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“The supermarket bread aisle is packed with hearty-sounding multi-grain and wheat varieties. But many of them aren’t much more than dressed up white bread.” The Wall Street Journal, Health Journal (Sept. 9, 2003)
The morning after the Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen 20th reunion, I found myself in the hotel restaurant discussing diet with Marvin Eder, one of the most famous bodybuilder-strongmen of the 1950s. (He was the only man in the world under 200 pounds to bench press 500 in the ‘50s. What’s more, he did a 330 clean and press, when the American record was 281 and the world record 316.) Marvin was one of my early heroes. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be talking to him--about anything. But there we were, discussing “wheat bread.” I mumbled something about preferring “chewy, whole-grain bread.” But I regret not being more articulate in explaining how to select good bread.
Steve “Mighty Stefan” Sadicario, shown in the
background, sent us this photo
of me talking to Marvin Eder—he’s the one with the hair. Look closely and
you can see Marvin holding his “wheat bread.”
First, bread is good diet food, provided it’s the right kind. “I eat bread every day,” I wrote in Ripped 2. That was true then, and it’s still true. The problem is that the white bread most people eat is made with refined flour that has the bran and germ stripped away. Extra vitamins and minerals are added, but the endosperm that remains has little fiber. Without fiber, the white bread is quickly absorbed, causing a spike in blood sugar, which gives you a burst of energy followed by a crash that leaves you hungry soon after.
Eating brown or “wheat” bread doesn’t solve the problem. Unfortunately, bread doesn’t have to be white to be refined. “Many ‘wheat’ breads and ‘multigrain’ breads sound healthful,” Tara Parker-Pope explained recently in The Wall Street Journal, Health Journal, “but the first and main ingredient is the same enriched flour used in white bread, with a smattering of added grains and color to give the bread a slightly different texture and look than white bread.”
Parker-Pope suggests checking the label. “The presence of whole grain makes all the difference,” she says. The first ingredient should include the word “whole.” Check the label for fiber content as well. One gram or less of fiber per slice is a red light. Three grams of fiber is a good sign.
You’re still not there, however.
Armed with the WSJ article, Carol and I went to the supermarket. After carefully examining the breads available, we bought one clearly labeled “Whole Grain Nutrition” and “100% Whole Wheat.” The first ingredient listed on the label was “stone ground whole wheat flour.” Each slice contained 3g of fiber. As icing on the cake, the USDA Food Guide Pyramid was depicted on the wrapper, with the “Bread Group” at the base. It looked like a good choice. The criterion listed in the Journal were fulfilled, and then some.
When we got home and tried it, however, we were very disappointed. The bread was soft and airy, with no structure; it literally melted in your mouth. What’s more, it left an unpleasant aftertaste. To us, it was refined bread. It certainly wasn't our idea of good bread. It met the WSJ requirements. Still, it was dreadful.
Apparently, “whole grain” doesn’t make all the difference. Something was definitely missing. This is where the art of bread selection comes into play.
We compared the bread we had purchased with Sprouted Grain Ezekiel 4:9 Sesame, a firm, full-bodied, chewy bread made by Food for Life—and our favorite. Surprisingly, both loaves weighed the same (24 oz.). The slices were noticeably different, however.
One slice of the “100% Whole Grain” bread weighed 28g, while a slice of Ezekiel weighed 34g—21% more.
Weight matters. It explains why the Ezekiel is so dense and chewy. It’s also why the other bread is so soft and airy—and no doubt quick to digest.
When selecting bread, check the weight on the label, but don’t stop there. Pick it up and squeeze it. Good bread will be weightier--and firmer. Compare it with a loaf of white bread. The difference will be readily apparent. White bread and many of the “stone ground,” “cracked wheat,” and “multi-grain” breads--even some of the “whole grain” breads--will be light and squishy. Put them back on the shelf.
The Ezekiel bread had more calories per slice as well, 80 versus 60 for the other bread. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Giving up calories can mean giving up fiber,” warns the WSJ. Again, look for bread with at least 3g of fiber per slice.
Plus, the sprouted grains in the Ezekiel bread are well worth the 20 additional calories.
Sprouted Grain Bread
I prefer sprouted grain bread to bread made with flour.
As suggested above, the milling process cracks the grain and separates the endosperm from the bran and germ. The endosperm is then ground to the desired consistency to make flour. For whole grain flour, the bran and germ are returned at the end of the process. White flour consists of only the ground endosperm. Because of the presence of bran, whole grain flour is higher in fiber and naturally heavier and denser than white flour. Both types of flour consist of relatively small particles, however, and as a result are quickly absorbed into the blood stream.
“As particle size decreases, G-Force [glycemic or blood sugar impact] generally increases,” Nikki & David Goldbeck explain in The Healthiest Diet in the World (Plume, 2001). “For example, the G-Force of wheat kernels increases as you go from the whole berry, to cracked wheat or bulgur, to more finely ground couscous, and finally to flour.”
That’s why I chose sprouted grain bread over bread made with flour.
The particle size of the sprouted grains and lentils in Ezekiel bread, my favorite referred to earlier, is clearly larger than the particles in bread made with flour, white or whole-grain. Again, compare Ezekiel bread to bread made with flour. Look at both carefully and break them up. The particles in the Ezekiel bread are clearly larger. Put the Ezekiel bread in your mouth and chew it; feel the structure and graininess. As the Ezekiel bread label says, "You’re body and taste buds will know the difference!"
I wish I'd had time--and the presence of mind--to tell Marvin that bread made with sprouted grains is chewier and more satisfying than bread made with flour. And that it stays with you longer.
You won't find sprouted grain bread on many breakfast menus, but it’s a superior choice for home meals. Ezekiel bread is made with wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt--all sprouted--plus water, yeast, salt and unhulled sesame seeds. It contains no flour.
Food for Life also makes other sprouted grain breads, and bran bread. Look for them in the frozen bread section of your health food store or supermarket
In any event, avoid highly refined, light, fluffy breads. Stick with dense, chewy, heavy breads. You’ll be satisfied longer--and leaner.
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