Bread – the staff of life or the stuff of nightmares?

I was away for most of this week and, as a result, this on-line article (and several similar ones) passed me by. It focuses on the ‘research’ conducted by Dr Aine O’Connor of the British Nutrition Foundation and published in its ‘journal’ – the Nutrition Bulletin [1]. I’ve not read the article itself, but here’s the abstract (summary).

Despite being a staple food in the UK for centuries, bread consumption has fallen steadily over the last few decades. Average consumption now equates to only around 2–3 slices of bread a day. As well as providing energy, mainly in the form of starch, bread contains dietary fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults suggests that it still contributes more than 10% of our daily intake of protein, thiamine, niacin, folate, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium; one-fifth of our fibre and calcium intakes; and more than one-quarter of our manganese intake. Therefore, eating bread can help consumers to meet their daily requirements for many nutrients, including micronutrients for which there is evidence of low intake in some groups in the UK, such as zinc and calcium. This paper gives an overview of the role of bread in the UK diet, its contribution to nutrient intakes and current consumption patterns in different population groups.

The tone of the articles spawned by this research and the (likely) press release that accompanied, people who have eschewed bread in search of better health are deluded idiots. Plus, they’re putting themselves at perilous danger of nutritional deficiencies. And this has to be right, of course, because it comes from a ‘nutrition scientist’.

So, let’s get a few things straight. First of all, bread is not a particularly nutrient dense food, and it also contains things (like digestion inhibitors and phytates) that impair our ability to absorb nutrients from it anyway.

The fact that: “The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults suggests that it still contributes more than 10% of our daily intake of protein, thiamine, niacin, folate, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium; one-fifth of our fibre and calcium intakes” may sound impressive, but these figures exist only by virtue of the fact that, although declining, bread consumption is still relatively high. The fact remains that there’s nothing in bread that cannot be had more healthily elsewhere in the diet. Superfood it ain’t.

The issue of wheat sensitivity needs dealing with too, because repeatedly we are told by people like Dr O’Connor that it’s a minor and rare concern. Often this view is based on the prevalence of coeliac disease (sensitivity to gluten). However, research suggests that it is possible to be sensitive to gluten but not have coeliac disease. In other words, even if tests exclude coeliac disease, that does not mean that person will have no ill effect from eating gluten. Over the years, I have seen literally hundreds of patients who, on reduction or elimination of wheat from their diets, have seen significant improvement in a range of symptoms including abdominal bloating, other digestive symptoms including indigestion. Of course, some people (maybe Dr O’Connor) will tell us that such improvement can only be in their heads. They might be right, but the consistency of the improvement seen on elimination of wheat suggests to me there’s something in it.

Another potential problem with bread is that it’s made mainly of starch, and starch is sugar (starch is comprised of chains of glucose molecules). Now, the extent to which bread disrupts blood sugar levels is about the same as table sugar (also known as sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose). So, munching down on a sandwich at lunch, for instance, is quite likely to induce quite a sugar high, that may well get the body pumping out insulin, the effect of which can be to drive blood sugar levels to sub-normal levels in the mid-late afternoon. The end result can be fatigue, mental lethargy, and perhaps a desire to raid the biscuit tin or take a trip to the vending machine.

When people take bread out of their lunch, the usual end result is for people to feel significantly more energised and productive through the afternoon. I say ‘usual’, but actually it’s hardly ever not the case. Again, perhaps it’s all in their heads and a major placebo response is going on. However, once again, the predictability and consistency of the improvement suggests to me that it’s something that deserves our consideration and has validity.

As I said earlier, I haven’t read Dr O’Connor’s article, but her scientific credentials lead me to suspect at least some of her line of argument will be ‘where’s the evidence’ for the harmful effects of bread? In my experience, the evidence is all around and evident to those who:

  1. have benefitted from the removal of bread/wheat from their diets
  2. see patients who consistently benefit from bread/wheat from their diets and are prepared listen to what their patients tell them

By the way, I fall into both categories. When I eat wheat the usual response in very noticeable digestive discomfort and fatigue.

I don’t feel inclined to wait for evidence that smashing someone in the face with a polo mallet causes pain and suffering, and I feel pretty much the same about bread.

I suppose it should not go unremarked that the British Nutrition Foundation is supported by various factions within the food industry, and this organisation is sometimes less than transparent about where it gets its money from and the obvious conflicts of interest here. See here for more on this.


1. O’Connor A. An overview of the role of bread in the UK diet. Nutrition Bulletin 2012;37(3):193–212

59 Responses to Bread – the staff of life or the stuff of nightmares?

  1. Susan 21 September 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    I used to have IBS and have been hospital diagnosed with diverticulosis. Since giving up bread and other wheat products I hardly ever get an IBS attack. This week I succumbed to the temptation of a baguette (French flour etc) and whilst I loved it at the time later on I suffered stomach ache, diarrhoea etc. So these so-called “treats” will be very few and far between. I too reckon that Dr. O’Connors research funding may well come from the food industry, and especially grain and bakery sectors.

    Susan Seigle-Morris

  2. Sheulee 21 September 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Sometimes I am so glad I have MS and the perfect excuse to not go back to being a GP. I don’t know how you do it. But thanks SO much for getting all this information out there. Love the polo mallet analogy. Lectins, do you think they increase leptin resistance?

