Wheat bread’s bad rap gives bakers, scientists something to chew on
March 19 2019 02:56 AM

By Kathrin Loeffle

A perfect loaf of bread consists of psyllium seed husks, almond flour and linseed. Or so say online fitness food suppliers selling ready mixes for ‘protein’ or ‘low-carb’ bread. It’s bread you can eat in good conscience, touts a typical advert: diet-friendly and more nutritious than wheat bread.
Wheat is a dirty word in many quarters these days, one of them being the figure-conscious crowd. Proponents of a low-carb diet have declared wheat, or predominantly wheat, bread to be off-limits, since its carbohydrates are supposedly fattening.
And to some extent they’re right, says dietician Sven Bach.
“Two slices of bread and jam for breakfast, later a sandwich snack, wheat noodles at lunch, a sweet pastry made from wheat flour in the afternoon, and bread again at supper – that’s too much,” he remarks.
So is wheat bread a demon we should steer clear of? Bach says no.
“Bread won’t make you fat or stupid. Don’t shun bread, wheat bread included!”
But if your eating habits are like those he describes, Bach recommends that you replace half of your bread intake with vegetables or salad and simply eat the slice of cheese you would normally put in your sandwich. Only 40 percent of your daily diet should consist of carbohydrates, he says, along with 40 percent fat and 20 percent protein.
A diet too high in sugar can lead to many maladies, such as diabetes and heart attacks, notes Stefan Kabisch, a clinical research physician at the German Institute of Human Nutrition.
When you explain to people that all carbohydrates are made up of sugars, he says, they “completely overreact” by deeming all sources of carbohydrates to be harmful, including ordinary bread.
Although there’s been little scientific research on the nutritive value of so-called protein bread, Kabisch regards it as an alternative for people who want to cut down on carbohydrates without breaking with their bread-eating habits.
For him, the key question isn’t whether a loaf of bread is made of wheat, but from wholemeal or white flour. While the former is high in fibre and also filling, he points out, the latter causes a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash shortly afterwards. Wheat-based baked goods have fallen out of favour not only among waistline watchers thanks to gluten, a mixture of proteins found in many cereal grains, especially wheat, to which some people are intolerant.
Gluten has been widely stamped as a culinary villain in recent years.
“The fact is that most people feel better without gluten,” claims, for example, a recipe for gluten-free, low-carb bread on the website of a sports magazine. For Kabisch, that’s not a fact at all.
“Ninety-five percent of the normal population can eat gluten with no problem,” he says. “But a huge number of mostly young people believe it’s harmful for everyone.”
The baking industry is feeling the pinch as a result.
“Bakers report despairingly that people tell them they no longer tolerate wheat bread, but can eat spelt,” says Friedrich Longin, an agricultural biologist in charge of wheat research at the University of Hohenheim in Germany.
Migraines or gastrointestinal problems are often cited as symptoms.
There’s no scientific evidence, however, that wheat is less readily tolerable than other cereal grains, Longin says.
Together with baker Heiner Beck and miller Hermann Guetler, Longin wants to separate out the chaff when it comes to claims about wheat.
To this end, the three recently gathered for a ‘bake-a-thon’ at Beck’s bakery and confectionery shop in the German municipality of Roemerstein. They baked 42 kinds of wheat bread over three days, using varieties of wheat grown organically and conventionally, with less and more nitrogen fertiliser.
They also varied the manner of preparation. Half of the dough balls were left to proof for slightly less than two hours before baking, as is now customary for most bakers and industrial bread producers.
The other half was allowed to rise for 24 hours, a traditional approach that Longin says may improve the bread’s digestibility, since the gluten proteins have more time to break down.
The bake-a-thon concluded with taste tests, and further tests are planned in the laboratory.
Bernd Kuetscher, General Manager of the German Bread Institute, doesn’t seem very worried about widespread anti-wheat sentiment.
He says arguments against the grain are half-baked and sensationalised by books and media reports that are less interested in presenting facts than in boosting sales and circulation.
As Kuetscher sees it, bread’s public image has indeed changed – for the better. He says people have become more aware of the enjoyability of “the number one food.” In fact, Germany’s bread culture is now even on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
“The value of bread is rising enormously,” he says. – DPA

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