Bread Represents Healthy Global Staple

by Alex Cheser
Columnist

Many staple foods that make up the human diet find themselves associated with particular global cultures. The Irish are known for their potatoes, rice is often associated with Asian cultures and Scandinavia is known for its affinity for fish. (The first four recipes in my Norwegian cookbook do involve herring.) However, virtually all cultures since the beginning of recorded history rely on some sort of bread as an integral part of their diet.

Strangely, the health-obsessed in this country have come to demonize bread. Ignoring this foundation to culinary existence is almost, dare I say, rude. You simply have to be conscious of what of you eat which, let’s be honest, should be the rule for everything you eat.

Large-scale wheat production began in cradles of civilization like Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to http://breadinfo.com, it was simply chewed at first. Thankfully, it didn’t take people long to realize wheat could be ground to a powder and combined with water to make a paste that could be placed over fire and baked.

Yeast? Well, that was just a microbial accident, but a good one. Egyptians finally isolated yeast around 1,000 B.C. and bakers were in business. Bread spread across the globe and each culture took its own unique twist on it, from India’s naan to the rye breads of the Germanic tradition.

Nowadays, bread sales bring in over $17 billion a year in the U.S. According to “The Great Food Almanac,” the average American student will have eaten 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating from high school.

America is finally in the post-Atkins diet phase, but there’s still this whole “carbs are bad” talk going around. An excess of carbohydrates, especially refined ones, isn’t good, but an understanding of carbs and whole-grain options can lead to delicious and healthy grain choices.

First of all, white bread does not count as bread. It might as well just be a chemically enhanced sugar loaf. I’ve even seen sliced white bread with no flour! You also have to watch out for high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Again, the shorter and more pronounceable the ingredients list, the better.

Whole wheat is better because it’s nutritionally superior due to its lack of processing. What’s interesting is that white bread used to be seen as “rich people” food because it was harder to process grains into that white color. But when nutrition came into question about 100 years ago it switched.

White bread is nutritionally less superior because it is made using only the endosperm of a kernel of wheat. The bran and germ, containing vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, are milled off. Eating the whole kernel is nutritionally more complex and issues a much slower insulin response from your body.

Bleaching is just an unnecessary chemical process that makes flour whiter and rips it of its natural nutritive value. That’s why it’s “enriched.” However, natural breads using white and wheat flours are both delicious and healthy when eaten in moderation. Plus, just think of all the healthy ingredients you can incorporate into a sandwich!

If anything else, handmade and artisanal breads are so pretty! Bread baking is like art in my opinion. It’s not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of time and patience. Not that I’m trying to scare you away from trying, but you have to be mindful of how much to knead, leavening, ratios of ingredients, proofing and all that.

I realize it’s not feasible to have freshly baked organic bread every single day, but bread shouldn’t be given up on. It’s too essential to our culture. Just look at cultural narratives like referring to money as “dough” or equating bread with the body of Christ. Even just striving to incorporate more whole grains will improve your diet. Again, all good things in moderation — and maybe a little butter once in a while.

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