Bread is commonly made of flour, salt, a fat, yeast, eggs, a liquid like water or milk (even beer!), as well as any number of other flavorings including nuts, fruits, chocolate, vegetables, etc. In Spain, there is over 300 varieties of bread--heck, there's a whole region of the country named after bread (Tierra del Pan)! Mexico has close to 1,000 varieties of bready-goodness. And what about Naan? The Asian-Indian flatbread? And Challah, a braided egg-bread used to honor the Sabbath (and a day or so later, makes THE BEST French toast)? And the beautiful dark ryes of the Scandanavian countries? Let's not forget the baguette! Or the oh-so-flaky croissant--both from France. No matter what your favorite breads may be, bread crosses cultural boundaries...even in a carb-crazed culture like that of twenty-first century America.
About 3.5 ounces of white bread has over 50 grams of carbs! In case you're not quite sure what that means, take a cereal bowl and fill it with sugar. Would you eat a bowl of sugar? No, probably not. But you'd definitely eat 3.5 ounces of bread. There's nothing like a big, fat sesame bagel, toasted, then smothered with grade A unsalted butter...the "breakfast" staple is also equivalent to about a cereal bowl full of sugar...yikes. Specialized bread "companies" were popping up all over the United States over the last twenty years, but almost as quickly as they seemed to rise, the bread also fell. Hello to "The Zone," the "South Beach Diet," and the much lauded "Skinny Bitch" diet preferred by Hollywood stars like Victoria Beckham. Not much bread involved in those diets...or any diet, actually.
But yet, bread has been around for a very long time. Canadian breads are known for being denser because of a higher protein value in their flour. Protein is good, so why is bread so "bad"?
The truth is, bread in and of itself isn't. PROCESSED FOOD, whether it's bread or any other food product, is the REAL ENEMY. But home-made bread, with all those rich whole grains, has much needed fiber, up to 10 grams of protein (and for perspective, you get about 24 grams of protein in half of a skinless, boneless chicken breast), vitamins A, B, K, and other mineral-rich goodies like niacin, magnesium, iron...even calcium! If you think about it, bread is the PERFECT food for the human body...in moderation, of course. All those carbs can turn into sugar than fat during processing...and though that's not necessarily a bad thing either, it is if you overindulge.
I LOVE bread, especially chocolate-cherry bread with sweet marscapone (if you've never had it, you're missing out!) but I don't eat bread on a regular basis. For me, it's a health issue, but even with that caveat, I still eat bread on occasion, especially if it's home-made! Now if you're avoiding bread a la the "Skinny Bitch", etc., you need to take a few steps back and re-evaluate. Hollywood gives their audience a false impression about weight, particularly regarding the female form. Do you know why Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Anniston, Halle Berry, and Angelina Jolie look like they do??? Because when you're paid MILLIONS to look good, you can hire everything from personal chefs to personal trainers. You can afford to spend 3-4 hours EACH DAY working out. You also have access to spa treatments and plastic surgeries that help you look thinner. Hey, if we all got paid millions of dollars a year we'd all look like skinny bitches, too! But the truth of the matter is that more than 60% of American women are a size 14 or higher. What does that mean? It can mean a weight in pounds of anywhere from 145-185+ lbs depending on a woman's height and muscle/bone mass. When you see shows like America's Next Top Model get controversial because one of the model's is a "bigger" girl--a size 10 (!)--we've lost perspective. A size 10 is a reflection of a healthy weight, healthy muscle, healthy bones...when you start getting into sizes 0 or 2--unless you're talking about a child or a very small woman--it's generally not a reflection of good health, and yet, women are paid MILLIONS of dollars to look that way...ever wonder why? Well, that's a social story for another time, but meanwhile, enjoy your bread!
Whether you're eating challah to celebrate the sabbath, breaking bread for Sunday lunch after church, or are enjoying a good old fashioned deli sandwich or bagel or croissant...remember that the bread itself isn't so much your enemy as you are yourself. If you eat a croissant with your coffee on a weekend morning, eat lighter the next day. Have a naan pizza for lunch? Try a salad for dinner. It's common sense. But if you'd like a little help, try The French Diet: Why French Women Don't Get Fat by Michel Montignac (DK Adult, 2005) OR The Diabetes Diet Cookbook from the editors at Prevention magazine and author Ann Frittante, MS, RN (Rodale, 2008). I can tell you that eating like a diabetic is a pretty healthy way to eat for EVERYONE. Focus on whole grains, fresh food like fruits and veggies, filling fiber, and muscle-protective protein and no matter who you are, you'll lose weight, you'll be healthier, and a bonus is that when you limit sugars, you can actually slow the aging process at the CELLULAR level...c'mon! What's not to like? I don't prescribe to any particular diet but I do try to include as many whole "clean" foods as possible. I like raw fruit but I don't like raw veggies so steaming works well. But even if you cut out things like bread completely, you're cutting out part of a very long cultural history that connects us with our past...our neolithic past!. Imagine what a boon bread was to them? The hunt became less pivotal to survival allowing agriculture to create a more stable human community where families could live in one place for much longer periods of time...with the added benefit of not being eaten by something with much sharper teeth.
And when you next break bread, think of how you can help end hunger for thousands of people by visiting one of these sites: www.bread.org OR www.foodlinkny.org OR www.wfp.org OR www.unicefusa.org OR www.forgottenharvest.org
Look into donating to your local food closet, too--it's easy to buy an extra bag of groceries once a month (even in economically challenging times) and donate it to your local community. Bread is so pivotal to human existence, and it's one of our shared histories that transcends all boundaries. Let's make that connection more meaningful by providing bread for others to break as well...enjoy!
Until next time, dearest readers!!!