During World War II white bread was banned completely in the UK. As a result the nation was said to be healthier in 1947 after rationing and wholemeal bread, than in 1939 before the war. It may interest you to know how this came about.
In 1911 the UK Daily Mail announced “The Triumph of Standard Bread – A change in the food of a Nation”. This was the result of a campaign by Lord Northcliffe (the Daily Mail founder) inspired by Sir Oswald Mosely (the father not his more famous fascist son).
Oswald Mosely convinced Northcliffe that bad bread was the root of many Victorian health issues and the Lord launched a campaign for ‘Standard bread’ which was bread made with unadulterated flour with 80% of the wheat germ included. The Daily Mail offered a £55,000 prize for the reader that could make the best unadulterated loaf!
This campaign was realised by a daily article about bread in the Daily mail for a year and in Lord Northcliffe’s words “until the battle was won”.
Shortly after the campaign was launched 8 eminent doctors called for the government to bring in legislation making wholemeal bread a national necessity, especially for the poor for whom bread was often their only staple. Banned!
As a result of the white bread ban during WW II and the nation’s health being better in 1947, even Lord Northcliffe’s enemies were forced to admit he had done the nation some good.
Jump to 1961 and the introduction of the Chorleywood baking process which led to longer lasting softer bread achieved with a substantial amount of adulteration with a cocktail of chemicals and excessive yeast (think white sliced). These additives have since been credited with the rise of intolerance's, poor digestion and asthma to name a few.
Since then as a response to the poor nutrition offered by white bread, the 1998 bread and flour regulations have come out, but has this legislation led to a return to Lord Northcliffe’s beloved standard bread? NO!
Since 1998 in the UK all white wheat flours and some brown wheat flours have to have added minerals and vitamins.
This is based on the premise that the processing these flours go through removes essential nutrients and they therefore need to be added back in to protect the health of the population at large.
Generally the law on such fortification is that you can only add additional nutrients that are already naturally occurring in the ingredient itself.
The regulations state that wheat flour (other than wholemeal) must have added thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), iron and calcium carbonate.
The Real Bread Campaign
The problem highlighted by the Real Bread Campaign and others is the nature and origin of these additives. For example where does the iron and calcium come from and is it equivalent to the naturally occurring iron and calcium already in the wheat?
Natural over 'synthetic' and 'added'
It is also highly likely that the thiamin and niacin added to the flour is 'synthetic' and where is the science showing the positive benefits of combining synthetic vitamins with the real naturally occurring ones? We can find none.
The reason wholemeal flour and rye flour do not require fortification is because they already have more than enough of the naturally occurring minerals and vitamins in them, suggesting to me that these flours and breads are the way to go. If you compare white bread to wholemeal you will see a huge difference in nutritional value between them even with the fortification!
Remember nature combines natural vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and phytochemicals that work in a synergistic way to maximise their benefit to us and we don't know the effect of adding synthetic and unnatural nutrients on this synergy.
My advice is to stay clear of these bread additives until more is known about their effects.
NB Interestingly I spent my teenage years in ‘Chorleywood’ where my Dad banned sliced white bread from the house because it was, as he described it “filthy cotton wool!”
Matt Wright – Founder of checkyourfood.com “Always on the side of information”
Director - Nutrient expert, researcher & data miner
I am responsible for the scientific research and data oversight at the CheckYourFood Group. A great journey of discovery for me as I uncover the myriad of goodness that natural food contains and facilitate others to promote health and wellbeing.
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