Monday
Mar052012

The Bread of Life

The quick answer:  Your bread should be like your breakfast cereal, whole grain with more natural fiber than added sugar.

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Connecting

Peering into the distant past in search of ancestors can be fascinating.  The TV program Who Do You Think You Are?, follows celebrities as they discover their origins.  Reba McEntire, the country music singer, followed an ancestor from the 1700s that came to America as an indentured servant.  He came at the tender age of ten but survived to prosper in the New World.  Reba traced his steps back to England to learn his story.  Walking in the footprints of our ancestors helps us to understand who we are. 

Want to connect with your ancient ancestors by doing something they did?  Make bread.  There’s something primeval about making bread, especially if you hand knead.  The traditional ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt, honey, and oil or butter—have scarcely changed in mankind’s history.  One pillar of the food reformation is the rediscovery of traditional whole grain breads.

Americans eat their weight in flour each year, roughly speaking.  Most of this flour is eaten as bread but only 10% of flour, on average, is eaten whole; 90% is refined.  Whole flour is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other needed nutrients.  So this post is about the importance of whole grain bread.

Standard Bread

How did flour, and bread, lose these needed nutrients?  They were lost in man’s restless and relentless search for the next new thing.  In the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair flour from a new invention, the roller mill, was introduced.  The roller mill efficiently separated the bran and germ from wheat, leaving flour that was white and sweet, but lacking in nutrition.  Pastries made of this refined flour became a new taste sensation and healthier flours were soon pushed to the sidelines.  Brown bread was out; white was in.

With each generation, as human health declined, reform movements called for a return to whole grain flours.  Governments are indifferent to the health of the people except at wartime.  Wars can’t be won without strong bodies.  In England, before World War I, the Bread Reform League restored whole grain breads with a law defining standard bread.  It’s said you can still buy standard bread in the UK.

In the U.S., at the start of World War II, the poor health of army recruits was a concern.  Congress quickly approved enriched flour, in which synthetic forms of a few of the missing ingredients were returned as additives.  For better or worse, we still use this so-called enriched flour, though further adjustments have been made.

Waking Up In The Bread Aisle:

Last year the beautiful wife and I spent a Friday night in the bread aisle of a typical grocery store, searching out the healthy breads.  It was our most widely commented food post.  We applied two criteria to the breads:

  1. The flour must be whole grain.
  2. The grams of natural fiber must exceed the grams of sugar.

The first rule was more for information because natural fiber can only exceed added sugar, if whole grains are used.  Of the 70 breads available that night, just five met the rule.  Three were from Oroweat; Milton’s and Food For Life each had one. 

In a recent post, The Good Breakfast, we applied the more-fiber-than-sugar rule to breakfast cereals.  The rule is a good guide for all cereal products regularly eaten.

In this post, we shared a reader’s time-tested recipe for whole wheat bread.

Please comment.  What is your family’s favorite bread?  Do you have a great recipe to share?  Any bread making tips to share?

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (17)

Our family loves bread and ever since I have started making my own on a regular basis I can't go back to buying any from the store. They just don't even compare. The recipe I normally use is similar to the one you shared in your link here. Although we are normally just plain old whole wheat bread eaters, we also really love sourdough. If anyone knows a good recipe for sourdough or sprouted wheat bread I'd be interested. My attempts at both of those have been so-so, but I'd love to get some recipes that are as tried and true as my whole wheat one.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina

I love home made bread. I decided to start making it myself about the middle of last year. It was the only thing I changed in my diet and I encountered an unexpected benefit. I stopped having nightly heartburn. Holy moly! I used to get so frustrated because everyone says heartburn is caused by sugar or fatty meals or spicy foods. That never held true for me! I even tested it and went back to store bread for a couple weeks. I went back to heartburn every night. Perhaps the extra ingredients in store bread have a more significant effect than we think? It did for me.

Now I have a baking day once a week when I commit a block of time to making whatever I need for the week. Bread, granola, and wheat crackers usually. Occasionally I get brave and try something like pretzels or french baguette. Starting to make my own bread really opened the door to the world of baking for me. And you're the one who started it with your bread recipe Skip! Thank you. ^_^

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRill

clarifying...it was the only thing I changed in my diet at that time.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRill

Here's my favorite whole wheat bread recipe. I got it from a friend.

Whole Wheat Bread
6 cups warm water
2 T. yeast
2/3 cup oil
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup gluten flour
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. salt
16 cups whole-wheat flour (approx.)
Preheat oven to 400°. Blend water, yeast, oil, honey, salt, gluten and lemon juice in bread mixer with about 9 cups of the flour. With mixer on, continue to add more flour until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium to high speed 10 to 15 minutes, until gluten is formed and dough becomes elastic. Mold and place in greased bread pans. Let rise until about an inch above the pan. Put bread in preheated oven and lower the temperature to 350°. Bake for 30 minutes. Makes 5 loaves.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

1/3 Cup honey or agave
1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 Cup Warm Water
1 1/2 Tablespoons Yeast
1 Tablespoon Real Salt
6-7 Cups Fresh Ground Whole Wheat or Spelt Flour (I used spelt)

Combine the warm water, yeast, and 2 Cups of fresh flour in a large mixing bowl. Allow to sponge for 15 minutes. Add the honey, oil, salt and 4-5 Cups additional flour until the dough begins to clean the sides of the mixing bowl. Do not allow the dough to get too stiff (too dry). Dough should be smooth and elastic.
Knead the bread by hand 7-10 minutes or until it is very smooth, elastic, and small bubbles or blisters appear beneath the surface of the dough. If you are kneading by hand, be sure to add the minimum amount of flour to keep the dough soft and pliable by using a tsp of oil on your hands and kneading surface.
Form the dough into 2 loaves and put in greased loaf pans or 5-6 loaves balls if making bread bowls and place on cookie sheet. Allow to rise in a slightly warmed oven or other warm place until doubled in size (about 30-60 minutes).
Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Bread is cooked through when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, and when the top and sides are a golden brown color.

Some tips: With spelt, the dough is really sticky and it also doesn't need to be kneaded for as long. It doesn't form into loaves all that well, and I just go with it. Letting the dough rest for a couple of minutes before kneading will also help it to be less sticky, as that gives the flour time to absorb some of the liquid. If using wheat flour, it should all be fine!

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

We make three loaves on Sunday and eat them all week. Yum Yum.

This is a tried and true light whole wheat bread recipe that will make it hard to go back to buying your bread.
http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/01/light-wheat-bread/

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea J

We have been making our own bread for a long time and it has been of great benefit to my family. I have just found out though that I have problems digesting the gluten and yeast. My body also seems to have problems with candida and I have noticed it in some of my kids as well. I just learned about pioneer yeast or sour dough which helps to break down some of the gluten and helps the yeast problem. I haven't tried it but plan to send away for a start to see if it makes a difference. I found a great website that reminds me a lot of this one. Here is the link to some info on Naturally leavened bread dough ldshealth.ning.com/page/properly-prepared-grains-1
Hope it is of interest to someone out there.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeAnn

LeAnn, you should check out GNOWFGLINS.com. Their family had a lot of food issues and they switched to using only soured grains. They now have no problems. Lots of great info there as well.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

After making my own whole wheat bread for years, I read about the health benefits of real sourdough and after my friend gave me some starter, I gave it a try. I love it! It took a bit of adjusting, but now I use sourdough for pancakes, waffles, muffins, biscuits, tortillas, cinnamon rolls and bread, of course. I love that my body is getting all the nutrients from the wheat and I feel like it's easier to digest, too. Here is an easy recipe for artisan sourdough bread from the gnowfglins.com e-course (I highly recommend it if you want to learn to bake with sourdough)

3 c. water
1 1/2 c. sourdough starter
1 1/2 T. salt
6 1/2 c. water

Stir together and refrigerate overnight or longer, covered. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 for about 40 minutes (it's done when it's nicely browned on top). cover with a large bowl for the first half of baking to create that nice, chewy crust. Yum!

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

My loaf of Trader Joes 100% whole grain white wheat bread has 3g fiber and 2g sugar and a nice light texture. Anyone know what white wheat is?

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Brown

As someone whose blood sugar seems to be minutely sensitive to the quality of carbohydrate I consume, I've been wondering for years what separates most store bought whole wheat breads from the one I've found (made by The Baker brand) that makes my blood sugar stable. If I make my own it is fine as well.

The Baker brand breads have a density and firmness that the other whole wheat breads you find on the shelves don't have. I've wondered if is the amount of gluten they are adding or if I'm being conspiracy minded, I wonder if there is a bulking agent they are not putting on the label. Any theories?

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOC

Hi Jessica. Two main types of wheat are "red" and "white"; red wheat may be soft, hard, or spring and together red wheats are about 85% of the US wheat crop. Red wheat offers a stronger "wheat" taste. We prefer it for toast, for example.

White wheat use, however, is growing. Asians prefer it over red for making noodles. In the US there is growing interest in hard white wheat for people who want "whole" grains, but like the whiter, lighter, softer and sweeter taste of "enriched flour." So people who liked Wonder bread's white, light texture but now insist on whole wheat for nutrients can still enjoy white breads. I think they're better, for example, in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Because they're a little sweeter they need less sugar so your TJ bread with just 2 grams of sugar is possible.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

I agree with Skip, I love to think about my ancestors as I make bread. It makes me smile. (Although somehow I feel downright aggression when I think of washing all our laundry by hand...why IS that??)

Thank you, technology...anyhoo:

Here is my very favorite, tried-and-true bread recipe--

http://simplepeasantfood.blogspot.com/2011/12/bread-mix-step-by-step.html

You can make it as a mix (saves a whole lotta sanity), or just make it one batch at a time.

This is my mom's recipe. If you knew her, you would be clapping your hands and saying "Really?! You're giving that out?!" It's that good.

(I also just posted my favorite pancake recipe for anyone interested. www.simplepeasantfood.blogspot.com)

Thanks, Skip, for another informative post!

March 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I make 100% whole wheat bread every other week and we all love it. My recipe is even simpler than yours (but we like dense bread). You can find it and many other types of refined sugar-free breads on my blog. The whole wheat one can be found here: http://katrinaskitchen35.blogspot.com/2010/02/100-whole-wheat-bread.html. Happy bread making, everyone!!

March 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina

to OC - Blood sugar issues can also be brought on by intolerances to wheat or gluten. By your description it seems the Baker bread must have LESS gluten, as gluten makes breads doughy and baked good chewy. Have you tried cutting either out for a month? It helped my mom and sister with their hypoglycemia immensely.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

Love your information. I've heard that canola oil is not that good for human consumption---that it can cause nerve damage. I stay away from it and use virgin organic coconut oil, real butter, extra virgin olive oil and lard. They are the best and do not cause heart disease. Will you do some research on canola, please, and let us all know? Thank you.

March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVi Herrin

I'm surprised this post didn't include a mention of your grandfather's saying, passed down by your father, who essentially raised his children on his own homemade whole grain wheat bread. "The whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead."

May 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

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