The head of the British Nutrition Foundation responds to my blog post on bread, and I have a few words for her too

Last week one of my blog posts focused on a widely reported ‘news’ story which concerned the supposed value of bread in the diet. These reports appear to have followed the publication of an article in the Nutrition Bulletin, the ‘journal’ of an organisation called the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). I admitted at the time that I hadn’t read the article and was basing my comments on the news pieces and abstract. Subsequently, Professor Judy Buttriss, Director General of the BNF, left the following comment on my site:

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

In a personal email to me, she sent a similar message but also attached a copy of the article which appeared in the Nutrition Bulletin. Here, again, she urged me to read the article. I’m glad I did. What I found was much worse than I ever imagined…

Professor Buttriss tells us that the review references “83 published scientific papers”. The article does have 83 references, but several of these are not what we regarded as ‘published scientific papers’. Some, for example, are government-derived data on food intakes in the UK, and one is a book. This may seem picky, but what it suggests to me that while I may not have read the article prior to my blog post last week, perhaps Professor Buttriss had not read the paper in its entirely either.

Professor Buttriss also draws our attention to the fact that the article is peer-reviewed. Peer review is a process by which suitably experience/qualified individuals read and assess articles prior to publication. However, in the very first paragraph of the article we see these lines:

Since 1942, all UK wheat flour except wholemeal flour has been fortified with calcium carbonate (to provide calcium at a time when dairy products were rationed and the phytate content of flour was high; impeding calcium absorption) and thiamine to white flour. Since 1953, thiamine, niacin and iron have been restored to white flour (to ensure the micronutrient composition of white flour closely resembles wholemeal flour) and millers were freed from producing only high extraction flour.

The first sentence does not seem properly constructed, and the second makes reference to thiamine being added to flour in 1953 even through the previous sentence states that its addition started in 1942. I’m wondering what sort of a job the reviewers were doing. Did all of them miss these errors so early on in the article? And this is before we even get on to the subject of the (I think) bias inherent in the article (see below).

Professor Buttriss tells us that the BNF’s ‘diverse sources of funding’ which can be found in its annual reports. She links to the BNF site, but not the part of it that contains the relevant information. This suggests to me that she is perhaps less keen to have people actually accessing this information than she would like to appear. But I might be wrong.

She starts the paragraph by saying: “Contrary to Dr Briffa’s views, the Foundation provides information about its diverse sources of funding and indeed its governance…”

I suppose she’s referring to this line in my blog post: “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.” But after this comment I linked to this article  in the Independent newspaper which contains the following passage:

However, the organisation’s 39 members, which contribute to its funding, include – beside the Government, the EU – Cadbury, Kellogg’s, Northern Foods, McDonald’s, PizzaExpress, the main supermarket chains except Tesco, and producer bodies such as the Potato Council. The chairman of its board of trustees, Paul Hebblethwaite, is also chairman of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Trade Association.

Critics say the foundation’s dependence on the food industry is reflected in its support for the views promoted by industry and that it is not fully transparent about its funding.

The foundation is holding a conference next month on the science of low-calorie sweeteners, which aims to “separate fact from fiction”. The web page for the event says “intense sweeteners have been available as a means of reducing sugar intake for more than a century” but the perceptions of them “can be somewhat negative”. The conference aims to “explore the facts behind the stories and see where low-calorie sweeteners fit into today’s foodscape.”

The web page doesn’t say, though the information is available elsewhere on the website, that the foundation is financially supported by Tate & Lyle, British Sugar, Ajinomoto (maker of AminoSweet), and McNeil Consumer Nutritionals (maker of Splenda).

A foundation press release in February said people could shake off the winter blues by drinking more fluids. It didn’t say that its donors include Danone (producer of Evian, Volvic, and Badoit), Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Innocent, Twinings, Nestlé, and various yoghurt drink manufacturers. A footnote mentions the food industry as one of the foundation’s funding sources.

Joe Harvey of the Health Education Trust, a charity promoting health education for young people, said: “Organisations like the British Nutrition Foundation which want to be seen as offering independent advice should avoid donations from the food industry or be much more up front about them so the public are aware of the involvement. It is naive to take industry money and believe there is no quid pro quo.”

I feel there’s a clear conflict of interest with the BNF, and that concerns about transparency are legitimate, and it seems I’m not the only one. Perhaps Professor Buttriss would care to comment.

Professor Buttriss does leave the best for last, when she draws our attention to the fact that Warburtons “financially [supported] time spent on the preparation of the review.” So, let’s not mince our words and tell it straight: A bread manufacturer has funded a review which lauds the supposed nutritional attributes of bread. This, despite the fact that, as I stated in my original blog post, superfood it ain’t. And then there’s plenty about bread we should be wary of.

But Professor Buttriss does not engage in any meaningful way with the health-related issues I raise in my blog post at all. Is there any enlightenment to be found in the article itself? Don’t hold your breath…

To her credit, Dr O’Connor (the BNF ‘nutrition scientist’ who authored the article) tells us that bread is generally classified as a high-glycaemic index food (very destabilising for blood sugar). But nowhere in the article does she discuss the potential health hazards this poses. No mention of the symptoms of blood sugar instability, or the fact that high-GI foods are linked with diverse health issues including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. Not a word.

And what of bread’s capacity to cause food-sensitivity related issues? Not a dicky bird on this issue either. Gluten sensitivity does not even get a mention, and neither does coeliac disease. Like they don’t happen.

