Whole Grain Bread: Why You Should Make Your Own

Whole-grain bread is delicious. It’s also very healthy. In fact, whole-grain bread is so good for you that I encourage you to learn to make your own. As I’ll explain below, there are several compelling reasons to make your own whole-grain bread.

You might be surprised to read this recommendation, especially if you’ve been avoiding grains. But I spend hours every day reading the most updated scientific literature about health. So I can tell you with confidence that the current fad pushing people to eat a high-fat no-grain diet is not backed by tradition, culture, or science.

Quality Ingredients Matter

When “experts” criticize whole grains in general and whole grain bread in particular, they pay very little attention to the quality of the ingredients. I don’t understand this. Bottom line: It matters whether the flour, cereal, or grain in question is whole or refined, whether it’s organically grown or laden with pesticides and herbicides, and even whether the grain has been recently harvested or has been sitting on a shelf for months at a time.

But popular books like cardiologist William Davis’s Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health make little distinction between refined or unrefined wheat, organic or conventionally grown wheat, genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the whole grain bread or non-GMO wheat, etc.

Instead, when these experts condemn wheat in general and bread in particular, they lump all grain products into a single category.

The unhealthy aspects of grains in general and flour made from grains are caused by four contributing factors:

  1. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

    Conventionally grown wheat, corn, and oats contain GMOs. Eating genetically modified food has been associated with fertility issues, cognitive decline, organ abnormalities, and cancer, among other health problems, according to a 2022 systematic review.[1]

  2. Pesticides and herbicides

    Wheat that is treated with pesticides and herbicides contains chemical residues that are harmful to human health. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, and its adjuvants is a herbicide that is especially problematic to human health.

  3. Processing

    When a plant is highly processed it is stripped of its naturally occurring nutrients. This is especially true of grains. The refining process involves the removal of the germ and the bran of the plant, which is then bleached. This process makes an otherwise healthy whole food devoid of nutrients. The natural nutrients that are lost are then “added back” in synthetic form. While these products are labeled “enriched,” they are anything but. As a consequence of the refining process, there are substantial losses in essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.[2]
  4. Shelf-life

    Flour that has been sitting on a supermarket shelf for months is often rancid, or almost rancid, by the time you consume it.

The Many Health Benefits of Whole Grain Bread

“I’m waging a war against misinformation in health, in which one of the major and most destructive messages is to create a diet rich in healthy whole grains,” William Davis said in an interview.[3]

Why pick on whole grains? Eating whole grains is associated with myriad health benefits. The fact is, most Americans who aren’t healthy eat little to no whole grains.

Davis’s citations, for the most part, do not support his contention that all grains are bad for your health. For example, Davis insists that eating whole grains will make you fat. But, actually, the opposite is true: eating whole grains, and not refined grains, is associated with good health and a healthy weight.

In fact, according to a 2021 systemic scientific review, the consumption of whole grains, compared with refined grains, actually lowers people’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.[4]

There is a growing body of scientific evidence—from both observational and intervention studies—that shows that increased intake of whole-grain foods has positive health benefits.

People who eat the most whole grains consistently have less risk of developing coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several different cancers.[5], [6]

Whole wheat bread can remarkably increase the bioavailability of phenolic acids and their circulating metabolites, compounds that have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects, compared to the consumption of refined grain.[7]

The takeaway from this science: We don’t need to avoid organically grown whole grains or bread made with whole-grain flour. But we do need to avoid highly processed foods, refined grains, and grains grown with pesticides and herbicides.

Kneading Whole Grain Bread

One of the most basic and important developmental steps for humans is learning how to “self-soothe.”

The repetitive action of kneading dough is meditative. In fact, kneading bread dough is a good way to nourish your vagus nerve and relieve stress.

Kneading Bread is Soothing

Mother and son kneading bread together
Kneading Bread is Good for the Soul

A new baker will need to knead the dough by hand for between ten and twenty minutes.

Doing so is deeply restorative to your health, providing you a chance to be in the present moment, engaging with yourself and the creator in a deep and meaningful way.

I believe that kneading bread dough is a perfect way to self-soothe.

