Is all bread really that bad for us?
The question of whether someone should eat bread often surfaces when discussing carbohydrates in a diet. Humans have been consuming bread for over 6,000 years and have had an affinity for the stuff ever since the first person got the idea to mix ground up wheat flour with water and bake the doughy byproduct. The smell alone instantly reminds us of home even though most of our parents probably didn’t bake it. To paraphrase Michael Pollan from his book “Cooked” real estate agents often recommend baking a loaf before showing your house to fill the air with the nostalgic smell of fresh baked bread.
Unless you are fortunate enough to live near an authentic baker chances are the bread you’re eating today is a far cry from what humans were surviving, thriving and even writing poetry about up until the last century. The reason is quite simply; baking bread is hard, at least the traditional sourdough way. It’s way more of a craft than it is a simple process of measuring the exact ingredients together in a bowl. Real bread and the cultures that make it delicious are a living breathing thing that need coaxing into fruition. Because of this, baking bread at home became less and less realistic as americans began to work more and more and as with any commercialized convenience, big corporation jumped at the chance to pick up the slack and do the work for us. This is where it all went to shit. See, plain sourdough or any bread for that matter only requires a few ingredients, but its the chemistry of these ingredients that make it something to celebrate. You cant live off of flour but you can live off of bread.
In the beginning all bread was sourdough and was made by letting unbleached flour and water collect bacteria by sitting out in a bowl under a cloth. Eventually the mixture would collect the appropriate air born microbes required to create the wild yeast cultures. A fermentation process then begins and the various bacteria in the culture raise the acidity levels creating that distinctive tangy taste in baked sourdough as well as improve its resistance to mold and staling. True sourdough is much more nutritious than what most of us consider to be bread today. The unbleached flour and slight fermentation slows down the absorption rate into the blood stream there by giving it a lower glycemic index than the sliced loaves we’re a custom to now a days. This helps keep our insulin levels down by not raising our blood sugar levels so rapidly. The problem with the Wonder Bread brands of today is the use of bleached flour, commercial single strain yeast and added sugar for improved flavor. Wild yeast takes time and is hard to create at mass scale. Commercial yeast on the other hand is much more predictable and can easily be replicated to produces huge quantities in a short period of time in order to satisfy the demands of a carb addicted culture. Unfortunately, the big corporate advertising dollars worked and the majority of americans now picture perfectly cut bleach white slices in a plastic bag when the think of bread. It may satisfy our carb fix but does more harm than good by leaving us calorically rich but nutritionally poor.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
Researchers are linking the alarming consumption of processed flour with the rise of gluten intolerance and celiacs disease. My feeling is that bread, in and of its self, made from the best ingredients the old fashioned way absolutely falls into the “sensible indulgence” category. However, the commercialization of it has rendered the stuff harmful to our health and a major reason we are experiencing metabolic epidemics in the developed word. Although we all love it, I would recommend taking a very close look at the source before purchasing any kind.
In his book “Grain Brain” neurologist David Perlmutter, MD rattles our conventional beliefs about the consumption of carbohydrates in general and grains in particular. He reveals clinical evidence linking the over consumption of grains and sugars to dementia, ADHD, chronic headaches, depression and scientifically proves how our mind and body thrive from cholesterol to the contrary. He argues that by simply removing grains from our diet we can undue the majority of the health problems the modern world faces. By eating a diet rich in fats and cholesterol we actually active our “smart genes” and spur the growth of new brain cells at any age. A feat the was widely considered impossible for adults to do until the early 2000s.
I guess what this really boils down to is the understanding of carbohydrate’s effect on the mind and body. Carbs are a tool. What I mean by that is if you are an athlete recovering from an intense training session then sports science points to around 30 grams of carbs as the optimal amount to replenish your glycogen levels post workout especially if you intend to train again that day. For athletes, 200-300 grams of carbohydrates a day from high quality sources like quinoa, yams and sprouted rices are perfectly legit to maintain high levels of performance. However, If you are spending the majority of your day sedentary and /or trying to loose body fat than triple digit daily carb intake will have an extremely different effect on you than the athlete. Inflammation and high triglyceride levels are much more of a threat for this person because their body is in a constant state of “storage mode”.
High carbohydrate consumption combined with extremely low activity levels is a recipe for type II diabetes. A completely unnecessary disease that is the result of the insulin receptors on our muscle dying off causing insulin resistance because there’s no more room in the muscles for all the carbs we’re eating. Since insulin is a storage hormone and needs to put those calories somewhere body fat accumulation is the only other option. Excess glucose in the blood and higher body fat levels begins to cause inflammation int he arteries; a huge biomarker for heart disease. The pancreas can’t keep us with all the insulin demands and eventually burns out. At this point you are now injecting insulin with a syringe and have officially graduated to type II diabetes. A completely preventable epidemic.
How do we know how many carbs to eat then? Let movement dictate consumption. If you think of movement in a continuum with “extremely active” on one end and “coach potato” on the other, dial your daily carb intake to fuel your lifestyle. My opinion is always err on the side of low carb especially if you’re struggling to lose weight or keep it off. Adjusting slightly higher if needed, but never from sugar or refined carbohydrates.