So, excuse me Professor Buttriss if I am left with the impression that Warburtons have paid for a favourable review of its chief product (bread). Any person with even a smattering of nutritional knowledge I suspect would see this ‘review’ as heavily biased. Your assertion that “Warburtons [had] not been involved in writing or shaping any of the contents” does not reassure me at all. Something tells me many others will feel pretty much the same way.

So, Professor, please do comment on any of the above and also perhaps answer this question: How did this review come about in the first place? Specifically, did the BNF approach Warburtons with the idea of a review which Warburtons may fund? Or did Warburtons hatch the plan and bring it to you? And maybe tell us too how much Warburton stumped up to support the “time” spent preparing the article. If you really believe the BNF is an ethical organisation and transparent in its dealings, now’s your chance to prove it.

53 Responses to The head of the British Nutrition Foundation responds to my blog post on bread, and I have a few words for her too

  1. Phil Chamberlain 26 September 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Very interesting work. I wrote the original article for the BMJ on the BNF which the Independent then rehashed. This appears to be another in a long list of examples of how the BNF’s independent research curiously chimes with the interests of its corporate funders.
    Am always impressed with how the BNF gets coverage for its findings in The Sun, Telegraph and, in particular, The Daily Mail. It would be helpful if the journalists there took the trouble you have done to dig a little deeper.

  2. Davorin 27 September 2012 at 1:52 am #

    Briffa 1 – Buttriss 0

  3. PhilT 27 September 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    You can spot the weasel at work – “BNF does not endorse companies or brands.” – so they do endorse groups or types of foodstuffs, but not specific labels ?

  4. Gary Conway 27 September 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Thanks Dr. B for taking these guys to task. It’s important that these people are challenged and hopefully one day they will hold themselves to a higher standard.

  5. lupo 27 September 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    If you want to find out what the hell is going on, be it in politics, healthcare, environment, defense … there is only one rule: “Follow the money”. As if anyone was ever going to bite the hand that feeds him.

  6. Jean 28 September 2012 at 11:56 am #

    You must be getting to be a force to be reckoned with – at least they are reading your blog!

  7. John Walker 28 September 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Professor Buttris,

    I am quite prepared to believe that you were not assisted by a bakery in the actual compilation of your reports/papers. I don’t know about your funding. However, if your work is funded by ANY firm involved in the grain industry, I am quite sure they wouldn’t want their product vilified. The grain industry is extremely important to the world economy. It makes sense that any serious threat to the stability of the grain market has to be nullified. Whilst I don’t suspect conspiracies, I can see a ready connection. Warning bells for the grain giants… “We are selling less grain! Somehow we have to convince consumers they need our product.” Ergo, out trots another scientific study on the benefits of bread! Common sense really. Whatever side you come down on Professor, no one needs to mention particular firms. All that is required is for the report to be slanted toward the ‘positive’ effects of grains and flour in general. Then these massive companies are happy. I don’t know if that’s how thing work. What I do know is that when I stopped eating so much bread, and other starches, I lost weight. I felt better overall, my indigestion went away, and now I have more energy to go for a good long walk every day. Some might say I am losing weight because of the exercise. I don’t think this is so. The walking does tone up muscle, which helps me move around better, yes, but that is totally different to believing exercise helps to shed weight. All this benefit has emerged merely because I reduced my intake of starch and sugar. I have been ‘tested’ for sensitivity to grains and was given the ‘all-clear’, so I am sure it’s nothing to do with any condition I might have. Thus, all the studies in the world won’t alter, or make me ignore, the physical effects I have experienced since eating more protein and fat.

  8. danny owen 28 September 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Dr Briffa, you are spot on with all that you are saying. Thank goodness there are people like you around to put some sanity back into health ! I would not suprise me if they did not even know Warburtons made BREAD!! They probably thought it was a Menswear store !!
    As with one of your previous forum guests said about losing wieght, I gave up bread, sugar most processed food and the WRONG carbs and lost 2 stone 3 lbs in just a few months !!Keep up your excellent work !

  9. Helen 28 September 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    Nothing would induce me to eat Warburton’s cotton wool fare anyway. A few days ago I tried baking again with a low-gluten wholewheat flour I used to buy from an excellent watermill in Cumbria. I have rather a lot of flour, bought just a few weeks before I did some reading and ‘saw the light’. Three small scones later, and all the gurgling and churning returned. My abdominal bloat worsened, headache set in, and the extra fatigue has been incredible – it still hasn’t worn off. I still miss my visits to that mill though! Excellent cafe…

  10. Scott 28 September 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Hilarious! I wonder whether Warburtons paid for the PR and press release that promoted the article, and whether they would have done so ‘if’ the review had been negative.

  11. Hedley Spargo 28 September 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    I wonder if the worthy professor would be happy to declare her sponsors for her PhD, and also who sponsored her Chair as Professor?

  12. Gerda Flöckinger C B E 28 September 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    I have no idea what a ‘registered Gravatar’ is, nor an avatar for that matter.
    I just wanted to say that if you are going to be picky with other people’s sentence structures, then I would suggest that you look at the first sentence of your sixth paragraph above – I am unable to understand what you mean when you write “Professor Buttriss tells us that the BNF’s diverse sources of funding which can be found in its annual reports.” A bit of glasshouses comes to mind.
    As to your attack on the ‘staff of life’ etc. it’s an awkward one for many people to accept as the idea of flour for bread is so very embedded in european culture.
    Personally I find your theory extremely interesting, particularly as I decided not to include gluten in any form in my own diet some 10/12 years ago because of the problems I was having with it personally. GF

  13. Les P 28 September 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    For over thirty years governments, vested interests and the well intentioned but dim-witted have ensured that the public has been given incorrect information regarding diet and nutrition. It’s one of the great scandals of our time.

