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'You just can't beat a white sliced pan'

Married life can be great fun sometimes. For the past two months I've noticed our bread bin would often have two sliced pans in it, despite the obvious need for just one.

There would be the wholemeal or wholegrain sliced pan, but then a white sliced pan would mysteriously appear too.

I seemed to be the only one using the brown bread and inevitably it would go stale as I couldn't finish it quickly enough. Meanwhile, the white loaf was enjoying huge popularity. What was going on?

"Oh I'm sick of brown bread," explained my wife. "You just can't beat the white sliced pan. And the boys much prefer it in their school lunch."

I felt immediately relieved. "Me too," I admitted, "I'm totally fed up eating brown bread. I thought it was just me." Now that we have brought our secret shame out into the open we both spend long evenings munching on baguettes, baps and buttered toast without a care.

She's right of course; white bread is lovely. It's tasty, it's filling and it's comforting, but the nutrition fascists and the bread begrudgers don't want you to go near the stuff. They'd rather ban the batch loaf and have you tuck into something unappetising and dull.

War has been declared on white bread. It has been sidelined with all other pariah foods in that despised category known as carbohydrates, despite the fact that carbs are an essential part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

People raise an eyebrow if you ask for white bread at the sandwich counter: "White? Are you sure you don't want some gluten-free flaxseed hemp bread instead?" No, I'll take the risk of instant death and opt to enjoy my lunch thanks.

I'm surrounded by people who are giving up bread, who have vowed never to eat it again and advise everyone else that bread, not just white bread, is bad for them.

Apparently that wholemeal sliced pan might have high levels of salt content. Watch out, that pumpernickel has 80 calories per slice. Careful now, that high-fibre walnut bread may contain traces of nuts (I should hope so). You can't win. You might as well abstain altogether or defy the so-called food experts.

This brings me to the most confounding aspect of the war on bread: the constant contradictions and disagreements among the experts. It's not dissimilar to the research regularly published about red wine or coffee: one week it's bad for you but the next week it's good for you.

Let's take gluten as a prime example. The current trend and nutritional wisdom is that gluten-free is the only way to enjoy bread.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grain crops. There is nothing especially nasty about gluten except that it can cause digestion problems for some people.

It was also discovered that a wider variety of conditions, not just related to digestion, could be attributed to gluten. However, due to clever marketing by food producers, the label 'gluten-free' was suddenly perceived as a super-healthy alternative and even an aid to weight loss.

Shelly Case, an American coeliac nutrition expert and author of a gluten-free diet book, debunks the growing myths and puts it very simply: "What's really at work is that gluten-free dining can seriously limit the number of foods you can eat. With fewer choices, you're a lot less likely to overeat."

Case also points out some truths that may be unpalatable to those proselytising the gluten-free lifestyle: "Gluten-free doesn't mean fat-free or calorie-free. Without gluten to bind food together, food manufacturers often use more fat and sugar to make the product more palatable."

Rob Morgan is a food science graduate with over 10 years' experience working in the Irish food industry.

"Whilst brown bread is definitely the healthier option, white bread is far from an un-healthy option," he says. "The primary difference between brown/wholemeal and white bread is dietary fibre content.

"Another benefit of the fibre is that it gives brown bread a lower GI (glycemic index), so the sugars are released slower and therefore absorbed slower by the body."

However, it's the marketing gurus and PC food brigade that give white bread bad press and portray it as evil. If you take the nutrition label on a loaf of white bread and a loaf of brown, you won't find huge differences between the two in terms of constituents.

Looking at salt content, the white slice has 0.28g of salt and the brown slice has 0.27g per slice. There is a barely discernible difference in sugar content too.

"All people need to do is compare and contrast the nutrition label advice to see that the standard white sliced pan isn't as bad as some people would have you believe," insists Morgan.

Nutritionists differ and people go hungry. In a few months' time we might be told that gluten-free is in fact not the way to go and we should be stuffing ourselves with as much gluten as is humanly possible.

Ruth Field has written a witty and practical motivational book for people hoping to get fit called 'Run Fat Bitch Run'. In the book she has a section on diet which amounts to three words: "Eat less crap".

This sums up my views on the war on bread. We need to be moderate in our eating habits without depriving our sense of taste. Life is too short to pretend we enjoy eating nutty wholegrain rye.

Mine's a toasted cheese sandwich please, on delicious white bread.

Health & Living