Is bread really the devil?

With bread sales on the decline, Hannah Wilkinson asks whether this staple food really belongs in the bin
Is bread really the devil?
April 10, 2017   |    Hannah Wilkinson

The Earl of Sandwich’s favourite convenience food has never had a worse reputation. But is bread bad for you? Is a lunchtime BLT or quick slice of toast really the nutritional disaster we think it is? I mean, come on. It’s only bread, right?

The proliferation of YouTubers, Instagrammers and ‘celebrity’ food bloggers has helped inspire us to care more about what we’re eating than ever before.

Indeed, in 2016, consultancy firm PWC discovered that 47% of 18-34 year olds began eating more ‘healthily’ last year, compared to just 7% who felt they had picked up bad habits.


Bread consumption has lost a big slice of our food intake as a result. Defra’s 2016 National Food Survey showed that Britons eat 40% less of it than in 1974, with household brands such as Kingsmill and Hovis feeling the impact – the former’s sales were down by £75million in 2015. Meanwhile, high street eateries and supermarkets have responded to our declining interest by expanding their range of sandwich alternatives, such as the ‘nourish bowl’. However, opting for a breadless on-the-go lunch may not be as sensible as you think.

Ros Miller, a scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, adds. ‘If wholemeal bread is replaced with other starchy foods, such as white pasta, the latter option would be lower in fibre, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.’

Bread also contributes a significant amount of protein, thiamine, niacin and folate to the average UK diet – and this is true even of the standard white sliced loaf.

‘Nutrients can be lost during the milling process in the production of white flour, but the UK food industry is required by law to restore them,’ Ros explains.


So, is all bread equally good for you? Not exactly. Ros recommends wholemeal varieties because of it’s high fibre content.

Nutritionist Jade Barkett highlights the benefits of sourdough on the gut, due to its lactic acid content. She explains: ‘This means it produces less phytic acid – commonly more difficult to digest.’ Plus it’s simple enough to bake at home.

But what about the bloating, so often associated with bread? A 2012 study by the British Nutrition Foundation couldn’t find any medical evidence to support a connection between bread and bloating (apart from when consumption was associated with a large increase in fibre consumption).

And for those who do experience discomfort? Self-diagnosis isn’t helpful. ‘Because of the hype around gluten-free, people are quicker to think “Oh, it’s a gluten intolerance”. But in the past they wouldn’t have thought twice about it,’ explains Jade, who has seen an increase in people coming to her with concerns about wheat and gluten.

However, Jade does advise her clients to cut out bread temporarily to aid gut recovery. ‘I’ll tell them to eliminate dairy, gluten and refined sugar, because they are things the digestive system struggles to break down anyway. But that is a short-term plan, after which they can be slowly reintroduced.’


The key thing to bear in mind if you want to change your diet – and this applies to bread and any food group – is to make small, sustainable changes.

‘Don’t berate yourself,’ Jade says. ‘Our whole attitude to food affects the digestive system. If you’re eating something and thinking “This is so bad for me”, your body is going to react to that.’

There’s only one way to celebrate the good news about bread – with a bread, rather than a forward, roll.

*As well as providing energy, bread contains fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals.


The endosperm (tissue inside the seeds) of the wheat kernel is ground to make white flour. This means some nutrients are lost, but iron, calcium, thiamine and niacin are restored before it’s sold – a process known as fortification.

The whole wheat grain used to make wholemeal flour is higher in vitamins, minerals and fibre than white, so the bread doesn’t need fortifying.

The longer preparation process for sourdough means gluten proteins are broken down, which is good news for coeliacs. Contains lactic acid.

This category covers everything from dense German pumpernickel to loaves where the rye flour is mixed with white flour. Higher in fibre, but lower in protein, than wheat-based breads. Contains gluten.

Made with buttermilk and white or brown flour, soda bread may cause less bloating because it uses baking soda rather than yeast as a rising agent.

While this can be made using just nuts and seeds instead of wheat or rye, many prepackaged varieties use rice or corn flour.


1. Cru8 Paleo Kale Bread
Still not convinced bread can be healthy? This grain-free bread is packed with the super-vegetable kale and is a good source of protein, fibre, vitamin E, riboflavin and magnesium.
£7.50, Planet Organic

2. Sourdough chia seed bread by The polish Bakery
Winner of the People’s Choice Quality Food award 2017, this loaf provides significant amounts of iron, copper, zinc and magnesium. It’s also packed with antioxidants thanks to superfood chia seeds.
£2.30, Waitrose

3. Newburn Bakehouse Gluten Free Breakfast Artisan Cob with Sultana by Warburtons
What a way to start the day. Not only is it gluten-free, but it contains tasty sultanas and orange-flavoured pieces for extra kick.
£3.50, Sainsbury’s

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