    Thankfully, we have Dr Briffa and a few other like minded individuals to debunk the myths. Long may that continue, and let’s hope the mainstream media wake up eventually.

    I am also one of the individuals who has given the boot to processed food and starchy carbs, and who finds himself lighter and healthier as a result.

  14. Marly Harris 28 September 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Congratulations! The big boys are paying attention to you (finally). I gave up all grains twelve years ago and I am one healthy happy hot momma at 80.

  15. Dr Sheulee Roy 28 September 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    Just wondering Professor Buttris if you might like to get your expertise over to a new audience, say via the Health Correspondent at the Guardian? Can anyone help spread this debate? It really seems too good not to share Dr Briffa…

  16. John Walker 28 September 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    Quote :The baker gets up to work at three o’clock in the morning so as you can have “today’s bread.: Unquote
    “And the Devil starts early, his mischief to perform”. I don’t know if that’s in the Holy Bible, but maybe it should be?

  17. Jayney Goddard 29 September 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Outstanding work John. Very many thanks indeed for your efforts. By the way, my dad has been following your recommendations to the letter and has lost about three stone of, predominantly, abdominal fat, he looks and feels so much better. He has been basing his programme on your Escape The Diet Trap book, which he finds very straight forward and easy to implement. He loves the book and says that it is a real ‘page turner’ and that he can’t put it down – it’s very exciting and he can’t wait to see what he’s going to learn next. The reason that I am telling you this is because dad is very dyslexic indeed and yet your book has inspired him to read and this is, frankly, amazing as he does have such difficulty. Anyway John, I just wanted to express my profound gratitude! Very best wishes, Jayney

  18. Andrew Rynne 29 September 2012 at 12:48 am #

    My instincts tell me that Dr Briffa is correct here. Multinational Industry’s interference and manipulation of ‘science’ is as old as science itself. The Pharmaceutical Industry is a pass masters at it.
    However, when we dare to cast aspersions on bread, we may be entering a debate of a different order. Bread and human life itself, have intimate and primordial associations that resonate deep in all our souls. We need to be aware of this and to thread carefully. Here are just a few examples of what I’m referring to:
    > “Give us this day our daily bread” says the second part of a universal and ancient Christian
    prayer; as if bread was the very essence of life itself.
    > ‘On the bread line’ refers to people who are just about able to get by. Again this suggest that
    bread is a basic essential.
    > “This is my body” Jesus is reported to have said, holding up a morsel of bread.
    > The baker gets up to work at three o’clock in the morning so as you can have “today’s bread
    today” The list goes on and on.
    I know, or at least I suspect, that gluten causes far more than full blown Coeliac Disease. I know, or at least I suspect, that it may have a role in autoimmune disease for example. However, in decrying bread, perhaps we need to be sensitive here. Asking people to believe that bread might be bad for them, is a bit like asking them not to keep a dog or light a log fire. It may not be an easy sell.

  19. Julie Regan 29 September 2012 at 1:34 am #

    I Just LOVE your articles – really sorts the chaff from the wheat – so to speak x

  20. mike pollard 29 September 2012 at 1:40 am #

    What gets me is the brass neck of these people. They think that they are speaking to the ignorant and ill informed. Well I’ve got news for them – there is a growing body of intelligent people who realise the vast problem of obesity related disease is connected with something other than the nonsense fed to us by the powers that be. They are internet savvy; able to research, absorb and disseminate information that might just turn things around. That’s why they are running scared and responding to science with pseudo science.

  21. Dr John Briffa 29 September 2012 at 1:43 am #

    Thanks Julie – appreciate your words

  22. Dr John Briffa 29 September 2012 at 1:47 am #


    I don’t think I could have put it myself! You’re right, there’s a movement of well-informed and motivated individuals who are a force to be reckoned with. As a result, the BNF and the dietetic industry has a serious credibility issue and I don’t see them being able to turn it around now.

  23. Kathy Cornwell 29 September 2012 at 1:52 am #

    I am one of the statistics that no longer eats Gluten – which has given me increased health. I have auto immune disease that runs through my family and I firmly believe that gluten us the culprit of auto immune, which I am keen to avoid as we’ll as my children..
    My diet is very healthy as its based on fresh fruit and vegetables, unprocessed meat and fish, rice, pulses, nuts and seeds – there is no need for gluten in a diet.
    It is wrong that these commercial food giants can be involved in such reports. The saying “you are what you eat” is so true if people can be bothered to make an effort to look after their bodies and not believe all the marketing hype from these food producers.
    Well done Dr B for challenging this!

  24. Chris Busby 29 September 2012 at 1:55 am #

    I gave up bread and other gluten grains 2 years ago,no more bloating,fat around the middle gone and a lot more energy,i will never touch the so called Staff of life again

  25. Dr. Bill Wilson 29 September 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Bread, smead–the argument has been over for years. Bread has no place in a healthy diet. It is not nutritionally dense and it is a grain based high glycemic carbohydrate. If an evil scientist wanted to invent a food to destroy mankind, bread would fit the bill. Go ahead and smoke, drink alcohol and eat bread but don’t try to pawn bread off as a healthy part of our diet.

