Is Whole Wheat Bread Healthy? (Part 2)


shutterstock_wheat breadIn “Is Whole Wheat Bread Healthy?” (Part 1 of the series), I tackled a few reasons why this universal breakfast probably isn’t the best option. It is unimaginable for some us not to have whole wheat bread in our diets, because of mainstream messages to say that they are a great source of fibre, B-vitamins etc. Horror of horrors, I even had a friend diagnosed with pre-diabetes who was advised to eat more whole wheat bread (as opposed to rice).

If you have read Part 1 of this series, you would know by now that whole wheat bread is basically sugar in terms of how it is metabolised by our system. (The same applies to whole-wheat based cereals and snacks, but that is an article for another day).

Today I will add a few more reasons why we should revisit this popular breakfast / lunch option, if only to add more variety to our diets and lessen the negative longer term effects of a wheat-bread-based lifestyle. Continuing on from Part 1 of this series….

4. Whole wheat bread contains gluten, and in quite significant amounts. Why exactly is this harmful?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats (though oats are far lower in gluten than other grains and can be made to be gluten-free). Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems. Unfortunately, modern wheat has been modified to increase the gluten profile as this is what makes dough stretchy and gives bread its soft mouth feel.

A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused or exacerbated  by eating gluten including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological issues, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.

Again – – so many of us are sensitive to gluten without knowing it. I have worked with clients who have had ongoing aches, pains and fatigue for years, and only felt better after they had eliminated gluten from their diets. Most of them were used to having wheat-based cereals and bread for breakfast, wheat bread sandwiches or wheat-based wraps for lunch, and wheat-based pasta for dinner. The only way you can really tell if you have gluten sensitivity is by eliminating it completely from your diet, and reintroducing it in a structured way, being very conscious of any symptoms that you may have.

Note that I have not even covered coeliac disease, which is an auto-immune disease associated with gluten. (It is a permanent intolerance to the gliadin part of gluten.)

5. Phytic Acids: Unfortunately, due to the way that modern wheat is grown, modern wheat flour is made, and modern bread is baked, normal wheat bread is very high in phytic acid. Phytic Acid, a mineral blocker that prevents absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. This phytic acid is found in the bran of all grains as well as the outer coating of seeds and nuts.

In the past, traditional preparation of grains meant that grains were soaked and sprouted, resulting in a reduction in the physic acid profile. Nowadays, unless you go for a traditionally baked sourdough bread which has gone through the necessary fermentation and leavening process, chances are you are consuming lots of physic acid. Note that this issue is not just connected to wheat, but wheat is unfortunately a very widely consumed grain and is ever-present not just in bread and pasta, but even in wheat-based sugars and sweeteners (such as wheat maltodextrin!).

There is definitely benefit to traditional grain preparation (soaking and sprouting) for all types of grains, not just wheat, and this is something I am very conscious of when I purchase bread or cook rice. (I soak rice for at least 8 hours in some water, sea salt and apple cider vinegar to reduce the physic acid profile).

I could go on with more reasons why wheat bread (and wheat-based products, if you have been reading carefully) are not the healthiest choices. So WHAT can you eat then if you are craving bread? Let’s talk about a few options:

1) Sprouted Grain Breads (such as Ezekiel bread) – These are breads that have been prepared using grains that have been allowed to sprout / germinate. They usually have a heavier texture than “normal” wheat bread and may crumble easily, so they are better for open-faced sandwiches. Sprouting increases nutrient availability and reduces the gluten content of the bread. They can also create a slightly lower insulin response due to the amount of fibre, and the use of different ancient grains such as Khorasan and Spelt, which by themselves can also have lower gluten content even before sprouting.

2) Gluten Free Bread – This addresses the gluten component of the issue. However, the problem with many gluten free breads is that effectively, they are also just made of a white flour (such as potato flour / rice flour / tapioca flour) hence on their own they can create the same type of rapid blood sugar increase as wheat bread. Many gluten free breads also have multiple additives that to provide “stickiness” and create a more wheat-like mouth feel, as well as sweeteners and preservatives, or use soy flour as a filler. Avoid these at all cost! They are not healthier alternatives! One example of a healthier gluten free alternative is Britt’s Organic Gluten Free Breads.

Today I bought their Turkish Loaf (with Olives and Italian Herbs) which only had the following ingredients:
White rice flour, rice sourdough, potato flour, brown rice flour, arrowroot, organic sunflower oil, kalamata olives, yeast, mixed Italian herb, unrefined sea salt, rice malt.

It still is made of a variety of flours that could cause a blood sugar spike, but it includes a fermented sourdough component and it only contains natural ingredients.

3) Opt for Grain Free Bread (or more Paleo-type bread options): These are made of coconut four, almond flour, seeds, buckwheat flour and other non-grain ingredients. It is hard to find these in stores, although there are a few cafes now (such as Paleo Cafe and Primal Pantry in Brisbane) which offer these as options. More often than not though, the reality is you will have to make your own. One of my favourite breakfasts is coconut flour pancakes with fresh fruit on top and eggs on the side. I have also made coconut flour-based bread in the past (recipe coming up soon). Try my recipes: Coconut Paleo Bread and Almond Coconut Bread Loaf.

I have provided a few options here but ultimately, the best option to move forward is to broaden your taste horizons and explore other types of breakfast such as smoothies, chia puddings, bacon and eggs with fruit, omelettes with coconut pancakes. The same goes for lunch and dinner (all of the recipes on this site are wheat-free).

I hope that this has been a useful post to you, and that you can start exploring some non-wheat options from now, with an eye on healthier alternatives as well.


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