Ah bread Whether you love it or hate it, everyone seems to have an opinion about it. There are complete diets based on avoiding carbohydrates and gluten in bread, sometimes by choice, sometimes by medical necessity.
This piece is written for those who are in this last camp: people who enjoy bread, but should skip it because they have celiac disease, because carbohydrates affect their type 2 diabetes or because wheat causes unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Science and technology may be coming to the rescue. Researchers and food companies around the world are trying to develop bread without side effects or with components that improve health, using recently developed enzymes, new ingredients and gene editing. Read on to learn some hopeful developments.
Lower carbohydrate content
Up to 45 million Americans have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. Researchers believe that one of the culprits of IBS is food with a high content of FODMAP (which are fermentable carbohydrates of low absorption). Wheat is a known FODMAP. It contains carbohydrates called fructans, which some people with IBS have trouble digesting.
The Finnish company Fazer Mills recently introduced an enzyme called LOFO, which can help reduce the content of fructans in wheat bread. That means that bakers could produce low bread in FODMAP for people with IBS. Researchers have found that a diet low in FODMAP can help improve symptoms in about 70 percent of people with IBS.
The secret ingredient is fructanasa, an enzyme that helps the body break down fructans into smaller units, which can be softer for the stomach. According to company reports, this enzyme reduces fructans by 50 percent and does not change the taste or texture of the bread. For some people with IBS, reducing fructans in half will give relief. Others may need to avoid fructans altogether, so this bread can not help.
There is a lot of cooking tests in the United States that use the LOFO enzyme, but there is still no bread on the market.
Wheat reduced in gluten
When used in baking, gluten is responsible for the elasticity that gives bread its unique texture. It is also the protein that triggers an immune response for the 3 million Americans with celiac disease and can cause unpleasant symptoms for people with gluten sensitivity.
Researchers around the world hope to develop wheat with low gluten content for those who are mildly intolerant or change the DNA of wheat so that gluten is not a problem for people with celiac disease.
Dan Voytas, a professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota, is part of a team that developed a wheat with low gluten content using gene-editing technology. It should not be confused with genetic modification, the editing of genes does not add any foreign gene to the mixture. Instead, it removes or splices part of an organism's own genome.
The Voytas laboratory has created a prototype for low-gluten wheat.
"This type of wheat is designed for people with gluten sensitivity, or for those who want to reduce gluten in their diet," says Voytas. "I think that over time we can make wheat without proteins that provoke the immune response in people with celiac disease, and someday they will be able to consume this product as well. I think we have a five-year timetable. "
So, how does it work? Using a gene-editing technology called CRISPR / Cas9, the researchers modify the gluten gene that causes celiac disease.
"We know what proteins in wheat create an immune response, so we eliminate those genes so that they no longer produce the protein that causes that immunogenic response," says Voytas. "In our initial study, the immune reaction was reduced by 85 percent."
But wait: if gluten provides bread structure, will low-gluten wheat flour change the taste and texture of bread? Maybe.
"When you change the gluten content, you change the functionality of the product," says Voytas. "Therefore, this flour can not be used for all purposes, but it will be better than rice or corn for bread. It will still have many of the properties we like about wheat flour. "
Flours rich in fiber
While some scientists are actively working to reduce or eliminate bread components (such as fructans and gluten), others ask "what can we add to bread to make it healthier?"
This is a common question in the community of people with type 2 diabetes, where bread has taken a big hit because it is high in carbohydrates, which raises blood sugar levels.
Some people with type 2 diabetes opt for low-carb diets, which work well for many. But giving up carbohydrates is not always realistic, and people who still want to eat bread are looking for a better option. Generally, it is a minimally processed bread that is higher in fiber and protein, but lower in carbohydrates with starch. This combination of nutrients helps the body break down the bread slowly, so it does not cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.
Because there is only so much fiber you can get from whole wheat, manufacturers are becoming creative. European bakers are experimenting with tritordeum flour, which is a newly developed hybrid of wheat and barley. Its manufacturer says it produces 30 percent more fiber than traditional wheat flour, so the same piece of bread would have improved the health benefits.
Other bakers are adding fiber by mixing traditional wheat flour with lupine seed or lentil flour. Studies show that eating bread enriched with lupine instead of regular wheat bread can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Adding lupine to a high-carbohydrate meal can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. And it can play a role in the overall management of blood sugar.
Americans love bread, but they also distrust scientifically modified foods, as the debate on genetically modified organisms has shown.
When these products reach the US market, it will be interesting to see what boost wins.
Registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom is president of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company that specializes in writing, nutrition education and recipe development. He also co-wrote "Nourish: Recipes of whole foods with seeds, nuts and beans".