The simple answer is yes. Most breads are vegan friendly. Always check those labels though.
Well-made bread (not the processed kinds found in supermarkets), is traditionally made with a few simple ingredients. Yeast, water, a very small amount of sugar, a healthy fat and flour.
Vegan Yes – But Healthy?
Is bread vegan? Mainly, yes. Is it healthy? Not so much.
It has been known for a long time that refined grains (particularly in the form of white bread) aren’t particularly healthy, beneficial or nutritious for humans.
For the last 20 years doctors, dieticians and nutritionists have advised us to consume whole grains instead.
But are whole grains really any better for us and should bread ever be categorised as healthy?
The Gluten Controversy
Bread is largely made of wheat, and wheat is predominantly made of gluten, which is a type of protein that gives bread it’s stretchy/springy quality.
Over the last 15 years there has been mounting evidence that a growing proportion of the population is particularly sensitive to gluten.
It was generally thought that it was only those with Celiac Disease that experience an immune response to gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt). But there is now growing speculation that even those with gluten sensitivity experience a certain amount of immunological damage after consuming wheat products.
There have been a number of controlled trials (study, study) in the last decade that have demonstrated that gluten has the propensity to damage the digestive tract, even in those without Celiac disease. The immunological response can cause symptoms such as tiredness, pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements.
There have also been strong links between gluten sensitivity and certain disorders of the brain. Schizophrenia (study,study) and cerebellar ataxia (study, study), for example.
I always believe there is no smoke without fire. Most bread contains gluten and we know gluten has the propensity to trigger an immune response in certain individuals who have a susceptibility. So if you have unexplained symptoms of tiredness, digestive pains, bloating or even anxiety or depression, then seek medical advice. The only real way to establish whether you have a gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet for a period of 30 days and then reintroduce foods containing gluten to see if your body reacts (but this should be under the supervision of an experienced professional).
The Toxic Ingredients of Bread
The reality may be that Gluten is actually the lessor of two evils. The real dangers of bread may actually come from some of its unsavoury ingredients:
Artificial Flavours & Colours: Obviously these vary in usage from country to country. Artificial flavours and colours are also normally derived from petroleum. And many of these additives have been linked to health issues in children such as allergies, asthma and hyperactivity.
Preservatives: All foods are supposed to be eaten fresh, and bread is no exception. Steer clear of any breads that contain preservatives. A common one in a lot of countries is calcium propionate. Again, this has been linked to child health problems such as ADHD.
Refined Sugars:This can be an ingredient that is incredibly difficult to spot, even in breads that are marketed as “low sugar” and “healthy”. Some common household breads contain as much as 2-3 grams of sugar per slice. The World Health Organisation advises that we should consume no more than 6 grams a day. There is also the contentious issue in some countries that the sugar used is derived from GMO sugar beets.
Dough Conditioners: In traditional bread making techniques these would never have been used. They have literally been introduced so that manufacturers can speed up the manufacturing process and maximise profit. Many dough conditioners are derived from extracting fat from corn or soybean oil and then manipulating it with other ingredients. Some common examples (and also ones that have been banned) include: sodium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides, azodicarbonamide and DATEM.
GMOs: Thankfully these haven’t made their way into the UK yet (but I am sure it’s only a matter of time). A lot of countries (especially the U.S.) use multiple GMO ingredients in the production of household breads. GMO soy flour, corn oil and soybean oil are all common. GMO use is clearly a contentious issue. The issue for me is that there have never been any long term tests on humans that assess the health impacts. And the argument that GMO’s are safer because no pesticides are used is incorrect. Some GMO’s are actually engineered by inserting toxic pesticides into the seed. This then causes the insects stomach to explode when trying to eat the crop.
Nutritional Profile of Bread
Bread is really just empty calories. It contains only low levels of vitamins and minerals. High levels of sugar. Low levels of protein. Often high amounts of unhealthy fats. High amounts of salt. And not much else.
But what about whole grain bread, I hear you cry? Well, it’s not much better I’m afraid.
While whole grains offer slightly more vitamins and minerals than processed grains, whole grain bread will contain higher levels of phytic acid, so it will potentially block any increased nutritional profile.
Is bread vegan? Is bread healthy? It can be. Why not try one of these healthy recipes?
Deliciously Ella: Date & Pecan Loaf
Plant Based Judy: Date & Pecan Loaf
Vegan Corner: Gluten Free Buns
SIGN-UP FOR MY WEEKLY NEWSLETTER FOR ARTICLES, RECIPES, MEAL PLANS AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!
Does cooking vegetables remove nutrients? The short answer is that it depends on which vegetables we are talking about!
We all should strive to eat a combination of raw and cooked vegetables on a daily basis to receive the maximum amount of nutrition possible.
Most of us are aware that when we cook food the chemical and physical composition can be greatly altered. For some vegetables the cooking process causes a loss of nutrients through leaching and degradation. For other vegetables it can be beneficial for us, as cooking can increase absorption rates as it helps soften cell walls and other food components (1).
