February 02, 2016

02/02/2015: Improving the health benefits of bread


by Peter Shewry, Distinguished Research Fellow, Department of Plant Biology and Crop Science, Rothamsted Research, UK

First published in Milling and Grain, November 2015  
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.

Because 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” (self promotion). 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 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.

Read the full article in Milling and Grain HERE.  

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