The Faltering Quality of Bread
by Dr Robert Harris
An extract from Slim Forever-Chapter 15 grains, breakfast cereals and bread (2001)

Give Us Our Daily Bread

Bread has been referred to as the staff of life, but that was before the advent of modern production techniques. In the early days of milling, flour was produced by crushing the whole grain between stone rollers. The stone rollers were usually driven by wind, water or oxen power and moved slowly without generating heat. Vitamins and minerals are easily destroyed by heat, but the cold crushing techniques of times past guaranteed that most of the nutrients, including the germ, were retained.

Not so today. Flour is milled by discarding the germ and the cellulose outer layer and crushing the grain between high-speed steel rollers. Unlike the coarse-ground, whole-grain flour produced by stone grinding, the flour we eat today is an extremely fine white powder. This the miller achieves by subjecting the grain to multiple crushings in a series of machines, each with progressively finer roller settings. The heat generated by the steel rollers is capable of destroying any vitamins and minerals normally found in the grain, producing a finished product of lifeless, off-white starch.

Approximately 60 approved chemicals are used in the making of flour and bread. Although no single manufacture uses all 60 additives, eight or more are commonplace. For example, fresh flour is less than snow white and has a strong odour. To overcome these marketing deterrents, the flour is gassed in special ovens using chlorine dioxide. The chlorine not only bleaches and matures the flour, it forms compounds such as dichlorostearic acid which remain in the flour. Chlorine dioxide destroys vitamin E, and reacts with certain proteins to form methionine sulfoxide which is known to cause central nervous system damage in humans. If chlorine dioxide is not used, bleaches such as benzoyl peroxide and nitrogen peroxide may be added, together with maturing agents such as potassium bromate, potassium iodate and azocarbonamide.

Bread made from fresh stone-ground flour is heavy and prone to drying and crumbling, a characteristic undesirable in todayʼs commercially-produced bread. Bakers are able to keep their product moist by adding polyoxyethlene monostearate, which has the property of absorbing and retaining water. Water retention in the flour causes the bread to stand up and remain soft, but this chemical also causes cancer in laboratory rats. Ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides are also added to produce the desirable quality of softness in bread.

Fermentation is an important part of bread making. The addition of yeast causes the starch cells to rupture and the dough to rise, but the process of natural fermentation is too slow for commercial bakers. A fermentation accelerator is added in the form of ammonium chloride, a chemical compound also used in the manufacture of antifreeze for cars, and washing powder.

The more air holes there are in a loaf of bread the less flour it contains, and this is an important point in baking economics. A process developed in England and used widely throughout the industrialised world successfully combines the fermentation and aeration processes. This is achieved by adding 75 parts per million of potassium bromate and potassium iodate and mechanically whipping the dough. The dough becomes aerated and the fermentation time is reduced from between four and seven hours to just two minutes. Potassium bromate is a substance commonly found in home permanent hair wave products. Potassium iodate is known to cause gastrointestinal distress and the destruction of red blood cells when administered to test animals.

Milled white flour stripped of its natural inhibitors is extremely vulnerable to mould infestation. This is overcome by adding propionic acid, the anti-fungal ingredient in athletes foot powder.

Do you prefer wholemeal bread? Wholemeal bread is made from white flour to which is added chemically treated wheat germ. Doris Grant, author of Your Daily Food, suggests the addition of chemically treated wheat germ makes the finished product twice as harmful as bread made from white flour alone.

Enriched’, ‘hi-fibre‘ and ‘fibre-added‘ are terms appearing on many bread wrappers, but what do they mean? During the course of manufacture, the bread we buy is denuded of all 20 natural vitamins and minerals and what little protein the grain originally contained. Bakers add an average of just three or four synthetic vitamins and minerals, then proclaim their product ‘enriched’. In the absence of the other 16–17 nutrients destroyed in the milling process, the term ‘degraded’ might be more appropriate.

Hi-fibre‘ and ‘fibre-added’ suggest the bread you are buying will assist in keeping you regular. There is no fibre in starch, so the bakers add indigestible vegetable fibre or synthetic methyl cellulose to replace the fibre contained in the discarded cellulose shell.

How Important is Fibre in The Diet?

Dietary fibre assists in the digestion and absorption process of the food we eat, but our need for fibre has been grossly overstated. Fibre is vegetable matter consisting of indigestible polysaccharides, cellulose and gums which are also found in fruit, vegetables and in the outer casing of grains.

Fibre acts by mixing with, and adding bulk to the food bolus as it moves through the intestine. The contents of the intestine are moved forward by peristalsis, an action initiated by the rhythmic contractions of tiny muscles in the wall of the intestine. The stimulation of peristalsis is to some degree initiated by the degrading action of bacteria on digestible carbohydrate. But, as cellulose is indigestible it does not promote bacterial action and may actually contribute to constipation, not prevent it. Doctor James M. Orten of Wayne State University School of Medicine and Doctor Otto W. Neuhaus of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine state that while food must contain fibre, an abundance of fibre tends to produce constipation.

The peristaltic action also churns the food bolus over and over in an effort to bring the nutrients in contact with the absorptive surface of the intestine. If the food bolus is too sloppy, the contents cannot be successfully churned and the food will quickly pass through the body. A food bolus which is too dry, or food containing too much fibre, will also resist the churning action of peristalsis, and again nutrient absorption will be impaired.

The consumption of the cellulose covering of grains causes yet another problem. During the mastication process our teeth fracture the cellulose outer covering on the grain before it is swallowed. Grain cellulose is constructed of millions of tiny, but very hard, closed cells which make it relatively impervious to water. As cellulose cannot absorb water it passes through the intestine as it was swallowed, but the sharp edges left from chewing act as tiny razors on the villi of the intestine. This position is supported by Dr Orten and Dr Neuhaus who suggest an overabundance of fibre can lead to irritation of the intestinal mucosa. A standard procedure in treating peptic ulcers is the removal of fibre from the diet, further evidence as to the ability of some fibre to irritate the sensitive lining of the intestinal tract.

The water-resistant quality of cellulose is the reason why whole grains have to be pre-softened with chemicals before they can be included in the bread baking process.

How Much Fibre Should I Eat?

The need for fibre in a balanced diet, although absolutely essential, is relatively low. However, diets high in processed flour products lack the natural bulk found in fruit and vegetables. If you take a slice of white bread and soak it in a saucer of water it will quickly turn to slime, and this is exactly what it does in your intestine. Diets high in processed carbohydrates, such as bread, cake, cookies and buns, require additional fibre from other carbohydrate foods, all of which contain natural or added sugar. The consumption of concentrated dietary fibre in drink and food-added forms is testimony in support of our poor eating habits.

If you are seeking a healthier and more regular life pattern you would do well to concentrate on reducing your sugar and starch intake by limiting the quantity of processed grain products you consume. Processed cereal grains, white flour and products made from white flour have little to offer of nutritional value and are a poor choice of dietary fibre. Vegetables of the green and yellow varieties are relatively high in vitamins and minerals and contain soft indigestible polysaccharides and cellulose ideally suited to aiding human digestion.

Once your system responds to a balance of foods as outlined in your Slim Forever program, a diet of protein with a salad, or two or three vegetables each day will produce a food bolus of exactly the correct consistency. Your intestine will not be filled with excessive amounts of indigestible fibre, and the absorption rate of nutrients contained in the food will be enhanced.