Diet blog: bread is on the menu

Judith Wills / 11 May 2016

Bread has a fairly bad reputation nowadays but our diet expert argues there's no reason not to eat and indulge in decent bread when on a diet.

Goodness me, bread’s been getting all kinds of star-studded publicity this past month.  I expect it’s pleased, because usually, it’s just a ‘there’ kind of thing, lurking around most of our lives without ever drawing a great deal of attention to itself.  It’s taken for granted.  And sometimes, even, it’s in the doghouse – in a CARB! YUCK! kind of way from low-carb fanatics - but never in a wild, headline-grabbing way.

Related: The truth about carbs

Yet in April, it all kicked off with Paul Hollywood defending bread with a passion.  “I don’t like people who say you shouldn’t eat cake or bread if you want to lose weight. You just have to use moderation. You need to have these things as part of a balanced diet. What’s wrong with a baguette? Having a bit of bread with some soup? That’s not gluttony, that’s food!”

Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?, you may think, having done a book – ‘Bread’ - and a TV show all about the stuff.  But he’s got a point.

Then last week we got the famous row between two relatively new stars of our screens and bookshelves.  There was ex Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh, siding with Paul and laying into the latest star gurus of the clean eating movement, the Hemsley Sisters.  On Twitter, she claimed:  “You can't advise people to cut out gluten, carbs, etc- major food groups & great, cheap nutrition - just because some bad science told you so!”

Well she would say that, wouldn’t she? you may think, having done a book - ‘Crumb’ - and a TV show all about the stuff.  But she’s got a point.

Jamie Oliver joined in with the bread praise on Twitter, posting an excited, “There’s nothing like freshly baked bread!” and adding a baffling “Especially if you add coconut!”   And he hasn’t even got a book out called Loaf, or any other bread-related kind of title.

Related: Jamie Oliver's recipe for a longer, healthier life

But now, this week, it turns out that Paul, Jamie and Ruby’s best efforts have maybe been in vain.

For new research reported in the trade bible The Grocer finds that over the past two years, sales of bread in the UK have declined by a quite significant 14.3%.  In the past year, we ate 50 million loaves fewer, despite the fact that loaves are cheaper than they’ve been for ages.  It seems that the carb-loathing, wheat-hating, gluten-free brigade have won the publicity war and persuaded a lot of us that we don’t need the stuff.  And they’ve got a point.  We don’t actually need bread.  We can get all the calories and nutrients that it contains from a variety of other foods and ingredients.

But, unless you really are gluten intolerant, I tend to side with much of Paul’s viewpoint even though he’s biased.  I know a great deal of people who manage to be healthy and either stay slim or get slim while eating bread.  I was one of them.   When I lost 22lbs a few years ago I cut back on carbs but still allowed myself a moderate amount of bread – one slice a day, if I remember, and sometimes I’d have a day without.  If you like it, surely life is too short to give it up.  So if you feel a bit guilty about your own bread habit, here are my top tips to help you carry on enjoying it, lose weight if you need to, and have no guilt at all.

  • Eat the best bread that you can afford/find/make.  Usually it tastes better than sliced wrapped white, contains more fibre/nutrients, has a better texture and more taste and takes longer to eat, so that you are satisfied with less. 
  • Cut a loaf into slices, wrap each in cling film, bag the slices up in a plastic bag and freeze them so you can get out a slice when you want it, no cash waste at all.
  • Try breads made from a variety of different grains – spelt is great and fibre-rich; dark rye is proven to help you feel more full than wheat bread does; oat bread is easily digested and brilliant for people with high cholesterol.
  • Have an open sandwich instead of a full one – top your slice, toasted or as it comes – with lots of salad, a drizzle of oil and balsamic, and a bit of whatever protein you fancy (egg, cheese, chicken, lentil pate).
  • Eat your bread with avocado.  On every level, this is the thing to do right now.  You will be filled with health and superiority, and deliciousness, too.

Ate last night

We had some cold roast lamb leftover so I made a mixed leaf salad to go with it and also a carb salad I haven’t made for ages.  Yes, carb! – but not bread.  Potatoes need bigging up as well.  We’ve got masses of new season herbs in the garden as well as spring onions I sowed last year and, for the first time ever, I have my own crop of wild garlic (can’t find any in the real wild near where I live so had to resort to buying bulbs last year).  This tangy salad uses them all and goes brilliantly with the lamb.  If you haven’t any wild garlic, use garlic chives or ordinary chives instead.

Judith's herb potato salad

Herb Potato Salad

Serves 4

  • 450g potatoes (I used a mix of Jersey Royals and Maris Piper), peeled if liked
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 handfuls chopped parsley
  • 1½ handfuls chopped fresh mint
  • 4-6 leaves wild garlic, chopped
  • Good glug of excellent olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Steam or boil the potatoes until cooked, drain and lightly bash with a fork so you have some largish lumps, some small.  While the potatoes are still hot, transfer to a serving dish and stir in all the remaining ingredients.  Cover and leave at room temperature for at least an hour for the flavours to meld and the potatoes to absorb the oil and vinegar.  Will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

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