  26. Zoe 29 September 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Keep going with this important issue Dr. Briffa. It sickens me that the food industry is so powerful that in pursuit of financial gain, they exert influence over supposedly neutral companies such as the BNF. This needs to be exposed. Setting aside the debate over the health benefits of wholegrains, anyone with a modicum of common sense, should be able to see that the list of ingredients on the average sliced loaf in a supermarket, contains items they will not have heard of. If you want to eat bread, buy a quality wholegrain flour and make your own. The only ingredients you need are flour, salt, water, yeast and a sweetener such as honey or sugar. Do not buy bread with anything else added.

  27. Oliver Dowding 29 September 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Dr. Briffa, done us all a wonderful favour by exposing the funding sources for the organisation. As others say, follow the money. They are no more interested in the health of the individual than are those same corporations who fund them. It’s a sick world and they are the sponsors.

  28. Lurker 29 September 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    I make all my own bread, using a French baguette recipe. It takes much longer, but I know what is in it. We don’t have any of the problems outlined above, and enjoy a fresh loaf every day.

  29. Katey mcendoo 29 September 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Help ! Dr Briffa, I am currently teaching nutrition at secondary school, all our exam stuff is in line with the BNF recommendations for a healthy diet…
    I like reading your blog and recommend my students follow it too ,but we are a bit spooked as to who is right! (Although I feel instinctively it’s you) A hell of a lot of students use the BNF website because it is so comprehensive , What shall we do!

  30. MARY SCHEMBRI 29 September 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    CONGRATULATIONS DR. Briffa, very well done, keep up the good work, I read every single email sent. I appreciate your work and you’re doing a great job.

  31. Marisa Choguill 30 September 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Excellent work, Dr. Briffa! Keep it up!

  32. Chris 30 September 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    .. .. but we are a bit spooked as to who is right!

    Dear Katey,
    I recall a young female student who passed by and left a comment in 2009. She was researching coursework for nutrition and seemed as spooked as you. She passed remarks to the effect that sentiments pressed home here didn’t fit well with official advice or the guidance from the ‘eatwell plate’ as (once) promoted by our Food Standards Agency and the BNF.
    “The official advice is wrong”, somebody helpfully advised, while another comment tried to be pragmatic and constructive suggesting the student recognised that the answers and orthodoxy expected by the curriculum might not actually be in alignment with the ‘truth’. This would come as a shock to anyone who can grasp the ramifications, and a shock to a young, impressionable, and perhaps naïve pupil whose relationship with her education and her tutors is based upon trust.

    Where we fail is that we do not pay sufficient regard to the evolutionary nature of knowledge. Previous generations from history have adopted pet explanations for the way things are – and frankly we look back upon them and see some of them as ridiculous. The truism we overlook is that future generations will look back at some of our pet theories and see some of these as ridiculous. One such theory equates to heart disease and stems from a gent called Dr Ancel Keys.
    Keys suggested diets rich in saturated fat and/or cholesterol could raise levels of cholesterol in our blood and cause the surplus to be deposited in our arteries just beneath the inner surface of the arterial wall in a region cardiologists call the ‘endolethium’. ‘Just beneath the inner surface of the arterial wall’ is just too simple an explanation that we might actually understand so they give it a fancy term. Medical science operates a lot like religion. Keys had been fascinated by the work of some Russians from around 100 years ago who fed cholesterol to rabbits and who observed the cholesterol in the rabbits diet promote the growth of fatty streaks, ‘atheromas’, in the ‘endolithium’. The development of ‘atheromas’ in the ‘endolithium’ is sometimes called ‘atherosclerosis’ and that to you and me is one aspect of heart disease. The fatty streaks contain cholesterol, yes, but after fifty years since Keys came up with his hypothesis we’re still no wiser how the cholesterol actually gets there and, since many cells of the body can synthesis cholesterol for all we know endolithial cells could be the source (A slightly rhetorical proposition). The fact is the Russians had made a least one mistake we know of and that mistake was the cholesterol they added to rabbit chow could have become oxidised without that they knew. The effects of oxidised cholesterols were pinned on cholesterol itself.
    Keys was unfortunate and unaware and he built a hypothesis based on the Russians work. Keys hypothesis was largely speculation and i8n time he was asked to provide evidence. He had none as such but committed a significant indiscretion when he cherry picked data and fabricated the ‘seven countries study’ around his cherry picked data. The rest is history. The data promoted a false impression of a positive relationship of consumption of animal fats or saturated fats to incidence of heart disease, when indeed there was no such relationship.
    Keys hypothesis is now an undisputed ‘fact’ in medical orthodoxy despite there is no basis in fact at all. Consequentially carbohydrates have become a grossly overrated macro-nutrient of modern times while fats, especially saturated fats or animal fats, have become grossly underrated. Consumption of saturated fats has been displaced by over-consumption of polyunsaturated fats, especially the omega-6 group.
    If you want to fast track to cognition, Katey, source two books:
    1, Trick and Treat (Barry Groves)
    2, Earthing (Ober, Sinatra, & Zucker)
    then turn up the index and look up ‘multiple sclerosis’ and try to make sense of what is being directed and the implication that high carb diets and diets high in polyunsaturated fats can be promotional of ‘inflammation’ that is seen as pathway to many of the conditions of poor health that plague our times.

    What shall we do!