We are all taught in school that some nutrients in food can be damaged by the effects of oxidisation, heat, light or a combination of the three. For example, vitamin C tends to be the nutrient most susceptible to damage through cooking. When you cook leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, roughly 30% of the vitamin C content is lost (2). B-Vitamins, antioxidants and folate are also particularly susceptible to heat damage. Alternatively, we know that fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) are less prone to degradation as they are more stable when subjected to cooking (3).
Another area of nutrition that we are beginning to understand better are the glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables. When the plant cell walls are broken down fully (either by chopping or chewing), glucosinolates are converted into isothiocyanates (ITC’s – which have potent anti-cancer properties). It is important to mention here that heat de-activates the enzyme (myrosinase) that enables this conversation, so it is important that the vegetables are finely chopped or blended before cooking (ideally blended). We know that blending your greens and adding them to stews and soups generates the most isothiocyanates. It also appears that steaming instead of stir-frying and boiling your greens will result in minimal glucosinate loss in broccoli, but as always, try and subject the vegetable to as little heat as possible. Another tip for you to remember is that when you deactivate the myrosinase through heat, you will need to add in some more raw cruciferous vegetables (such as shredded cabbage) in order to produce more isothiocycanates (4).
And then we come to carotenoids. Most of the common carotenoids (lycopene, alpha and beta) tend to be fairly heat stable and you will actually increase your uptake of the compounds by cooking as they become more absorbable to the body. This is because lycopene, alpha and beta-carotenoids (and all carotenoids) are contained in plant cells in quite a rigid structure. To remove the compounds you have to literally “shake them out” which is what the heating and blending process does (5). It also appears that vitamin E is more accessible to the body following the cooking process (6). Recent studies on those who eat only raw foods have shown that they have lower levels of lycopene and other carotenoids in their bodies, compared to those who ate a mixture of raw and cooked. The study also showed that you can increase the amount of carotenoids in your body by adding fat to the meal (nuts and avocados are great choices) (7).
But it’s not just the cooking process that can lead to nutrient degradation. Storing foods in an incorrect manner can also increase the nutrients lost. It is common sense that if you ship produce from the other side of the world, compared to buying local produce, the food will have lost a much greater proportion of its nutritional value. If the vegetables have been frozen before being shipped, then on average they will contain lower levels of vitamin B1, B2, B3 vitamin C (because of the blanching process). With that being said, once you freeze the vegetables, the nutrients that are lost due to the storage process are minimal.
Freezing fruit has even greater benefits. This is because fruits are not subjected to the blanching process before being frozen. This means that they hold on to a larger proportion of their antioxidants (such as flavonoids) (2).
Another point to consider when looking at nutrient loss is that of boiling and steaming certain foods. You may not destroy the nutrients during heating, but you will lose nutrients through the leaching process. This is precisely why soups are so effective for holding onto nutrients (as long as you don’t over-cook).
Also pay particular attention to not cooking vegetables (or any food for that matter) at too high a temperature. This can cause the food to brown and burn which can increase the amount of acrylamide in the food. Acrylamide is a carcinogen that is commonly produced in overcooked starchy foods (particularly potatoes).
As a general rule of thumb I always advise people to eat a wide range of cooked and raw vegetables to maximise the amount of nutrients absorbed. If you are eating large salads on a daily basis and lots of soups and stews then you probably won’t be going too far wrong. Add in the healthy fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E &K).
Suggested Cooking Methods
Cook greens in a steamer for no more than 10 minutes
For vegetables like parsnips, carrots and potatoes: add to stews or soups to avoid nutrient loss through leaching. If you want to bake them ensure you don’t overcook them.
Steam mushrooms for no more than 10 minutes or add to soups or stews.
Blend or puree cruciferous greens and onions before adding them to stews and soups.
For vegetables like butternut squash bake at low temperatures for approximately one hour (depending on oven). Cook around 160 degrees celsius (325 fahrenheit).
A new study by the University of Sydney has revealed that it was starchy carbohydrates that were fundamental in the evolution of the human brain – not meat.
The study published in the Quarterly Review of Biology challenges the previously false belief that human brains were able to grow into what they are today because of increased meat consumption.
This new research is a knock-out blow for those who have championed the paleo diet – a diet which advises people to abstain from starchy grains and vegetables.
Professor Jennie Brand-Miller who co-authored the study said “Global increases in obesity and diet related metabolic disease have led to enormous interest in ancestral or palaeolithic diets”.
“Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein in the development of the human brain over the last two million years. The importance of carbohydrate, particularly in the form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked. Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans”
Professor Brand-Miller went on to say: “The evidence suggests that Palaeolithic humans would not have evolved on today’s ‘Paleo’ diet.”
According to the study, the high glucose requirement of the human brain and body would have never have been met by a low carbohydrate diet. The brain utilises about 25% of the body’s available energy and approximately 60% of blood glucose.
Higher demands are placed on the female body during pregnancy and lactation – all of which require additional glucose to facilitate the requirements. The “paleo diet” would not have been sufficient to meet these demands.