  3. John Walker 21 September 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Let’s face it.
    1) The Grain industry is worth billions to the Global economy.
    2) Governments need to do many things to stay in power.
    Chief among these ‘targets’ is to keep their Country on a straight economic track.
    So if something threatens one of the most important commodities, then a Government has to do something about it.
    Now, I am not a ‘conspiracy theorist’, but whenever I hear or read of meat products being vilified, and of grain products being ‘pushed’, as nutritionally better, I suspect a little manipulation. Now I know why bread has always given me indigestion. Even the granary type, which I do like, I admit. But just one slice will cause me to have a bout of hiccups. (Someone close to me says I bolt my food! This might or might not be true, but bread is the only food that causes this problem. So I don’t eat bread any more. I don’t eat starches and sugars either. I’m losing weight. I feel good. I wonder why?

  4. Angela 21 September 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Personally, I love bread, and suffer no ill-effects from it other than (surprise, surprise) the fact that it makes me fat. Eventually, if I keep eating it over many weeks, especially if I eat sugar as well, the gut pathogens will build up, also with predictable results, but I attribute that to greater vulnerability to these, since I had no such problems as a chlld (neither did I get fat then!). Interestingly, though, the gut effects are very, very markedly lessened (not to say virtually imperceptible) when I am on holiday (although there are other signs of the pathogens starting to have a field day); only when I am working do I really have any problems. Stress clearly plays a major role!

  5. Sue G 21 September 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    I am subscribed to a newsletter from Mike Geary, an American fitness and nutrition expert who coincidentally supports pretty much everything Dr. Briffa espouses. Coincidentally again, he has referred to a book called Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and has included this in his latest newsletter which is really interesting:

    I’ve been doing more reading of the fascinating book, Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis, and I found an interesting passage that I wanted to share with you…

    Dr. Davis basically did actual blood sugar tests on himself before and after consuming a modern whole grain wheat bread vs the type of ancient wheat that existed in the wild and began to be used as a crop between 5000-10,000 years ago — einkorn wheat. The results I’ll discuss below are shocking.

    Einkorn wheat is the ancient type of wheat that existed and was eaten for several thousand years before modern agricultural scientists began doing hundreds of hybridizations of wheat over the last 50 years.

    These hybridizations were done to increase crop yield and other characteristics of wheat with no testing or consideration for whether these hybridizations affected our health at all, or how our body digests and processes this biochemically different wheat.

    Dr. Davis states, “…despite dramatic changes in the genetic makeup of wheat and other crops, no animal or human safety testing was conducted on the new genetic strains that were created.”

    After more details on the biochemical changes in modern wheat, he continues, “Wheat gluten proteins, in particular, undergo considerable structural change with hybridization. In one hybridization experiment, 14 new gluten proteins were identified in the offspring that were not present in either parent wheat plant.”

    It’s no wonder that us modern day humans have so much prevalence of wheat and gluten intolerance as the source of so many digestive problems… we’ve had a mere 50 years for the human digestive system to try to adapt to these new foreign gluten proteins that were never present in the ancient human diet.

    Now for the blood sugar tests that Dr. Davis conducted…

    In order to make a bread out of einkorn wheat, Dr Davis actually had to obtain the grain from another country. It’s not easy to find. He then ground the ancient einkorn type wheat into flour and made a loaf of bread out of it.

    He then used modern day organic whole grain wheat and ground that into a flour and baked a loaf of bread exactly the same way as the ancient einkorn wheat bread.

    Then, on two separate days, he conducted blood sugar testing on himself from a fasted state, testing the ancient einkorn wheat bread on day 1 and testing the modern day whole wheat bread on day 2. Check out the shocking results:

    Day 1:
    Fasting blood sugar: 84 mg/dl
    Blood sugar after consuming 4 oz. ancient einkorn wheat bread: 110 mg/dl

    That would be a fairly normal response to the amount of ingested carbs. However, look at the shocking blood sugar spike caused by modern day whole wheat…

    Day 2:
    Fasting blood sugar: 84 mg/dl
    Blood sugar after consuming 4 oz. modern day wheat bread: 167 mg/dl

    Now you can see actual results showing that modern day wheat, after 100’s of hybridizations and changes to its nutritional biochemistry, is a far cry from ancient wheat that was eaten over 5000 years ago by our ancestors.

    If you remember from a few of my articles in recent weeks, the higher your blood sugar goes more frequently, the more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that your body produces, and the faster your body ages (your organs, skin, etc) including how old you LOOK. You can read item #7 on this article to see how eating too much wheat has the unique ability to age you faster (not good!)

    Mike continues;

    One thing I try to do personally is to follow a fairly low-carb (paleolithic style) nutrition plan most days of the week (except for 1 cheat day) … This means a focus on proteins, healthy fats, and fibrous veggies and a purposeful lack of grain-based foods and sugary foods as much as possible.

    Nice to have it confirmed from more than one source I think.

  6. Anne Etra 21 September 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Excellent piece. Nice bite to your tone, too, and well-deserved, given the ignorance of the BNF.
    I like bread, but I don’t eat much of it because it gets me lethargic and makes me feel full in an unpleasant way. Plus, I know that veg and protein fill me up with better, clean nutrition.

