During my latest long distance challenge, Lands End to John O’Groats, I enjoyed meeting and talking to plenty of fellow cyclists each day. They told me how many miles they had done, and I asked them what they had eaten and how they felt.
On a long ride, taking a supply of jam or honey sandwiches was a popular choice. Others designed their route around a re-fuelling stop, which included nourishing soup and sandwiches. Bread is a good basic carbohydrate food for cyclists, so why then do most people feel so lethargic and sapped of energy after eating it?
One reason is that the great British loaf is no longer made from the whole wheat. A whole grain cereal such as wheat, oats or rye comes in three parts. The outer bran contains the indigestible roughage or fibre. The germ is a concentrated nugget of nutrients, especially magnesium, zinc and the B vitamins.
The endosperm or main part of the grain is rich in starchy carbohydrate but comparatively lacking in other nutrients. When wheat is milled to make flour it is the nutritionally rich germ and valuable husk that are thrown away and the nutritionally inferior refined starch used to make bread!
Too much of this processed starch stimulates surges in the hormone insulin, whose function is to drive sugar out of the bloodstream to be stored as glycogen or fat. The end result is that after a few slices of white sliced, the sudden surge of sugar into your bloodstream is followed by a low level of blood glucose. This registers as hunger and the need for another snack to try to generate enough energy and enthusiasm to leave the café. Eventually you set off and try to ride again and ignore the effects of the post bread slump.
Another reason why bread can sap your energy levels relates to food intolerance. While wheat has been part of the human diet for thousands of years, the number of people who suffer from bloating and tiredness has increased rapidly since the 1960s.
This coincides with the invention of the Chorley Wood bread making process (CBP) – a triumph of technology, which produces more than 80 per cent of the bread sold in the shops today.
If you make bread at home, in the traditional way, you need only four ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt. You also need time – to knead the dough and for the bread to prove and rise and bake.
But time is money in the food manufacturing industry, and the CBP uses a new strain of wheat, high-speed mixing, flour improving additives and enzymes to slice away the production time. The end result is bread without a crust but with phenomenal volume and lightness and a soft squishy texture that can last for several weeks before the chemical preservatives can no longer hold back the growth of mould.
This is British bread. It is cheap and easy to produce, but it is also tasteless and does not seem to suit our digestive systems. This might be due to the chlorine gas which bleaches flour and makes white flour whiter, or an allergy to the enzymes which are used. These have two main purposes – to make the dough hold more gas and produce a bigger loaf, and to make bread stay softer for longer.
Despite their potential to cause allergies, enzymes are classified as processing aids’ and so do not have to be declared on the food label. It is assumed by the manufacturers that the enzymes are used up in the production process and therefore do not end up in the final product.
While we can cope with most enzymes, the ones used in CBP are derived from substances that are not part of a human diet. Even if they were, the amount used in bread production is much higher than those that are naturally found in bread dough or flour.
If all this is not enough, the modern strains and new varieties of wheat used to make flour may also be causing problems. Modern wheat has been designed for yield and protein content – again to fit the CBP technology.
Our digestive systems have evolved over thousands of years, but cannot keep up with the rapid development of new strains of wheat. The end result is bloating, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome after eating modern wheat based products.
If you want to enjoy eating bread and not suffer from it, seek out a traditional loaf made by the growing number of artisan bakers across the country. Sourdough bread or bread made from an ancient variety of wheat, known as spelt, are traditional foods which will really can energise your system.