Table of Contents
The Quick Answer
No. Bread is not paleo.
Why Isn’t Bread Paleo?
If you’re familiar with the paleo diet, the answer to this question may seem obvious, but for many the reason that bread is not considered paleo is not crystal clear.
In this post we’ll dive a little deeper into the reasons as to why bread isn’t considered paleo, and the deal with grains and whole grains, including whether or not you should eat them, and, if you do eat them, how to make your diet a little healthier.
Personally I do follow the paleo approach to nutrition because it works for me. I spent time removing food from my diet and then reintroducing it to see how it affected me. Through careful note-taking and mindfulness, I was able to determine that most grains do not work so well for me. They often result in bloating, stomach pain, joint pain, and allergy-like symptoms.
Wikipedia tells us that bread is a staple food that’s made from baking dough, flour, and water. It is considered one of the oldest foods we have. Now, I have a deep love and respect for Wikipedia, but the majority of grains have only been around since the dawn of agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago, and, in some Scandinavian areas and England, only 5,500 years ago. That’s a pretty small amount of time, relative to how long humans have been evolving and roaming the earth.
Now, I do want to be fair, even though this is a paleo site. The contributors here are pro-health above all else. We’re interested in providing you with the best information out there, so that you can determine whether or not a paleo approach is right for you.
According to a recent article from Scientific America, it is unclear whether or not our ancestors ate grains. This may depend on the region your genomes come from. This article also points out that food in and of itself is extremely different to how it used to be, because of the food available to animals and because of the soil that fruits and vegetables were grown in back then.
However, the paleo diet takes the view that humans weren’t meant to consume grains. This is partly because of the highly processed versions of these foods you see today. In the grand scheme of the things, the paleo approach to nutrition emphasizes healing your body from the inside out. Recent research is suggesting that some of the anit-nutrients found in bread and other grains may be problematic for the majority of us.
Possibly the biggest problem with grains is that our ancestors didn’t eat them like we eat them. Health experts tell us grains should make up a large part of our diet, with some recommending seven to nine servings a day! One of the reasons for this is that grains are big business now. Through 1995 and 2000, the US produced more than 330 tons of the stuff a year. This made us one of the largest producers and distributors of grains in the world.
Seven to nine servings for most of the population is way too much. For a caveman, that may have actually been beneficial, as he actually spent a lot of his time on his feet, hunting, gathering, and generally being active. Most of the population does not move as much as cavemen used to, and so we end up spending the majority our their time on our rumps.
On top of that, many of us end up eating more than those seven to nine servings per day. Most breads and grains move through the body rather quickly and can cause blood sugar spikes and high insulin levels. This creates a roller coaster effect that can influence hunger and appetite.
Even “whole grains” (more on these later) are often actually just mashed up into fine flour, which does help to save nutrients but which also causes them to digest rapidly and cause similar insulin surges.
- Whole wheat bread: 71 Glycemic Index score, 9 glycemic load
- Vanilla wafers: 77 Glycemic Index score, 14 glycemic load
- Whole-wheat kernel: 30 Glycemic Index score
The Glycemic Index rates foods according to the blood sugar reactions they trigger. Even “healthy whole grain breads” can cause blood sugar reactions, even though they are a good source of fiber. This is because the typical whole grain breads that you purchase from the grocery store are not actually whole grain breads. Instead, “whole grain bread” is a fancy buzz word used on their labels to convince us that they’re much healthier for us.
It’s no wonder that people who change their diets to add in these so-called healthy grains to get more fiber are falling asleep at their desks at work, right alongside those who are eating Pop-Tarts and sugary cereals. Both contribute to high blood sugar levels, which are followed by high insulin levels.
How The Glycemic Index Is Tied To Insulin Response
When you eat a high Glycemic Index food, you end up with an insulin response. Your body kicks out a higher amount of insulin just so that your blood sugar levels will come down. This can lead to diabetes down the road. In the meantime, your moods aren’t stable, you’re hungrier than all heck, and all you can think about is food. You can’t concentrate on your work or the task at hand. By eliminating grains from your diet, for example by going paleo, you can eliminate most of these problems.
Grains Are Not Just For Humans Anymore
If you really look at the modern diet, you’ll see that even cattle and other livestock are being fed grains. Up to 75% of the grain produced every year is fed to animals that we then consume. The crazy thing is they can’t digest it well either. It causes them problems with indigestion in just the same way that it does us.
It also leads to changing fat compositions in them. Instead of animal products that contain more omega-3 and healthy fats, we end up with animal products that contain higher amounts of omega-6 fats.
So, the next time someone tells you that animal proteins or eating meat is bad for you, and insists on showing you a study to back it up, let them know that most of those studies are conducted using poor sources of animal protein that have been fed grains as opposed to their traditional diets of grass, worms, grubs, and other insects.
This dependence on grains didn’t happen until farming grains became big business. Just like cows, maybe your body can and will tolerate grains for a while, but how long will it be before you’re forced to give them up because your health has deteriorated so much?
Grain Intolerance, Lectin & Phytates
Grains and grain intolerance are now tied to over a hundred different diseases, including:
- Celiac disease
- Heart disease
- Joint pain
- Mental disorders
- Skin conditions
- Other health issues, such as headaches and migraines
Phytates In Grains
Phytates bind up minerals in food, so that minerals, such as zinc, become unavailable for your body to use. If food is interfering with the absorption of minerals in your body, that is a clear negative.