  7. Charles Kendall 21 September 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Wheat has become a universal toxin for
    Part 1: The Dark Side of Wheat: New Perspectives on Celiac Disease & Wheat Intolerance
    Part 2: Opening Pandora’s Bread Box: The Critical Role of Wheat Lectin in Human Disease.

  8. Brendan 21 September 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Hi Dr Briffa and other commentators.

    I practice as an exercise and health professional with a considerable focus on nutrition. I spoke to you (John) via email when I commented on another post. A long time back you mentioned M&S aniversary of the packed sandwich and how consumpsion of same has rocketed. The annual Flour Advisory Bureau suggest flour consumption in UK is 76kg per capita that a hell of a lot more than 2-3 slices per day. I recently completed a Masters dissertation investigating postprandial fatigue and cognitive function following lunch comprising wheat based foods versus non-wheat based. As you might imagine there were some surprises e.g. the large difference in energy consumed during wheat based meal was 30-40% more than non-wheat meals and a host of subjective measures showed less fatigue and more energy and concentration following non-wheat lunch. This was an ad-libitum crossover study. If you or anyone else wants more info on it let me know.

  9. shirley foxcastle 21 September 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    I was once told by an allergy doctor that I was allergic to “froment” (in French), not just gluten; by that he mean bread in general. When short of money I do fill up on bread – some kinds of which I love – but must have fattening butter on it, thus ruining the weight-loss diet. I HAVE been feeling fatgued. Perhaps I’ll get some spelt bread or lay off it altogether. Good articles!

  10. Dave 21 September 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    My wife and I gave up all grain in February, and when I had my scheduled annual blood work done in April, my Triglycerides had gone down from 155 to 114. In total I have lost 19 lbs. and feel great. I have also been able to quit taking my daily anti-inflammatory prescription drug. We follow the paleo diet about 95%. All my numbers improved, by the way. No bread or grain for us!!! Thanks! I love your newsletter.

  11. Leo 21 September 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Why does anybody have to eat wheat bread?-What’s wrong with sprouted grains bread?-It is healthy-I eat Ezekiel bread,you buy it frozen and just keep it refrigerated after-

  12. Will 21 September 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    Brendan, I am very interested to read about your dissertation project. I would like to read the full paper. please contact me if you are willing to share it. Thank you.
    Thank you too Dr Briffa & other contributors. I don’t seem to react badly to bread at all but I do find it a lot easier to eat large amounts of it than an energetically equal quantity of other starchy food. I choose not to buy it because it seems on balance to be an energetically inefficient way of getting nutrients to me. I also deal with people daily who benefit from reducing the amount of bread that they eat.

  13. Barry Hill 21 September 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    I have AS (Ankylosing Spondilylitis) many years ago I was advised by my specialist to avoid bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as in his opinion they could increase my symptoms of back pain and fatigue. And although I love bread – I must add not the soft white pap that most think of as bread, but more what is usually reffered to as Artisan or specialist breads. I have done my best to stick with this advice only occasionally letting myself go. And without doubt I have benefited from his advice. I have a really amazing bread shop just opened close to where I live and I look greedily at the selection of breads on offer, which with great difficulty I mostly avoid – they do however sell a 100% Rye which has been my saviour, it’s totally delicious and doesn’t have the same fatiguing effect. I would be interested in your thoughts on Rye bread. Many of the breads on sale at my local specialist bakery although mostly wheat are sourdough breads. Do you have any thoughts on these?

  14. Deborah 21 September 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    As ever a good article. I rarely eat bread, which I miss dreadfully, but pay dearly when I eat it with bloating and discomfort. Modern grains and modern grain usage I feel sure contribute to much modern ill health. Perhaps John you will look closer at the use of grain being fed to animals, and the subsequent low quality of the meat compared to proper pasture fed beasts. Here in NW Spain all the cows are on pasture, and hay fed too, and the quality pigs fed on chestnuts, of which there is an abundance, and “waste foodstuffs”, the normal , perfect role of the pig.

  15. HIlda Glickman Nutritionist 21 September 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    Wholemeal bread is worse than ordinary as it contains more gluten to make it rise better and be spongier. The proof is in the eating (or not eating). Most people feel better without it. See Brafy ‘Dangerous Grains’.

  16. P. Winter 21 September 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    Dear Dr. John Briffa,

    Zinc bioavailability from beef is about fourfold greater than from a high-fiber breakfast cereal.
    From David Evan’s site he posts daily. good articles.

    Paul Winter

  17. Daisy 22 September 2012 at 12:15 am #

    I also have reluctantly more or less given up bread, but my French husband, two half-French, half-Irish kids and French friends and family eat it at every single meal with no apparent ill effects. Are they somehow immune?!

  18. Jaki 22 September 2012 at 1:16 am #

    It made me laugh that benefits seen when excluding wheat from the diet ‘may be in the head’ . My waistline increases by 3 inches if I consume bread. Now, that’s not in my head, it’s spilling over my jeans. 🙂 I also get to feel like I’m getting the flu. 3 days later I feel better. Takes 7 days or more for my waistline to get back to normal. So I don’t do wheat. Been tested for coeliac – ‘unlikely’ was the answer. UNLIKELY? So is that a yes or a no?

