for a food regime that I could stick with for life.

I read a lot, and found that a large percentage of the population have a wheat/gluten/grain intolerance. The reason for this is that our DNA has not really changed since we started agriculture some 11,000 years ago and we are not meant to eat grains. We should be trying to replicate what our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed, which is fish & sea food, meat, eggs, plants and fruit & nuts in season. No grains, no milk (It’s only humans who drink the milk of other animals unless we pour it out for cats), no beer (unfortunately) and no sugar laden jams or fizzy pop.

I stick to this most of the time and have lost approaching 4 stone to date. Bread, pasta and pizza etc taste lovely but they are why we are so fat and unhealthy. I have also been able to stop taking the two blood pressure medications I was on.

I stopped eating Bread quite a while ago i substituted Rice instead of bread i feel healthier now the price made me think and i am very glad i did.I still buy an occasional Pizza but its very rare i do again they are overpriced for what you are buying.