    You must try not to spook your students.
    You must not disadvantage students for being familiar with orthodoxy.
    You must not disadvantage students who question orthodoxy.
    You must reward students who demonstrate healthy and sincere scepticism towards orthodoxy and you must be in a position to reward them if they can show even viscid and intuitive reason to doubt orthodoxy.
    If you engage actively with exploration of premises and scepticism and you think the syllabus is weak or harbours bias then you should contrive to make a challenge to the curriculum providing you can do so without unduly undermining your security and status in your occupation and amongst your peers. It is morally correct you should.
    Finally, if you become assured your initial intuition is well-founded and you consider counter-orthodox viewpoints to be the more authentic then come back and say so much in as many words for the benefit of people new to the idea.
    Above all be sceptical, even towards your own newly emerging opinions.

  33. stan 1 October 2012 at 2:02 am #

    It is good that the status quo on nutrition is challenged, but do you think for a moment that the average consumer will change their ways in a hurry? Nuritional education needs to begin at school, buy who to teach it? Teacher who have been bought up on the typical diet of processed food and white bread!
    Can you clearly state if even homemade whole meal bread is bad ffod?
    thanks for your good work

  34. Adrian Hepworth 1 October 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Another excellent article followed by some really good comments.

    Someone pointed out that with the need to rely more on self reliance as food and fuel prices soar, the thing most will miss is ‘convenience’, the ability to pop down to the shops and buy processed food or a loaf of bread. With the race to earn a crust (sorry about that) we all have less time to cook for ourselves so the appeal of processed food is both financial, convenience and speed of preparation. Unfortunately impatience has changed two foods, one for the better and one not so good.

    The good development was the invention of the espresso machine. Until that time coffee houses sold filter coffee but it took about 11 minutes to get the average ‘brew’. The speed with which hot water could be pumped through the ground coffee meant both quicker turn round of customers through the door and the ability to use dusty coffee. The dust left from coarser grinds would block a filter and had been discarded. Now it could be used.

    The other food that suffered from impatience is bread. Up until the 20th century all bread would have been sour dough, whose name is unfortunately enough to put some people off. Its isn’t sour.

    Sour dough uses only flour and water and perhaps a little salt to strengthen the gluten. There is NO fat and NO sugar and NO added yeast.

    The main trouble with sour dough is that it takes ages to rise and it was this extended proving period that lead to its downfall. When a baker decided to pop down to the local brewery and use some brewers yeast in his bread, the speed with which it proved meant, the same as the coffee, the baker could get more customers by making bread quicker and therefore more loaves in the same time.

    I’ve been baking our bread for about 12 years using a bread machine and the usual ingredients of flour, water, fat, sugar, salt and yeast but bread machines do not have a program for sour dough because of the time needed to prove it and also because this time can vary according to many factors like temperature and air pressure. Don’t let this deter you from trying it.

    I now only make sour dough and while it can take 12 hours to prove, you don/’t have to stand and watch it. Its now taking me less time than regular bread in a bread machine. For those interested, here is what I do.

    One ingredient not mentioned above is the starter. You can make your own by taking a bowl of half strong white bread flour and half water, well mixed, and leave it out for several days. After you see it begin to get bubbles on the top, you throw half of it away and top it up with half flour and half water and repeat the process two or three times over the next few days. This will give you a starter that is unique to your locality with all the wild yeast from your area.

    The bubbles are the same CO2 you get in regular bread dough. The only difference is you’ve used the yeast and bacteria floating in the air. That’s the same air you breath so every breath you take will include a few million yeast and bacteria. The bacteria begins to digest the flour and in exactly the same way every carbohydrate you consume is immediately turned into sugar by your body. Its this sugar that the yeast digests and in turn gives of the gas that makes the bread rise.

    If you don’t like this idea you can always find somebody nearby wiling to let you have some of the starter they use. I use white flour for the starter and, having read the many nutritional/medical sites about the lack of any nutrition in bran, its dubious usefulness and implications in irritable bowel syndrome, I now use white flour for most loaves. If we fancy a change I use Spelt wholemeal flour for the loaf but still feed the starter with the white flour. Spelt is another of those ancient species that has not been crossed with other wheat.

    To make the bread I just put 8oz (225gm) starter, a pound (445gm) of flour and 1/2 pint (300ml) warm water in the bread machine. Switch it on to its basic program and let it kneed the dough. Usually about 10 minutes. When its finished needing I then turn the machine off. You can then go and leave for as many hours as convenient, sometimes overnight or all day while at work. Hopefully it will have risen to a decent size when you next look at it. Then turn the bread machine onto its bake program and turn on. Usually baking takes an hour.

    The remainder of the starter needs to be fed with the 50/50 mix as you started with. If baking regularly you will need to do this each time. You can keep a batch for about a week in a fridge but remember to wake it up by warming it before you start your loaf. It should be very ‘active’ with loads of bubbles before you start.

    My wife and I rarely use more than a single 1.5lb loaf for a whole week so cut and freeze when it ready. Because of the lack of added sugar, toasting doesn’t brown it as quickly.

    Since our braed machine packed up last week, the last two loaves have been made by mixing the ingredients by hand in a bowl and when all combined remove from the bowl and kneed by hand for about 10-20 minutes. This is not as onerous as I had feared. Just add more flour or water so you end with a dough that doesn’t stick to you or the work surface.

    The resulting loaf has a thick chewy crust and loads of flavour. Many artisan loaves like ciabatta would originally have been sour doughs but that impatience has meant yeast is now added.

  35. Katey mcendoo 1 October 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Wow Chris!
    Thank you for your interesting response to my “spook” you have given me a lot to think about…

  36. John Walker 1 October 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Well the last graduate in nutrition I spoke to, told me I was making myself look ‘silly’ (A euphemism for stupid I think!) by taking about bread in negatives and about fat and protein in positives. I guess he hadn’t heard about ‘counter-argument’. He MUST have been right; he told me so. So much for a University education, in nutrition. Pathetic!