    They have no idea what they are doing.

    I know what makes me feel ill and swell up.

  19. Galina L. 22 September 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I recently found out that both my GP and my ob/gyn nurse-practitioner both read LC-nutrition blogs, they approve my LC diet and not surprised any longer that my health is much improved compare to 5 years ago when I started my diet.

  20. Barry Danser 22 September 2012 at 1:22 am #

    The French live on Bread and they have lower health problems then we do can anybody identify why this is ?

  21. Stephan Guyenet 22 September 2012 at 2:13 am #

    I definitely get fatigue when I eat bread for lunch, but not when I eat other starches like potatoes, or fruit, even in large quantity. I apparently digest wheat just fine, but it still makes me feel groggy, sometimes extremely so. Cheers John.

  22. marie 22 September 2012 at 3:00 am #

    Stephan, any hypothesis as to why? The same happens to me with bread, not from other starches, and it used to be even worse back when I ate it regularly, the fatigue accompanied by an absolutely delightful temper. So being experiment-minded, I measured carefully my blood glucose at close intervals for up to 4hrs after various bread-protein-fat combinations…..only to find that each time as expected it rose or soared within an hour (depending on combo)….but did Not later fall below ‘usual’ (about 85), even though I was groggy and irritable.
    So how does this mechanism work? I seem to be a perfect example of the ‘low’ that everyone says happens after ingesting sugar/starch, and yet the glucose itself wasn’t actually low. Also, the fact that even the symptoms don’t happen after potatoes would indicate that it’s specific to bread/wheat?

  23. jake3_14 22 September 2012 at 3:12 am #

    To Shirley Foxcastle,
    ” When short of money I do fill up on bread – some kinds of which I love – but must have fattening butter on it, thus ruining the weight-loss diet.”

    Try putting that same butter on 50-100g of sweet potatoes (any color) and you’ll likely find that it’s not the butter ruining your weight loss.

  24. Bri 22 September 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    From Wikipedia “The British Nutrition Foundations has a close relationship with the food industry. It receives funding from almost every large food manufacturer and distributor in the UK, including Tate and Lyle, Nestle, PepsiCo, McDonalds and Sainsburys. Paul Hebblethwaite, a member of the BNF board of trustees and its former chairman, has had “a distinguished career in the food industry working for a number of major companies including Cadbury-Schweppes and Chivers-Hartley”. He is also chairman of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Trade Association. Many other members of the organisation are or have been employees of the food industry. Derek Shrimpton, former director general, has been quoted as saying: “In the period I was there the foundation was solely taken up with defence actions for the industry.” He said that the foundation had been constantly engaged in frustrating government committees aiming to recommend reductions in sugars, salt, and fats.”

  25. John Walker 22 September 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    But the thing is Bri… The fat isn’t the problem is it? It’s too easy to blame the problems on fat. Nothing will improve while we continue to classify obesity as “being fat”. The problem is very much to do with today’s ‘convenience foods’. On TV the other night a woman struggling with obesity, was filmed whilst shopping. She was conscientiously ‘reading the nutritional labels’, checking them all very carefully. What foodstuffs were these labels on? You guessed it. Microwave-Ready meals. Her trolley was full of them, and she was wondering why she is obese. In her case a few lessons in what to do with fresh produce would solve a lot of her problems; but it still has to be the right produce.

  26. Helen 22 September 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    I find spelt a good option, if I want to eat bread.

  27. Sue Gooch 22 September 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Barry Danser: Are these the same French people who have siestas in the afternoon :)? Perhaps they don’t eat as much bread as you imagine, typical French bread goes from fresh to stale in a matter of hours. Are they eating a bit and binning the rest maybe?

    I don’t miss bread, potatoes or pasta. I miss rice a little. I just wish I was one of those people for whom giving up carbs saw weight disappearing at a rate of knots. I don’t know the answer. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done about the effects of some foods on some people, why some add many pounds to their frame while another who eats much the same diet and quantity stays as thin as a whippet.

  28. Prof Judy Buttriss 23 September 2012 at 12:23 am #

    Dr Briffa refers to a review compiled by Dr Aine O’Connor of the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), which was peer reviewed and published in Nutrition Bulletin this year. The review references a total of 83 published scientific research papers, drawing conclusions from their combined findings. Dr Briffa acknowledged that he has not, himself, read the review and BNF would urge him to do so.

    Contrary to Dr Briffa’s views, the Foundation provides information about its diverse sources of funding and indeed its governance – details are contained in its Annual Reports which are available online:

    BNF does not endorse companies or brands. It works with a broad range of organisations in both the public and private sectors, that share an interest in communication of evidence-based nutrition information, to inform decisions and policies on nutrition for public health benefit. Again details are publicly available in its Annual Reports.

    In Dr O’Connor’s review, ‘An overview of the role of bread in the UK diet’, BNF clearly refers to funding as follows: The British Nutrition Foundation is grateful to Warburtons for financially supporting time spent on the preparation of this review. However, the views expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and Warburtons has not been involved in writing or shaping any of the contents.

