After the release of our first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, in 2007, we started hearing from our readers. Many of them wanted to share their experiences with our innovative, time-saving, based on long-term dough storage. Many others had questions, so we set up a website and blog that were designed for questions and discussion. Most of the questions directed at me sounded something like this: “You’re the doctor, what’s with all this white flour in the bread?”
Good question! The recipes in our first book were based on the traditional European repertoire, which meant lots of white flour. When people challenged me, I had to admit that I love a well-made white baguette, though I eat more whole grains than ever before. Variety is the spice of life, and I’m not ready to completely give up white flour. Every slice of bread doesn’t have to represent a completely balanced meal. But, people asked for recipes with more whole grains, and they were backed up by some heavy hitters in the nutrition world. The American Diabetes Association now endorses whole grains as a preventive for the development of diabetes. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture is similarly pushing for more whole grain intake. We decided to write a second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, to give people more nutritious alternatives to white flour.
Whole grain nutrition: So how does whole grain flour stack up against white flour? White flour is milled strictly from wheat’s endosperm, the white part of the wheat kernel containing almost exclusively starch and protein (mostly gluten). There’s nothing wrong with starch and protein, but you’re missing all the benefits you get from whole grain’s “germ,” and all the fiber from the bran (the dark outer coating of the wheat kernel). Whole wheat includes the germ, which is packed with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and healthy oils. It’s a particularly rich source of Vitamin E, which, when combined with Vitamin C-containing foods, make one of the most powerful anti-oxidant combinations known. Please pass the homemade orange marmalade on whole wheat bread!
Whole wheat also includes bran, which doesn’t have vitamins and anti-oxidants — that’s wheat germ’s chance to shine. But bran has its own very special role to play, and I’d love to tell you all about it. Unfortunately, it seems that food professionals have some sort of gentle-person’s agreement about talking about the digestive tract, so if you’re interested in learning more about bran’s role in digestion, here’s a great website for you: Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet, from the American Academy of Family Physicians. The family doctors seem pretty clear that fiber from whole grains prevents a wide range of health problems.
The other frequent question from readers was whether our books are a good fit for vegans (those who don’t eat meat or any other animal products, including eggs, and dairy). Most of our non-enriched recipes (that’s the majority of both books) are vegan in the first place. While many other whole grain authors use skim milk powder in whole wheat bread to tenderize it, we decided against that, mainly to keep things simple (fewer ingredients = simple). For vegans, the second book includes alternatives to butter in the enriched recipes. In our first book, butter was the animal-based ingredient that appeared most often. In Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, we give alternatives to butter, including canola oil and zero-trans fat, zero hydrogenated oil-based margarines. We also talk about the new products being sold as “butter substitutes,” usually made with vegetable oils, but also flavor-enriched with whey and other non-fat products of butter. Technically speaking, most of these are not vegan because of the whey, but check the ingredients as there are exceptions.
Fruits and vegetables in the bread: OK, who told the USDA to increase the recommended fruit/vegetable servings to nine (for a person whose ideal weight is 150 pounds)? I have a friend who says he can’t even name nine fruits and vegetables! Those are half-cup servings — is anybody really getting this much in their diet? I can tell you that I am not. There are some good rules of thumb, such as “two-thirds of the plate should be vegetable or fruit.” That helps, but even so, I don’t think I’m making my quota. That’s why we included a chapter in Healthy Bread about breads that are fortified with fruits and vegetables, sometimes ground finely, and sometimes chunky. We were amazed at how well this works, despite our fears that this stuff would weigh down the bread. Every little bit helps.
Gluten-free breads: I once interviewed a prominent gastrointestinal specialist from one of the country’s finest University hospitals, where his practice includes the treatment of celiac disease (intestinal allergy to wheat gluten). We talked about celiac disease, but I also asked him about people who aren’t celiac, but simply don’t feel well when they eat wheat. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 1 out of every 113 Americans have celiac disease. They become unpleasantly ill when they eat even small amounts of wheat gluten. The science is pretty clear on how to treat celiac patients: eliminate all gluten from their diet. Chapter 9 in Healthy Bread was written with them in mind. But the science is unclear on what to tell people who say they don’t feel well when they eat gluten, but don’t have celiac disease. My gastroenterologist friend has a very clear answer for those people. He tells them “don’t argue with success.” If you feel better when you avoid gluten, then decrease or eliminate it. So Healthy Bread is a book for those people well.
All this health talk makes me a bit wary. When I used to see patients, I turned over every rock to figure out how to reduce their risk of chronic disease — quit smoking, get more exercise, do your routine screening exams, and eat a healthier diet. But I’d hate to see people become obsessed with their diet, and specifically, about the bread. If you can pack some extra nutrition into the bread, and you like the flavor, by all means, go for it. But don’t let it destroy your appreciation for great bread and other foods. As we said in our first book, if you worry about the bread, it won’t taste good.
Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., coauthor of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients, is a physician with twenty years of experience in health care as a practitioner, consultant, and faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School. His interest in baking and preventive health sparked a quest to adapt the techniques of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for healthier ingredients.
Zoë François, coauthor of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients, is passionate about food that is real, healthy, and always delicious. She is a pastry chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America. In addition to teaching baking and pastry courses nationally, she consults to the food industry and is the creator of the recipe blog www.zoebakes.com. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two sons.
The authors answer bread questions at their Web site: www.healthybreadinfive.com.