  37. Gerda Flöckinger C B E 2 October 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Whilst it seems extremely likely that there is a lobby for wheat and wheat product – and that it pursues its own interests in this matter above all else – to condemn the eating of wheat and wheat products without a good deal of further research and investigation is simply far too superficial to be used as a working theory.
    To discuss wheat and wheat products in abstraction and not in connection with the many other substances humans insist on consuming is also half-baked and cannot and will not give adequate answers.
    The discussion seems now to have evolved into the fors and the againsts without further real backing information for either side.
    When I mentioned that I had had problems with the digestion of wheat and wheat products, I did not mention that this happened in my life after many years – probably in my later ‘sixties – of a great deal of food abuse on my part. i.e. far too many different foods and in far too many combinations, a great amount of the consumption of various sugar confections, cakes, chocolates etc etc. (one of the great problems with wheat products is that they became combined with more and more delectably tasting sugar/butter/fruit jams/refined flour combinations which can be difficult if not impossible to resist once tasted and can be extremely habit-forming). And which constituted far too large a proportion of my ‘food’ intake.
    Wheat bread actually has the longest history of being a staple diet for many peoples of this planet for incalculable time, without seemingly having caused either digestive or weight problems (“Give us this day our daily bread” is hardly a plea for poison).
    For the first ten years of my life I lived on a pretty simple diet – including rye. black and white breads, without any problems. My digestive problems probably began with eating in restaurants, being able to choose what I wanted to eat and what not according to purely personal taste preference and whim.
    For most of my life I had absolutely no idea as to what might constitute a wholesome way of eating and what might not. I did not begin to think about that at all until I had developed very real digestive problems and become consistently overweight.
    It would seem to me most important at this time and certainly before drawing any hard and fast conclusions, to look at all aspects in this case of wheat, its history of use by humans for their own food, the way wheat is grown now, how much it has been hybridised more recently to make it more productive than it had been in its original forms, etc. etc., before drawing hard and fast conclusions as to the benefits and disbenefits for humans of the consumption of wheat products. So many people are anxious to take sides before they even know why and without wanting to think or to look at what they are doing.
    For one thing, a really bad general diet might predispose the human intestinal tract to become damaged in ways which may THEN make the digestion of wheat problematic. Transfats also are all too frequently still used in the production of cakes etc. These could also be causing major damage and therefore causing intestinal problems which then seem far removed from their actual causes because no one is looking for them in the right place.
    Just please think before jumping to conclusions of such sweeping proportions and in both directions.

  38. Chris 3 October 2012 at 12:51 am #

    You are welcome Katey, (!)
    I chanced to catch up with content on my PVR yesterday and watched the first episode of ‘Andrew Marr’s History of the World’. It is an eight part series made in association with the Open University and broadcast by the BBC. Episode 1 is sub-headed, ‘Survival’, and begins the story of human advance about 70,000 years ago, venturing into the dawn of agrarianism and early settled civilisations.
    As you would expect from the BBC general quality and staging of the story is excellent albeit some might find some of the narration a bit slow or a bit superficial. But mention was made of some established and largely incontrovertible science:
    There is an archaeological record of human evolution stretching back hundreds of thousands of years. We ‘know’ what homo species sit upstream of us in the flow of evolution. Quite striking is that tooth decay and arthritis only entered the archaeological record in association with times and places in which agrarian practice was becoming established and where agrarianism was based upon cultivation and consumption of wheat, corn, and suchlike.
    Here the narrative became a little circumspect, perhaps because of the sensitive nature of potential ramifications. Causality for tooth decay was placed firmly at the feet of the new starchy foods. But causality for arthritis was placed more vaguely and loosely implied a link to a change of occupational activities with the new means to exist. I see this as retreat form the potentially sensitive nature of the truth.
    I think the episode ‘Survival’ is available on iplayer for around seven weeks still and the content may interest ys and your students.

  39. John Walker 3 October 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Oh come on Gerda! How much more evidence, (Circumstantial or otherwise) do you need? Since the 60/70s, we have been given Government guidelines urging us, most of all, to stop eating so much fat. Little was ever mentioned about starchy vegetables and grains, and sugars were given only cursory mention. The villain was always fat. Fat, fat, fat; the word itself is misleading. Yet since those times, the obesity problem has not improved, but has worsened. I refuse to believe that is because ‘most dieters cheat’, or ‘don’t realise how much they have eaten’. That might be correct for some, but I know I was struggling, eating less than 2000 calories a day; strictly controlled and recorded. I was also walking at least three miles a day. The only benefit I noticed was a better cardio-vascular system, coupled with more stamina. But I wasn’t losing any weight. Not until I decided to take bread, sugar and starch out of my diet. So I am speaking from experience. I have read books yes. There are plenty from which to choose. So, I don’t think anyone can claim the evidence is scant, or unscientific. It seems to me that in this area, there are two kinds of scientific evidence. The real McCoy, and the face-saving, persuasive results of industry-funded studies; on behalf of grains and bread. That doesn’t alter a basic fact. We might be able to tolerate the occasional handful of unprocessed sweet grain, gathered from the wild, but bread made from that milled grain, is a processed food. Period. As such it isn’t a natural food item.

    The nutritionists and health professionals are mostly wired into the belief that eating fat causes obesity. Government Departments threaten reduced funding, if Doctors fail to follow these guidelines, regardless. And I am sure one day, some Doctor somewhere, will find him/herself in Court through failing to ‘obey’ these dangerous guidelines. The Government and Industry are playing with our lives, and that is how seriously I take this problem.

