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White bread: The next health food? June 15, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. When I was growing up, food was considered a friend, not a foe, something to be enjoyed without guilt. Then came the health police, telling us that salt, butter, cheese, eggs, and white bread (and white everything) were the tools of Satan, leading us on a cholesterol-clogged, sugar-laden path to diabetes, heart attack, obesity and stroke. From then on, on the rare occasions when I’d allow myself to eat a chunk of baguette with butter or Brie, I’d practically die of guilt. Bad dog! No, no!!!

Decades after their initial condemnation, one by one, the “bad” foods began to be rehabilitated. Scientists discovered that the cholesterol in egg yolks didn’t translate into cholesterol in the body, and yes, the egg was the perfect source of protein. Salt is necessary for life itself, and chefs now celebrate it in all its diversity. Butter, it turns out, is far healthier than polyunsaturated fats like safflower oil, and cheeses like blue cheese contain probiotics, the “good” bacteria that keep your gut healthy and free of inflammation.

The latest food to be removed from the death list is, of all things, white bread. If you’re like me, you grew up with those squishable, spongy loaves of what came to be known as “balloon bread” (perhaps because of the plastic bags the loaves were wrapped in, I’ve never been sure). If you squeezed the bag, you could smush the whole loaf into a fist-size blob (if your mother didn’t catch you first). Balloon bread was the go-to option for breakfast toast, French toast and cinnamon toast; for BLTs, PB&J or PB and banana, turkey and tuna fish sandwiches (and all sandwiches); and for toast topped with creamed turkey or creamed white asparagus. The alternative, Pepperidge Farm white bread, was not squishable, not balloon bread, but toast and sandwiches made from it bore no resemblance to the “real thing” because the texture was so different.

Once white bread was vilified (“it’s no different from eating sugar”) and balloon bread in particular came under attack as an empty-calorie diabetes trigger, I, like so many of us, switched to whole-wheat and multigrain breads. No slice of balloon bread has passed my lips my entire adult life, though I still remember those turkey sandwiches and tuna sandwiches and BLTs fondly. (Not to mention the French toast and cinnamon toast.) I dutifully searched for loaves that contained whole grains only, not the despised unbleached white flour with added whole grains. And I learned to enjoy these breads, though I still love baguettes and ciabatta loaves and the delicious dinner rolls of my childhood, hot and dripping with butter.

You can imagine my surprise when I read an article on Yahoo News yesterday in which scientists discovered that eating white bread promotes the growth of gut-healthy, disease- and inflammation-inhibiting Lactobacillus bacteria (one of the kinds of “good” bacteria found in yogurt and probiotic supplements). The scientists also found that pectin, the feel-full substance found in apples and many other fruits, including citrus (and the one that allows fruits to jell into jams, jellies and preserves without added gelatin), inhibited Lactobacillus levels, reducing gut health.

These findings certainly don’t mean that we should stop eating fruit. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” refers to regularity, not beneficial bacteria, and fruits are packed with lifesaving antioxidants as well as vitamins. Nor should it mean that you should rush out and gorge on butter-slathered loaves of balloon bread or any other white bread. What it does mean is that you don’t have to feel guilty for eating the occasional piece of white bread with cheese or as buttered toast with your breakfast egg, or sandwiching the filling of a BLT or egg salad sandwich. Moderation as always is the key.

And given all this reversal of dietary advice once the studies that produced it were fully analyzed, the next time news headlines tell you to give up a basic food (as opposed to junk, fast, and processed food), if I were you I’d take it with a grain of salt.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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