    Prof Judy Buttriss
    Director General
    British Nutrition Foundation

  29. William L. Wilson, M.D. 23 September 2012 at 1:51 am #

    The issue of bread is even worse than you describe. It is now clear that excessive fructose mainly from sugar and HFCS is driving insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. When someone with insulin resistance consumes high glycemic carbohydrates such as bread, their brain is subjected to magnified glucose spikes. We believe that over time these toxic glucose spikes trigger a form of food-induced brain dysfunction that we now call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. People with CARB syndrome can develop up to 22 brain dysfunction symptoms that interfere with their ability to function.

    A recent article in the Journal Pediatrics supports this view. It clearly showed that children with metabolic syndrome have brain dysfunction symptoms and structural changes to their brains. The take home message–if you want optimal brain function, dump the sugar and starch.

  30. Tony Dowell 23 September 2012 at 5:51 am #

    Halleluja an Amen,
    the stuff on wheat and gluten is finally getting out there.
    I teach this stuff to medical students, have just finished a GI block, and most of them
    (n=200) had vagely heard about it but really had no idea.
    Most physician colleagues think it’s just a crank idea, if they
    have even heard about it.
    Oh well, I’m doing my bit.

    Vancouver Island, BC

  31. Ted Hutchinson 23 September 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    @ Barry Danser “The French live on Bread and they have lower health problems”
    My guess would be that many French farmers are small “hobby” farmers who save their own seed and stick to traditional wheat varieties that grow well in their region rather than the modern grains.
    Similarly UK bread probably involved the Chorleywood bread process.
    Rising time is longer than times for modern UK breads, which gives the typical French bread its texture.
    It’s likely modern wheat varieties, combined with modern baking processes, cause more inflammation which promotes pathogenic gut flora.

  32. Barry Danser 24 September 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Sadly this is not necessarily the case. My friend who live over there are letting me know that the grains are being genetically modified. Its likely that what you say about the process is true and I really refer to the baguette and not other French Breads. My guess is that the future of bread in France may well be numbered. Its only the small holdings that can keep this tradition going longer due to the smaller population in the larger Country (than the UK)

  33. Barry Danser 24 September 2012 at 12:24 am #

    In response to Sue Gooch having spent a lot of time in France . I feel that your comment on the way the French live is a very valid one.
    I have seen many French eat a whole baguette and down some wine and look good! However I saw that in the burger chains the obesity trap is set. I note your comments about weight loss my wife has the same problem . However the weight problem is normally due to an underlying problem in my wife’s case its Crohns. Also she dieted when she was very young and was fed amphetamines by her doctor.
    Also in this link you will find comments about lifestyle. You should eat well (like the French) but eating in front of the TV or on the run is a no no even if you are eating the best food in the World. Here’s to your next siesta

  34. Barry Danser 24 September 2012 at 1:47 am #

    In response to Prof Buttriss . Having such prestigious members such as Coca Cola etc I wonder if she would like to air her views on GM foods being introduced into produce without our knowledge and permission? It may be one of the reasons why bread is not good for you these days. How does the foundation view GM foods and how do they control their members? A very worrying link–cause-organ-damage-early-death-humans.html

  35. André 24 September 2012 at 1:54 am #

    The digestive system of humans is carnivorous omnivore. So if you think you are a cow, go ahead and eat grains. If, however, you realize you are human (with just ONE stomach), just accept that bread is not fit for human consumption. I eat bread once in so many days, and eat it as a treat. And small portions. When I eat it, it’s always white, because undigestible fiber promotes cancer in the bowel.

    Humans need fish. Iodine and omega 3 are critical to optimal brain fuctioning. And iodine is found in oceans. If meat (the paleo dogma) was so great for the brain, why don’t lions have bigger brains? And how come that dolphins and whales have the most advanced neural systems of all mamals other than man? Could it be that they live on an aquatic diet?

    Bread tastes great, but it is unhealthy. Eating spelt bread is fooling yourself; grains are grains and we we are not build to digest them. The Egyptians started agriculture and pyramid illlustrations show obese egyptians.

    We all have a choise. Just eat what you like no matter what, or eat smart and tasty and avoid all neolithic diseases. I made up my mind.

  36. John Walker 24 September 2012 at 9:04 am #

    There’s a lot in what you say Andre’, but can we be sure that whales and dolphins don’t eat any vegetable matter, both by accident or by design? The manatee, ( the ‘Sea-cow’) is a mostly herbivorous mammal, and by grazing seaweeds. Of course, just like the ruminants, some protein must be taken in by accident, in the shape of organisms that live on the vegetation they graze. Seaborne mammals are mostly blubber; i.e. fat, including the ones that live mostly on fish and plankton. As for the ‘vegetarian’ chimpanzees, our nearest genetic relatives, we have only recently discovered that they do occasionally hunt, and eat meat. I’d say they also have a particularly advanced neural system too; even to the point of self-awareness; (and as it happens, so do the vegetarian elephants; who again must eat some accidental protein.) We are as you say omnivores, but I don’t think meat is completely off the menu. Further, where I live, miles from the coast, , fish wasn’t so readily available prior to modern transport links. Although, I note that I am eating more fish these days, because much as I like meat, (and always have done), I find one can have too much of a good thing!