As a 2020 video on bread baking explores, baking whole-grain bread engages all five senses. Kneading dough is a repetitive, soothing activity that makes people feel purposeful and productive. While the body is busy, the mind has room to relax. In addition, watching dough rise triggers pleasure centers in the brain.

And then there’s the wonderful aroma. There’s nothing quite like the smell of baking bread, which can bring back pleasurable childhood memories and feelings of warmth and love. Finally, as the bread contracts and cools, there’s the sweet sound of popping and crackling.[8]

A Balm Against Depression

Research has also revealed that kneading and baking bread may be able to help people out of depression.

Baker John Whaite, the winner of the 2012 Great British Bake Off, described suffering from crippling depression. Baking is emerging “as a form of pill-less Prozac,” Whaite said in an interview.

In a report from the Real Bread Campaign, Whaite called for more people who were suffering from mental health issues, or even just those who were going through a hard time “to try their hand at baking real bread to see how it could help them.”

Whaite also said he’s been inundated with people contacting him to share their stories of how baking bread helped them resolve various mental health issues.

A Creative Endeavor

Psychotherapist Saba Stefanos, leader of a London-based non-profit that helps trauma victims, found that running a bread-making group helped survivors of torture “reveal their fears and anxieties and reflect on their past through the creative and interactive process of bread making,” as The Epoch Times reported.[9]

I believe that everyday creative activities, including things like making art, playing music, and baking fresh whole-grain bread, contribute to a path of flourishing.

Scientific studies also confirm that this is true. One 2016 study, for example, showed that spending time on creative goals during the day is associated with more positive feelings and outlook on that day.[10]

All Five Senses

Whole Grain Bread

Advantages of Freshly Ground Wheat

There are several advantages to stone-ground wheat flour. The endosperm, bran, and germ remain in their natural, original proportions.

Because the stones grind slowly, the wheat germ is not exposed to high temperatures. Heat causes the fat from the germ portion to oxidize and become rancid and much of the vitamins to be destroyed.

Since only a small amount of grain is ground at once, the fat from the germ is well distributed, which also minimizes spoilage. Nutritive losses due to oxygen exposure are also limited by the fact that stone-ground flour is usually coarser.[11]

In our house, we use a stone grinder for baking and making our own pizza dough.

Stone Grinder for grinding grains
Stone Grinder

As one of my favorite books, The Bread Book, explains, freshly stone-ground flour is preferred by many bakers and natural food advocates because of its texture and its sweet and nutty flavor. Moreover, it is nutritionally superior and has a better baking quality than steel-roller-milled flour.[12]

Milling your own flour or purchasing fresh-milled flour not only ensures that your flour is as nutritious as it can be, but also that it has a wonderful taste, which is lost to commercially made whole-grain flour.[13]

Getting Started Making Your Own Whole Grain Bread

So now that I’ve convinced you that whole grain bread is delicious, nutritious, and health-giving, how do you get started making your own?

1. Read all about it

I’m partial to books (and articles, and peer-reviewed science). You can go to your local library or bookstore and poke around. I recommend you buy a copy of The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking: A Baking Book, which is a perfect book to help beginners.

2. Join a bread-baking group

Getting together with more experienced bakers, taking a bread-baking class, or joining a bread-baking group makes this meditative, health-giving activity a social aspect. If you embark on your baking adventure with others, they can help answer your questions and troubleshoot.

3. Be patient with yourself as you’re learning

Learning new skills takes time. Your first whole-grain bread loaf may be as hard as a brick. (If it is, you can turn it into bread pudding—there’s a recipe for that in The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.) Don’t worry! Try again. You’ll get the hang of it soon! And, as you are learning, your home will be filled with the nutty aroma of freshly baking whole-grain bread.

Donald R. Yance is the founder of the Mederi Center and author of the book Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism. A Clinical Master Herbalist and Certified Nutritionist, Donnie is renowned for his extraordinary knowledge and deep understanding of the healing properties of plants and nutrition, as well as of epigenetics, laboratory medicine, oncologic pathology, and molecular oncology. He is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, and the Society for Integrative Oncology.

[1] Shen, C., Yin, XC., Jiao, BY. et al. Evaluation of adverse effects/events of genetically modified food consumption: a systematic review of animal and human studies. