I LOVE bread. I mean- I really love my bread. Who can resist a hot yeast roll with butter? I also love preparing and eating food that tastes good, but that I also know is nutritious, healthy, and real.
But, bread can be a slightly controversial food when it comes to its health and nutrition. Many diets ban bread, many health enthusiasts insist on particular flours, and require soaking grains or grinding your own wheat in order to obtain a healthy loaf.
But, everything I thought I knew about bread- especially about what makes it good for me, has been turned upside down. That’s why I am practically bursting at the seams to share this book with you. I think it is one of the most interesting and informative books I have read in a long time.
It is called Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread:Unlocking the Mysteries of Grains, Gluten, and Yeast. It is written by Jessie Hawkins. You can visit her blog, here.
The author has put in years of study and research on this topic and each chapter is packed with many sources and footnotes. She has done her homework!
She begins by explaining that bread has been an integral part of the diet since ancient times. In fact, in ancient days, it was an even bigger and more important part of the diet than today. That being the case- bread would have needed to be packed with nutrients and able to sustain health.
A long list of the nutrients that can be found in a real, healthy loaf of bread- made correctly- is given. And, it is a LONG list.
She goes back through bread during different times in history- citing notes from times as far back as the Romans.
Bread really changed when the Industrial Revolution came along. Bakers Yeast (which we all use today) was created and replaced the old, time honored way of making bread, winning bakers over because it gave a quicker and more consistent result. But, as with so many other “conveniences”, MUCH was lost in this change.
Perhaps the most nutritionally-significant change in bread over the years is a result of the leavening process. Leavening flour and water with wild microbes to produce a dough for light, airy bread has been a habit for thousands of years and remained somewhat consistent until the end of the industrial revolution.
So, she goes on to explain what is now in the modern loaf of bread that we might pick up at the grocery store. And let me tell you- it is not pretty! Oh the junk that we consume. And even worse, we are told it’s good for us. It’s not! It is BAD for you!
The author also goes on to explain some things about the flour choices. Did you know that even in ancient times they used refined flours? Of course, their method of refining was somewhat different, but she states that their refined flour was very similar to our white flour.
So- let’s get down to business. What is the answer to healthy bread? Apparently, it is more about the process than anything else.
Is this referring to the somewhat common practice of grinding your own wheat or soaking your grains before making bread? Actually, no. She explains and sites sources that shows that these methods still have problems with them.
A big problem is Phytate, which is found in grains:
Phytate is present in the bran of the grains we use for bread production. Previous generations who used the bolting method to refine their grain likely did not consume as much fiber or phytate as modern health enthusiasts who— for example— grind their own wheat at home.
Phytate acts as a “claw” that holds on to many of the nutrients that are in the grains- causing them to pass through our bodies without benefiting from the nutrients that are there. So, sadly- just because we are making a nice homemade loaf of bread, I am not getting the nutrients that I think I am getting.
Phytate is bound to phosphorus in bran. It has an affinity for minerals such as phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Numerous clinical studies have verified that the presence of phytate in the bread can not only reduce the availability of the minerals in bread but can actually cause a deficiency in said minerals. As a chelator, it “claws” or grasps the minerals, and the digestive process in our bodies is not sufficient enough to cause it to release the nutrients. Therefore, they simply pass through our bodies unused.
How do we deactivate the phytate so that it will release these minerals to our bodies? The key lies in the enzyme phytase, which is also present in the whole grains we use for bread baking. However, the enzymes do not simply eliminate the phytates. Rather, they require certain favorable conditions to act upon the phytate, causing the release of valuable nutrients and preventing the chelator from grasping onto those or other nutrients again during the digestion process.
But what if you are one who thought soaking was supposed to take care of this?
She says: studies examining whether the soaking of whole grains in an acidic medium and whether sprouting the grains can enable the phytase to deactivate phytate have found the practices to be ineffective.
So what is the answer? SOURDOUGH! But, probably not sourdough the way you are used to making it.
It is making sourdough the “old” way- before bakers yeast came onto the scene.
Why does this make such a difference? The fermentation. It totally changes the way the bread works. She goes on to list, in detail, many, many, many benefits that the true sourdough process gives to your bread.
I was amazed.
Here’s a few exerpts:
Additional studies evaluated the benefits of sourdough over baker’s yeast for increasing nutrient bioavailability and found increased bioavailability of iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and other micronutrients.
When we consume bread, those nutrients are present, but we cannot get them. Naturally fermenting the bread dough enables us to use bread as a source of these valuable nutrients.
But- she also reminds us that phytate is not the only problem we are dealing with in the bread we know of today.
Even if other methods could inhibit phytates, there are bigger concerns with baked goods, such as bread’s well-known high glycemic index and increasing concern regarding the protein matrix gluten.
Researchers found that the benefits of sourdough fermentation, however, play a far more significant role in the glycemic index of a loaf of bread. Many studies have shown that there is little change in the GI of whole grain breads and white breads. Yet the production method can have a significant change in the glycemic response to bread consumption. Breads made with a traditional, sourdough fermentation have a significantly lower glycemic index than those made with baker’s yeast.
So the production method can change a high index, unhealthy food to a nourishing and beneficial low glycemic food.
At this point- Jessie Hawkins gives you many vitamins and nutrients that will be present in sourdough bread. The list is long and amazing.
What about gluten sensitivities?
Homebaked bread with freshly-milled, soaked, or sprouted grains and all natural or organic ingredients still contains gluten and is still toxic to many people.
To test this theory, they made a bread with 30% wheat flour. The other portion of flour was comprised of oats, millet and buckwheat. They mixed a batch of dough and let it ferment for 24 hours before testing it. They found that within those 24 hours, the gluten was hydrolyzed almost completely and the most potent compounds that harm people with celiac were no longer present. 243 Patients with celiac consumed the bread without a single reaction. The trial was repeated with a similar bread and fermentation time. Same results. 244 The celiac patients were examined through questionnaires and physical examination and did not show or experience any signs of a reaction or damage
Isn’t that interesting??!!
All of this research confirms that the bread the ancients produced was nothing at all like the commercially produced bread we see today. The bread that sustained millions was nutrient rich with bioavailable vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It was low glycemic. It was packed with protein, fiber, and beneficial carbohydrates. The ancient grains contained less gluten, and the bread contained very little— if any— gluten. It didn’t rot. It was the staff of life. Modern bread— even homemade modern bread— is a far cry from the bread of the ancients. The answer to the problem doesn’t lie in whole grain flour or even freshly milled flour. It doesn’t lie in soaking or sprouting grains, a procedure that is scarcely found in food history and hasn’t been found by modern clinical trials to improve the nutritional quality of bread anything like fermentation does. To enjoy real bread along with the health benefits that our ancestors enjoyed, we need to reproduce this bread of the ancients.
And then- she goes through the process of making bread- the right way.
Maybe you are thinking that this sounds like it’s going to be complicated.
Well, I admit that it’s going to take some practice. She states several times that you will need to throw out everything you think you know about making bread. But- I don’t think the method for making this bread is hard. It’s just a technique to acquire. Don’t forget- this is the way people were making it for centuries.
She says: A good loaf of bread can be produced with less than 30 minutes total of actual hands on time. During the additional time, those bacteria and yeasts I love so much are doing the work for you.
I have not actually tried making the sourdough yet. But, I am hoping to begin very soon. I am ready for some trial and error.
This book is a very easy read, very well laid out, and very well documented. Like I said, she did her homework and I find it absolutely fascinating.
Once again- the “old” way, was a good way. People in the past did things a certain way for a reason. We are wise to learn these old ways!
I HIGHLY recommend this book. I bought it as a Kindle edition and put it on my computer- it was cheaper this way.
I have only given you a few snippets of the wealth of facts and information that she gives in the book- and have probably not done it justice. Hopefully, I have given it to you in a somewhat organized way. But, there are so many facts swirling around in my head about it, that I find it hard to tell you about it without writing a book instead of a blog post! That’s why you need to invest in HER book and and take the time to learn about this subject, yourself.
Thanks, Jessie Hawkins for this great information!!