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Improving the health benefits of bread by Peter Shewry, Distinguished Research Fellow, Department of Plant Biology and Crop Science, Rothamsted Research, UK


The development of roller milling in the 19th Century made white bread affordable to all social classes for the first time, leading to a love affair with white bread, which remains in many countries to the present day.

ecause bread has long been the staple food in temperate countries, this led to massive changes in diet, with coarse wholemeal or brown breads being almost completely replaced by white products in the UK by 1880. Although the science of nutrition was then in its infancy, concerns were nevertheless expressed about the impact of this change in diet on the nutrition and health of the population. Foremost among the critics of white bread in the UK were May Yates and Thomas Allinson. Allinson qualified as a doctor in 1879 and established a practice in London. He believed that diet was crucial for health, and particularly advocated the consumption of stone ground wholemeal wheat. He was frequently in dispute with orthodox medicine and was “struck off” (disqualified from practicing) in 1892, having been found guilty of “infamous conduct” (selfpromotion). In the same year he purchased a stone mill and established a milling and baking company that continues to produce wholemeal bread to the present day. By contrast, May West was not trained as a scientist but became convinced of the benefits of wholemeal bread during a visit to Sicily. She founded the Bread Reform League in 1880 and spent 40 years campaigning for the use of high extraction (about 85 percent) flours. The late 19th Century also saw the introduction

40 | November 2015 - Milling and Grain

of improved “patent” breads, the most well known being “Hovis” which is enriched in wheat germ. Despite the compulsory production of high extraction and wholemeal breads in the UK during the two World Wars, white bread has remained the favourite for much of the British population, and in many other countries. Although those who promoted improved breads in the 19th Century recognised the importance of fibre and protein, the health benefits were not soundly established until the early 20th Century, with the discovery of vitamins and the recognition that these are depleted when the bran and germ are removed to produce white flour. Since then, many studies have been reported positive relationships between flour extraction rate and the contents of “beneficial” components in flour, including B vitamins, Vitamin E, minerals, fibre and “bioactive” phytochemicals, with the differences in concentrations of these components between wholemeal and white flour exceeding ten-fold in some cases.

Wholegrain and health

Recent interest in the relationship between wheat and health has been stimulated by the wholegrain movement, which can be dated from the approval granted by the US Food and Drugs Administration in 1999 that “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers." This has stimulated interest from both industry and academics and the establishment of bodies to promote wholegrain consumption, such as the Whole Grains Council, Grains for Health Foundation and Healthgrain Forum. The role of vitamins and minerals in health is well established but recent attention has focussed on dietary fibre. There is strong scientific evidence that increased consumption of cereal fibre,

Nov 2015 - Milling and Grain magazine  
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