We know that early humans would have access to an abundance of starch based foods, particularly nuts, fruits, seeds and tubers. But it was only when man learnt to harness fire that these starchy foods were more easily digested. This inevitably led to the the transformational changes in human evolution said co-author Professor Les Copeland.
“Cooking starchy foods was central to the dietary change that triggered and sustained the growth of the human brain,” Professor Copeland said.
The research team suggest that many of these changes were a direct result of mutations in the salivary amylase genes. These genes determine the amount of enzymes present in the saliva to enable the body to digest starch based foods. Today humans have approximately three copies of these genes – primates only have two (on average). We do not know for certain when in our history that the amylase genes multiplied, but genetic evidence points to sometime during the last million years. This coincides with the time when humans started to routinely cook.
“After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of preformed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” Professor Copeland said.
“In terms of energy supplied to an increasingly large brain, increased starch consumption may have provided a substantial evolutionary advantage.”
Another co-author of the study, Karen Hardy, a scientist at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “We believe that while meat was important, brain growth is less likely to have happened without the energy obtained from carbohydrates. While cooking has also been proposed as contributing to early brain development, cooking carbohydrates only makes sense if the body has the enzymic equipment to process these.”
According to the research team, the best diet in which humans would largely remain healthy is a diet similar to the one that enabled our brains to become larger. Such a diet would include starchy foods such as sweet potatoes, wheat, barley, rye, corn, oats and quinoa. Such foods are avoided by the modern paleo movement.
“It is clear that our physiology should be optimised to the diet we experienced in our evolutionary past,” Professor Brand-Miller said.
There is a common misconception that fish is a healthier alternative to meat and that it actually promotes health in the human body. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are many reasons why fish is not healthy I have listed the main four below.
Proteins & IGF-1
Regardless of whether you eat fish, meat, eggs or dairy you will run into problems at some point in your life due to the higher concentrations of essential amino acids contained in these foods. One of the main reasons these amino acids are so detrimental in the body is that they increase the levels of IGF-1 (an insulin-like growth hormone) (study, study, study)
The knock-on effect of this is that IGF-1 speeds up the process of cell division in the body. This extra stimulation of cell multiplication has been heavily linked with cancer proliferation for many years. The science is very clear in this area and we know with certainty that animal proteins increase IGF-1 levels in the body and raised IGF-1 levels cause cancer (study, study, study, study).
Saturated Fats And Cholesterol
If you ask most people why they consume fish the standard response is that it’s heart healthy as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. So let me clear this area up for you:
While SOME fish do indeed contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), the vast majority of fatty acids derived from fish is actually in the form saturated fats. Fish also generally contains high levels of cholesterol. Both cholesterol and saturated fats are among the main risk factors for heart disease.
To give you an idea of how much cholesterol is contained in fish – in both a 3 ounce portion of bass and beef there is the same amount of cholesterol (approx. 75 milligrams). Yet most people don’t associate fish with cholesterol.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is derived from the plants they eat in the sea. Fish do not make omega-3’s. You can get omega-3’s by eating plant based foods like nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits. These foods provide ALA (fatty acid) which then gets converted in the body to the longer chain fatty acids EPA and DHA (both of which protect us from heart disease).
We only need the 1000mg of cholesterol our bodies make every day for optimal health. We DO NOT NEED ANY dietary cholesterol in our bodies. The more dietary cholesterol we load the body with the more we increase our risk of heart disease.
Chemicals & Pollutants
Most health authorities around the world have advisories around the amount of fish people consume. The reason for these advisories is that most oceans are heavily contaminated with metals such as mercury, chemicals such as PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and insecticides and pesticides such as DDT and chlordane (See sample advisory). In this recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture 84% of all fish sampled from around the world contained unsafe levels of mercury. And why is mercury so bad for the body? Well mercury is neurotoxin (kills brain cells). When you eat foods that contain mercury it is very difficult for your body to remove it. It can then accumulate in the heart (for example) and inhibit normal heart function as well as causing causing central nervous system damage in foetus’s during pregnancy (study, study)
What Fish Is Lacking
So we know that fish today contains dangerous levels of mercury, hazardous chemicals and high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol. So lets also talk about what healthy nutrients fish doesn’t contain. Fish contains no carbohydrates (essential for optimal health). It also contains no fiber, essential for healthy bowel movements and the prevention of digestive cancers. It also lacks any real amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals and other macronutrients essential for health promotion. So in reality people are eating fish for perceived health benefits when in reality its a pretty poor dietary choice.
Surely Fish Is Better Than Meat Right?
This is a ridiculous notion that we humans love to use. Just because fish is slightly less damaging in the body compared to meat, we classify it as a “health food”. While the science supportsfish eaters being healthier than meat eaters in terms of parameters such as diabetes, weight and other important health factors, lets not be under any illusion. Fish eaters still have very high rates of disease and illness compared to those on plant based diets. So yes, you might be slightly healthier than a meat eater, but if you want to live a long and healthy life then avoid both fish and meat (and dairy for that matter!).
SIGN-UP FOR MY WEEKLY NEWSLETTER FOR ARTICLES, RECIPES, MEAL PLANS AND MUCH, MUCH MORE!