  37. Lars Berglund 24 September 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Several years back, I did some tests on myself and found that my blood pressure seemed related to whether I ate food based on grain or not. No grain lower blood pressure. It fits nicely with Wolfgang Lutz´ observations 40 years ago. Are you aware of any systematic researchi into this?
    Lars Berglund

  38. Chris 24 September 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    @Shirley Foxcastle

    .. .. but must have fattening butter on it, thus ruining the weight-loss diet

    Welcome to a forum of people in which many believe the choice to consume butter is a good one.
    I know it easy to fall to the opinion that eating animal fats will make us fat, but the issue of weight gain is governed by strong influence and involvement of (a) hormone(s). The lead in this process is acted out by the hormone ‘insulin’, and it is elevated insulin that drives weight gain (or impedes wilful weight-loss). Immediately upstream of high insulin, in the chain of causality, is high consumption of starchy foods – and low consumption of fats.
    Eating lots of starchy carbs causes high insulin which takes excess blood sugar and converts it to glycogen stores, then when the glycogen stores trend to ‘full’, excess blood sugar is converted and laid down as body fat. This is a double whammy as persistent high insulin impedes release of energy laid down as body-fat. Butter is actually the most expedient part of the deal for the weight-conscious person intent on snacking on a sandwich.
    And margarine would be a less expedient choice on health grounds.

    Consumption of margarine could lead to over-consumption of a group of reactive fats belonging to the group of polyunsaturated fats (or PUFAs). These are the more reactive of fats, or the least stable, when compared to mono-unsaturated fats and saturated fats. The body finds PUFAs useful and builds messenger molecules from them, but the body has use for very finite quantities of PUFAs. Exceed those and the potential reactivity of the surplus can lead to complications and issues – especially so if the omega-6 variety of PUFAs are consumed to excess. What results defies my expertise, but the way I imagine things is that there results a ‘causal cascade’ in which simple physiological functions are knocked slightly and incrementally off-balance, but then in turn having a knock on effect upon another feature of physiological function and balance, and so on.

    The fats you find in butter, mostly ‘sat’ and ‘mono’, are the more stable. The body uses them for ‘structural’ purposes, and crucially they can be used for fuel, and on the way to being utilised as fuel they are the least likely of the fats to become damaged and then in turn cause harm. Saturated fats are an undervalued nutrient that don’t cause heart disease. Then if they do cause cholesterol to rise – and even this is contended – it doesn’t matter because cholesterol, per se, has zip to do with heart disease either. Next to the issue of cost. ..
    I can see the appeal of bread on grounds of affordability; but may I point to a paradox. If there are times when the need to tighten ones financial belt requires you rely more on cheap starches then after a time you’ll have to slacken that belt that’s wrapped around your waistline. And there’s another way to consider affordability. ..
    Do not consider the cost of a food item only at face value. Add to any appraisal of affordability the cost per calorie. Butter and double cream may seem expensive but actually the perception of cost falls when appraised and compared thus. Fatty cuts of meat become great value and especially if you don’t waste the fat. Plus; fats in the diet, less so with the PUFAs, restore the level of natural control and self-regulation that helps put a stop to that compulsion to snack on crips, cakes, biscuits, and the like.

  39. Chris 24 September 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    I agree with a lot of your sentiments and find your question interesting. It is one of a type you could put to ‘New Scientist’ and that they might take up with, so an explanation may wind up in one of those books they publish based on answers returned.
    .. .. why don’t lions have bigger brains?
    I suspect the answer lies with evolution. The principle of evolution is similar to all species. Species are acted upon by selection pressures. Any trajectory of evolution taken by any species will be driven by various influences that evolutionists call ‘selection pressures’. But selection pressures can be ‘global’ and/or niche specific. By ‘niche’ I mean placement in a greater ecology, and adaptation to exploit potential sources of food etc. You, me, and our lion, occupy different niches in which the selection pressures that reward our adaptation and choices differ. The Lion followed one successful trajectory and our ancestors (progenitors) followed another.
    Concisely, I’d say the Lion, being a fleet footed quadruped, fully paid up carnivore, that has settled into an economic niche in which he he high up the food chain is well adapted, for now, to sit well with the selection pressures as act upon him. The Lion evolved a level of brain-power commensurate with need.
    Our progenitors climbed trees and used our forelimbs to pick fruit, sometimes reaching upwards to pick fruits and lush leaves hanging above. This was an influence on the trajectory towards bipedalism and manual dexterity. Sadly, trees, fruits, and lush leaves of the former ‘ape-diet’ became scarce in some way. Arboreal habitat may have shrunk and savannah may have expanded. I say ‘may’; the rise of grasses is an accepted climatic and/or ecological event and consequence. Early man could not eat the grasses, nor the seeds, just as the lion cannot either, and in time our ancestors found a niche eating the flesh of the animals that graze on the grass. However there was an interim phase. You may find it summarised as ‘the wimp hypothesis’.
    Early man had not the skills to hunt quadrupeds and herbivores. But he had forelimbs that had some use and could grasp a stone. Early man scavenged carcasses left by successful carnivorous hunters, perhaps like our lion. Using stones he broke open bones for marrow, and broke open skulls for brains. So it is said, this gave early man (progenitors) access to highly expedient fats (fats of the right type) that could have aided structural growth in the size of the brain and, as importantly, help to fuel it.
    A lot of selection pressures have origins with the emergence of adversity. This is as true with man. But the increasingly inventive use of hands and the simplest of tools coupled to a brain whose growth could be aided by access to the right fats necessary for construction, and whose energy demands could be met with increased access to energy dense fats has the look of virtuous circle. We used our hands more, stood on our hind legs more, and crucially the digestive load of the former ape-diet eased. This permitted the anatomy of guts, hips, lower-back and upper-leg to trend to the familiar bi-pedal human we recognise today. Coastal and riverine habitats became important in human development, evolution, migration, and global ubiquity, but crucially the elements I recount occurred in earlier times and in proximity to the Rift Valley, far from marine resources.
    The herbivores make little use of the seeds of the grasses; few species do, because grass needs seeds that ought not be eaten.
    We could not eat those seeds save for two process that came with our advancing abilities (or ineptitude if you prefer); we learned to mill the seeds and then to cook them. Without those two activities, pre-consumptive processes they’d be no use to us at all. And let’s not forget wheat flour is fortified for the very reason it is nutritionally deficient.

