Susannah Taylor: Why bread isn’t a baddie

Bread has had a bit of a toasting recently. The popularity of paleo and keto diets (the former involving lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and the latter low carb and high fat) and cutting out gluten has led many of us to regard bread as the devil. But how bad can a slice really be, especially when homemade with just three ingredients?

loaf of bread
Australian House & Garden/Cathy Schusler

Top nutritional therapist Nicola Moore says that while it is true that people with digestive problems often react better when they take wheat out of their diet, it’s the mass-produced, highly processed breads that have given bread a bad name. ‘Over the years, bread has been highly manipulated with fillers and emulsifiers,’ she says. ‘Big brands also bleach the bread and add sugar to make it sweeter, whiter, evenly coloured and more moreish.’ Homemade bread, she points out, should be heavy, dense and filling (making you less likely to reach for a second slice). It should go mouldy quickly, too, as opposed to lasting for weeks, which might indicate it’s dowsed in preservatives.

Bread making has soared in lockdown. The Sourdough School (sourdough.co.uk), founded by Vanessa Kimbell, was inundated with new members, while yeast and flour vied with loo roll as the nation’s most-wanted items. Aside from being perfect Instagram fodder, making sourdough scores many health points, too. ‘The slow fermentation process means it is actually a probiotic,’ says Nicola. ‘It is also lighter and easier to digest, so it is good for our gut.’ Another important plus is how chewy it is compared to ready-sliced bread, which almost dissolves in your mouth. ‘Feeling as if you have chewed something stops you overeating. It helps your fullness mechanisms to function better,’ she explains.

Pauline Beaumont, therapist and author of Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art of Baking Bread, says that the difference between good and bad bread is huge. ‘Manufactured white bread isn’t great for people – or even birds,’ she says, ’but millions of white, sliced, processed loaves are sold in supermarkets every day.’ Her brilliant book, which has made me want to don a pinny and head to the kitchen, explains the pros of home-baked bread and demystifies the process – which, she says, isn’t as hard as everyone thinks. As well as including simple recipes for sourdough, soda bread and focaccia, among others, the book highlights the meditative benefits of bread making. ‘Ten minutes of kneading dough can provide a rare chance to concentrate on one thing at a time,’ says Pauline. ‘As our mind wanders, we can get better and better at noticing this and returning our attention to our dough,’ which, she says, is central to managing our emotional state.

Finally, I ask Nicola about the widely held view that bread sits on our hips. The key ‘is what you put on your toast, rather than the toast itself’, she says. ‘If you add avocado, hummus or smoked salmon rather than butter and jam or honey, you’re less likely to reach for another slice.’

So it’s not the bread that’s the issue but how much of it you eat.

This anorak is cool (believe me)

Sweaty Betty Snowdonia hiking jacket
Sweaty Betty

One big plus to come out of this year’s staycationing has been our renewed love of the British countryside. And now, thanks to Sweaty Betty’s new hiking collection, you can hit the great outdoors looking sleek. Think light, water-resistant cargo-style trousers, thicker leggings and breathable jumpers. My favourite is this camel-coloured Snowdonia hiking jacket, which is waisted, with taped seams for protection from the elements. £185, sweatybetty.com.

Get moving for immunity

woman running
Shutterstock

If, like me, you became more sedentary during lockdown, listen up. New research from Birmingham University shows it’s vital that we move more. As a result, its senior lecturer in exercise and environmental physiology, Dr Sam Lucas, and his team have created a fact sheet for GPs showing how regular moderate to vigorous exercise (eg, walking, cycling) can improve immune function and potentially minimise the intensity of Covid symptoms. So quick, find your trainers!