Besides that, grains really aren’t that high in vitamins and minerals. In fact, the nutrients that can be obtained from grains can also be found in meats. Grass-fed animals eat many more nutrient-dense plants than humans do, and getting your nutrients from the nutrients in these plants is a safer way to get your nutrients.
Considering that a paleo approach to your nutrition emphasizes vegetables and healthy fats as primary sources of energy, with grass-fed meats and veggies, you’ve got yourself a nutrient-dense diet that provides your body with just about everything that it needs.
Lectins In Grains
Researchers have begun showing that the plant structure of grains includes something called lectin proteins. These lectins include gluten, but there are other lectins in food. Lectins cause inflammation in the digestive tract.
They’re also thought to be linked to cell death by contributing to leaky gut syndrome. Once you have leaky gut, everything you eat is able to flow out through the small holes in your digestive tract into your blood, which takes and deposits it in different organs, causing health issues. And that’s a big problem because, simply put, those food substances aren’t supposed to be there. Your immune system treats these food particles as something to attack and destroy, and you end up with an autoimmune disease if you allow it to continue.
Grains Linked To Inflammation And Over-Acidity
There’s another possible problem with grains. If you eat a lot of these acidic foods, you’ll have an acidic reaction in your body, which means more inflammation, body aches and pains, and fatigue. The antidote is more green vegetables, which the paleo diet suggests you eat copious amounts of. Remember, any food that causes an inflammatory response in the GI tract is a culprit in leaky gut syndrome, allergies, and autoimmune disorders.
Is There Any Confusion When It Comes To Bread And Paleo?
What About Whole Grains?
In the past decade, there’s been a substantial shift away from products containing bleached flour, white sugar, white rice, and other grains or foods stripped of their nutrition during processing.
Most of us know that it’s probably in our best interest to stay away from “white carbs.” Most of these foods have been processed over and over again, essentially losing any and all nutritional value. In fact, in the 1930s, food scientists realized that these processed grains were leaving much of the population malnourished. Some of these early findings are part of the reason for the “whole grain” craze.
Surprise surprise, but food companies like to use catchy buzzwords to get us to buy from them. We’ll be covering some of these terms in an upcoming post about terms like “grass-fed”, “organic”, and “natural”, but, for now, let’s look at the use of the term “whole grains.”
I’ve seen the term used on just about everything, from a Trix and Lucky Charm cereal box to a can of Chef Boyardee. Yes, I am serious. Just because a package is labeled with “whole grain“, that doesn’t mean the food it contains is whole grain.
Nutritional labeling standards are weak at best. Some products are less than 1% whole grain and they still get away with using the term on their labeling. Some companies even use molasses as a way to color their foods to make them look more “whole grain healthy.” Look out for other terms such as “bread that contains wheat flour”, the term “enriched with”, or “added.”
Real whole grains will be found in the bulk section of grocery stores (Whole Foods, Sprouts, Mother’s Market).
- Steel cut oats
- Plain wild rice
- Plain barley
Whole grains contain much more fiber and resistant starch, which promote healthy gut bacteria. Refined grains provide you with nothing more than empty calories.
Food companies or the government labeling something as “food” doesn’t make it food or healthy. Think for just a moment about the constant and ever-changing seal of approval given to foods by authorities we trust such as the government, the FDA, physicians, and food companies. That seal of approval is always changing.
Take what they tell you with a pinch of salt. You can’t consider their statements to be gospel, divine, or fact. Also, realize that food companies are businesses. They are doing whatever is legal (not necessarily healthy) to produce a product at the lowest possible cost in order to maximize profit. The goal of most businesses is to make money, not to make you healthy.
If you don’t have a problem including grains in your diet, eliminate as many processed grains as possible and stick to the real whole grains found in the bulk section of your grocery store. They may be a bit plain and bland, but those are the ones that will provide you with the most nutrients.
One way to improve the way your body handles and processes grains if you are consuming them, is by adding yeast to bread and letting it sit. You can also soak, ferment, and sprout most grains as well, to limit the number of anti-nutrients (lectins and phytates) they contain.
Keep in mind the serving size recommendations we gave you in this post. Many people tend to overeat grains, so keeping your servings to the size of a clenched fist (post-workout, for the most part). This will likely do your health and waistline some good.
So, Is Bread Paleo?
As we see it, bread and most grains do not belong in the best approaches to nutrition. They are not paleo. However, if you’re not totally sold on them and think you handle them just fine, I’d like you to think about improving your choices by following the advice given above. Better yet, why not take a little challenge and eliminate them from your diet for thirty days before reintroducing them to see how you REALLY do with them?
Have you been consuming real whole grains? If so, how is your body responding to them?
How To Know What Is And Isn’t Paleo
Check out Paleo.io, the mobile app that answers the question, “is __ paleo?”. Paleo.io comes with the most comprehensive paleo diet food list out there, so no matter which food you’re confused about, you’ll always be able to find out whether or not it’s paleo.
Photo credit: surlygirl, jeffreyw, United Soybean Board, Sofies verden, and Mike Mozart
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