    Prof Judy Buttriss, Director General, British Nutrition Foundation.,
    Selection pressures do not act upon species in the Darwinian sense only. In the human, the human economy and economic activity stands comparisons with an ‘ecology’. This ecology is one in which we must find for ourselves and economic niche and fight to defend it. This requirement can be more intense at times than at others.
    When the banks no longer lend so copiously as they did before, or when borrowers no longer feel so confident about borrowing so much as they did before, then the process by which new money comes to the economy and ecology is compromised. We need continuing streams of ‘new money’ to feed the rise in capital value so beloved of stakeholders we call ‘shareholders’. When new money is no longer so plentiful as it was people who can lay claim to capital wealth still insist on their return. Money becomes ‘scarce’ in certain dominions within the ecology.
    The scarcity of money, allied with slavish determination of the wealthy to create a return, constitute huge selection pressures that pass largely unnoticed.
    Given the list of ‘member companies’ whose affiliation populates the BNF it is easy to discern what kind of stakeholder value acts as a selection pressure upon people that work for, or are commissioned to report on a matter by, the BNF.
    It is all to easy for the modern human to adopt preference sensitive values and/or opinions and promote them in return for the promise of crust (English idiomatic term), and driven by selection pressures that escape the individuals notice who thinks his or her stance or activity is rooted in free choice. I would cite Andrew Opie, and his one-sided and only partially objective outlook upon the milk price and protests, as a recent case in point.
    Judy, is your own view on objectivity in any way preference sensitive?

  40. frances 24 September 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Hi Barry…..I Have lived in Normandy for 25 years odd…and I think the oft reported fact that the French have less health problems is becoming a myth. Older people who still use mainly the markets for their food and are consuming lots of unpasterised dairy along with the rest of their diet do seem healthier….but it is disappearing with the advent of more and more supermarkets…just like here sadly. Here in rural Normandy…obesity is rife.

  41. Abbott 24 September 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    What about Rye bread and Spelt bread? Are they as bad as ordinary bread. Spelt bread seemed to work fine for the Roman Army. I believe both have more protein than ordinary wheat bread

  42. donald 25 September 2012 at 12:27 am #

    Glad that someone finally mentioned the dreadful Chorleywood process, I am surprised Dr Briffa makes no distiction between white high gluten chorleywood bread produced in vast quantities by/for supermarkets & chain bakers & artisanally produced traditional bread.
    I can’t eat the former but have no problem with the latter.

  43. Vince 25 September 2012 at 1:17 am #

    As a type2 Diabetic as well as a Dr. I and all the millions like me, either with T2DM or with the frighteningly burgeoning per-diabetes/hyperinulinaemic syndrome taking over our world are acutely aware of the stuff of nightmares called bread. I preach the impossible dream of a healthier world sans flour,sugar and cigarettes. There are NO essential carbohydrates Prof. Butriss, as you must well know, and the millions like me, at least, should limit it or better still do without it completely. Thankfully the science surrounding this is now well established, but getting the message out there ? I doubt that I will ever see it in my lifetime. Try as I might. Come downunder to Australia and see what bread and sugar almost singlehandedly has done to my Indigenous hunter/gatherer brothers in a short 200 years…

  44. bog 25 September 2012 at 1:35 am #

    @André i agree with you about humans and what we’re built to eat, but cows aren’t built to eat grains either, they’re herbivores.

  45. ed 25 September 2012 at 1:58 am #

    It is not bread in general, it is the type of bread and how it was made. 98% of what is called bread these days is industrial crap. Good grains, long fermentation, wholemeal and sourdough are the magic words. I know kids who had problems with eating bread, I gave them my sourdough and they are absolutely fine. Most ‘food’ you get in supermarkets etc. is void of anything you need and doesn’t satiate/fill you up. In general just avoid anything from supermarkets, eat lots of vegetables, wholegrains, get real food and you can eat anything. Wether you get fat is in the quantity and quality of the food keeping in mind your lifestyle. Mark Bittman has got a nice book on it and he is 100% right.