  40. mike pollard 3 October 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    I too was rather surprised at Girda’s comments. Like John who replied to her post I agree that there is an enormous wealth of information out there that conflicts with the current paradigm. The problem is that the general public just cannot get their collective heads round “Bread and pasta is very bad for you, potatoes and rice not much better? Are you insane?” There is a reluctant acceptance that sugar and cake/biscuits etc is are not so good, but is shrugged off with a ‘naughty but nice’ philosophical shrug; then it’s business as usual with fat as the demon. However, like alcoholics, nothing will change until there is an acknowledgement that there is a problem.

  41. Gerda Flöckinger C B E 3 October 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Oh sorry John Walker. I’m afraid that personally I’ve never led my life according to government guidelines, particularly as with food intake english governments limp so inadequately and limply behind the numerous discoveries and ideas about best diets for humans since the latter part of the nineteenth century. (You’re probably too young to remember John Major’s advice for everybody to eat three egg-sized potatoes every day. That just about summed up government ‘intelligent’ input for me.)(on the other hand, the Germans have put up an memorial to Dr. Bircher Benner – great diet revolutionary of his time – in Bad Homburg.)
    I definitely had not realised that there are people who do take these government guidelines seriously, and particularly where the food industries are concerned.
    It has been my opinion for many years now, that the biggest crimes against the working class of this country have been committed by the multinational food companies with their relentless and omnipresent advertising of their harmful substances.
    Whether our governments have always been ‘persuaded’ to act on behalf of these companies I am unable to know as I have never seen any direct evidence of this myself.
    I do recall that some thirty years ago a small local health food shop issued little leaflets against the consumption of sugar. The next event was that a massive law suit was brought against the owners of this little shop who had no funds with which to defend their statements. Consequently I am extremely careful with any opinions I would be prepared to voice – in print – as to the actions of large companies. It can be prohibitively expensive to do any such thing.
    I would have thought that from my last text it should have been pretty clear that I have had a considerable amount of dietary experience as well as weight problems, but you obviously were not interested to note that.
    If your current interest is only in losing weight, then by all means go the omissions way. It will certainly get you there. I would just add to that, that it is likely to be more important also to understand what you do need to consume in order to get a decent intake of the necessary vital substances.
    Personally I have not eaten bread or any other gluten-containing substances for more than 15 years, nor any sugar, which latter I consider to be actually a good deal more pernicious in its effects than even wheat.
    However, it’s not my mission in life to persuade you of anything other than advise you to start using your brain a little more efficiently. Or would you say you are already fully-functioning on all cylinders ?
    As to eating only natural food substances, I do wonder what you live on. Do you eat only raw foods yourself, unadulterated by heat or admixtures of any kind ? ‘Natural’ is a dodgy term to bandy about.
    Obviously I would agree with you that wheat baked into bread – or anything else – has undergone processes. Whether therefore all processing of foods is essentially harmful, I do not know.
    A conclusion I have been coming to, is that it appears to be hugely important to consume foods in certain relationships and not in others, and above all to consider the optimal intake and combination of vitamins and minerals, particularly considering the role of the essential enzymes and where best to find them.
    Whether wanting to have animals killed in order to obtain their protein, remains an open question for me because I detest the killing of other creatures so that I might survive.
    I expect to be able to work out for myself – from informed sources of many kinds – what seems to me to be a reasonable way of helping my body to be healthy and effective, and to stay in good working order for as long as possible.
    Personally I have no faith whatsoever in established opinion of any kind. Certainly not to guide my life by.
    In my own experience most doctors are either ignorant of, and ill-informed about, the best diets for humans, and have generally been rather more obstacles to best information than of any help whatsoever.
    Dr. Briffa is exceptional in his approach but I think it can be dangerous to confuse opinion with fact.
    Why not leave your ideas open and continue learning ?

  42. John Walker 3 October 2012 at 11:45 pm #


    I merely asked you how much more evidence you need before you accept that bread, sugar and other starches are not good for us. Did that anger you so much, that you felt the need to call me feeble minded?

    If you really wish to know, I am educated to a standard which, in the UK, was once called GCE ‘A’ Level in 7 subjects. In the 1950s, that was sufficient for me to be considered for a place at University. Unfortunately I couldn’t go ‘up to Oxford’, or to any other University, as I wasn’t born of rich parents, which was a virtual requirement back then. Thus I had to find a future in other areas.

    You also make an arrogant assumption about my age. I agree, we often need to make assumptions, but it can be a dangerous practice. It often makes an ‘ASS out of U & ME’.

    So am I too young? Well, because I couldn’t foresee ever getting to University, in 1954, at 15.5 years I joined the Royal Navy, and spent twelve years in the Colours. After that, I served 30 Years in the Police Force. Since then I have employed myself, and only recently sold my business. Feeble minded? I don’t think so.

    So I am not exactly in Kindergarten. To save you from using your obvious ‘superior intelligence’, in working out my age, I am 73, having been born in 1939.

    I am not particularly familiar with your name, (which I believe is Germanic, and feminine) so I must make the assumption you are female. Whatever, I won’t ask a ‘lady’ her age. I’ll just assume I am older than you. If I am wrong, well that merely proves what I said earlier about assumptions; does it not?

  43. Ben 4 October 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Just wanted to say I really appreciate your blogs, its always refreshing to see a level headed critique of hot topics in medicine and health.