  46. John Walker 25 September 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Mark Bittman is vegetarian. Right?
    But, why eat lots of vegetables? Leave some for the rabbits. They taste nicer when they have been eating THEIR proper diet. Maybe eating more rabbit is one way we could be sure of getting economically priced ‘organic’ meat. Because the additives that are put into meat these days create many of the problems we face on a high fat diet. And as for lions, well they might have a small brain, but I never saw one that was overweight. Come to that, I believe as adults, they don’t run until they need to hunt. (Maybe the occasional lope, when they need to run away from the occasional elephant!) I don’t believe they suffer from diabetes either; but I’m not a veterinarian, so I can’t be sure.

  47. Dr Sheulee Roy 25 September 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Professor Buttris, anything further? First do no harm seems a long long way from your sustaining members achievements, on a global scale. Could i just clarify from the website that these ‘sustaining’ members give you sustenance in the form of money? They are :
    Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
    Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland
    Danone Waters and Dairies UK Ltd
    DuPont Nutrition and Health Division
    J Sainsbury plc
    Kellogg Company of Great Britain Limited
    Kraft Foods UK Ltd
    Nestlé UK Ltd
    PepsiCo UK Ltd
    Tate & Lyle
    The ABF Grocery Group
    Unilever plc
    Would you concede at least that it is very easy to become addicted to sugar? And that sugar rots teeth, causes obesity and possibly we will discover when the right research is done, can encourage cancers? Would you concede that GI function improves for a great many people when they exclude or signicantly cut down wheat? As a national institution how could it be possible for you to deny the above? And why would you take money from the pushers of highly processed foods? Is it a tactical move to keep your enemies close? No, sorry I just spotted your ‘Is sugar really toxic’ article on your website. Unbelievable. I would really like to know how much processed, sugary, starchy food versus how much fresh food your own children and grandchildren eat. That, would be the proof of the pudding.

  48. Barry Danser 25 September 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Frances I agree with your statement and saw the effect in France myself. I did mention previously that the waistlines are widening in France.
    Meantime Prof Buttris having tried a little potshot at Dr. Briffa please do comment on the harmfulness of sugar and processed carbohydrates that seem to be OK in your view?

  49. Helen Howes 26 September 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    A few years ago, on the Continent with my OH, we found trousers to fit him in ordinary French supermarkets – at that point a 54 – 56 inch waist. In England he was having to go to a specialist supplier..
    I don’t think all of the French are all that thin.. He (my OH) is now celiac, so no more bread, I’ve just reduced some of his trousers by at least 10 inches..

  50. Barry Hill 27 September 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    A lot of complicated stuff going on here. So good to have your comments Anna which confirm my observations regarding ryebread.

  51. Barry Danser 27 September 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Better to observe one of my old friends who lived until 99 plus.
    Never eat anything that comes in a packet

  52. Anna Hatton 27 September 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    Modern supermarket bread is steam baked with no actual proving of the dough and contains soya, processed vegetable oils and various other unhealthy ingredients. I have just returned from Germany where the traditionally baked ryebread is delicious and the dough goes through a lengthy proving process using a natural sourdough culture which makes for a dense but satisfying bread. It is this fermentation process which makes the bread easier to digest, gives it a pleasant slightly sour flavour and means people have to actually chew it when eating – certainly not the case when consuming the soft spongy plastic encased rubbish that passes for most bread sold in the UK.

  53. John Walker 28 September 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Anna, I agree, ‘good’ bread is delicious. In the same way other addictive substances are delicious. Eat bread and you get a craving to eat more carbs. Maybe you don’t eat more carbs, but I would wager you get tempted to ‘just another slice’. I fall foul now and again; for instance I have a slice of toast when I eat kippers, to help the bones down! However, for the most part my carbs come from non-starchy fresh veg and fresh fruit. Like Barry, I am suspicious of ‘surprise packages’. I used to eat pies, until I found a metal staple in a ‘Pukka Pie’. The side benefit of not eating pies is more flour off my diet list! The farmers who thought it would be convenient to ‘settle’ and grow/rear food have a lot to answer for I fear.

  54. Mike Elgan 30 September 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    The problem with bread is that it’s industrially processed and uses industrial (mutated) modern wheat, for the most part. Bread made from naturally leavened, properly fermented ancient grains are extremely good for you.

  55. Jackie Wilkinson 1 October 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    I wrote about bread in August when I was on my way to France to compete at the World Field Archery Championships
    Some people seem to be fine with bread but lots more suffer. I have had many people (non-coeliacs) on my courses who feel huge amounts better for cutting bread out of their diet. As is currently fashionable, I ate cereal and toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch myself for years and was overweight, bloated and permanently exhausted. Home-baked is certainly better than supermarket bread but for lots of people the best option is not to eat it at all.


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    […] (purveyors of bread). You can read the original blog post and Professor Buttriss’ objections here, as well as my response to her here. . I did email Professor Buttriss suggesting that she might […]

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    […] in praise of bread which was funded by a bread manufacturer. I wrote about this here. The Director General of the BNF wrote to me with some sort of a defence, but closer examination […]

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    […] (purveyors of bread). You can read the original blog post and Professor Buttriss’ objections here, as well as my response to her here. . I did email Professor Buttriss suggesting that she might […]

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    […] biased ‘review’ in praise of bread which was funded by a bread manufacturer. I wrote about this here. The Director General of the BNF wrote to me with some sort of a defence, but closer examination […]

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