    This is article in particular is a brilliant example of people in sphere of influence getting away with bias in peer reviewed journals. Ignoring the risks of bread consumption – ie ceoliac disease, non-ceoliac gluten intolerance and high GI diets – in a review on bread is bordering on negligence.

    Love your work,

  44. Pete Grist 4 October 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    I’ve no idea if the professor is corrupt or not, but it is hardly radical to hold the view that bread is an enjoyable food with a part to play in our diet. There are obviously a group of people who have problems with some aspect of wheat, but you can’t conclude from that a recommendation for the whole population to give it up.

    The BNF may well be funded for lobbying purposes but is it more pernicious than the Daily Mail? I think there is enough difficulty in finding our way to some sort of truth without seeing bread as a conspiracy by ‘them’ to fatten and kill us all off.

  45. Dr John Briffa 4 October 2012 at 6:59 pm #


    You’ve missed the point: The BNF publications takes an (almost) totally pro-bread stance, and simply fails to convey the genuine health issues associated with its consumption. Then we learn the review has been paid for by a bread manufacturer, perhaps concerned by the fact that bread sales are declining in the UK (good news, I think). Do you not see how the review may have been corrupted by its source of funding? And what’s this about it being a conspiracy to fatten us up and kill us off? I’m certainly suggesting no such thing.

  46. Gerda Flöckinger C B E 4 October 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    I’m sorry that we have almost entirely moved away from the main areas of the topic under discussion – whether the subject of the possible toxicity of wheat and wheat products has yet been fully investigated – as to whether other food substances can possibly change its character in combination, and what the full effects of wheat consumption are on the human body. Historically it would appear that many generations of humans lived on wheat without problems, etc etc. though according to Dr. d’Adamo (and possibly others) the appearances of certain diseases can be dated to the beginnings of settled farming communities.
    I have not at any point in what I have written suggested that any or every one should continue to consume wheat. Quite the opposite. All I ask is for a more fully informed approach before jumping to inadequately based conclusions – to the taking of sides before one has sufficient information to understand what one is doing.
    As to my age, I am 84 going on 85, but I really can’t see that this should be of any concern to the topic/s under discussion. I have lived in England since 1938 so I am reasonably proficient with the language. And I have never been to university though I am an honorary Fellow of the University of the Arts London.
    You seem cheerfully to have ignored most of what I have written in favour of homing in on a few points concerned with personal matters which is a pity and also rude to Dr. Briffa. I have searched my previous notes and can see no references to feeblemindedness, only to the use of our brains. In my experience there is always a lot to think about, and in spite of my obviously elevated age, I hope that I am still learning all the time. That’s all I was referring to. I would never insult you. Please let us stick to the points of real interest.

  47. John Walker 4 October 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I try to limit my eating to meat, fish and fowl, fresh green vegetables. (No potatoes or carrots, and other root crops.) Ooops! I do like pickled deetroot, but eat so little iof it, it doesn’t make that much differnce. I don’t eat huge quantities of fruit, and whilst I do take the occasional glass of cow’s milk, I really don’t see why I like it. Af6er all, we must be the only species on the planet that actively seeks to drink milk, after weaning.

    I apologise t for saying you called me feeble-minded. I don’t know why I saw what wasn’t there, but i can assure you, I am firing on all cylinders, and by losing this weight I hope top be doing so for many more years to come.

    Jetzt nehme ich eine sündige Nachthaube des Rums, und bin dabei, Land zu träumen. Gute Nacht und guter Schlaf.

  48. Anthony Winder 5 October 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Dear John

    I’m entirely on your side in this debate. But you need to be a little more careful with how you present the argument. You complain about the article in the Nutrition Bulletin, quite correctly, that the first sentence ‘does not seem properly constructed’. But the first sentence of your next paragraph is also ‘not properly constructed’: ‘Professor Buttriss tells us that the BNF’s “diverse sources of funding” which can be found in its annual reports.’ Oops! I think the pot’s calling the kettle black!

    This sort of carelessness is frequent in your blogs. It’s irritating for the reader and obscures the clarity of the points you’re making. You could do with a good editor.

    I’m about to read your latest book. I hope the publishers have given it a good editing. I’ll let you know if they haven’t.

    Wishing you all the best wishes, and much strength to your elbow.

  49. Dr John Briffa 5 October 2012 at 2:13 pm #


    I take your point about my own typo entirely on the chin, but you’ve missed the point which was, if the article was ‘peer-reviewed’, how come this error was not spotted by the reviewers?

  50. fredt 10 October 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Peer reviewed does not mean peer corrected. We do not know what the peer comments were, only that it was published.

  51. Chris 11 October 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Anthony, the great advantage of the blog and comment forum is that the blog and the comments can be subject to an open and transparent review process. Busy and well-intentioned people can make simple mistakes in grammar and syntax. Despite these failings already there is greater integrity emerging within the blogosphere than may exist in more established channels. A distinguished but rather late arrival to the blog scene, the cholesterol sceptic Dr Malcolm Kendrick, has expressed favourable sentiments over the kind and constructive comments he now receives beneath his informative blog indicating, perhaps, he delayed taking up with a blog for fear of distracting or poor comments, or even expression of anger. Here’s how he put it:

    “I would also like to thank everyone who makes a comment, so far, for being so reasoned and polite. This is how discussions on science should be. In other places there is so much anger that discussion becomes impossible.”

    Elsewhere I think the Chief Scientist of the FSA has elevated regard for the value in the FSA blog.


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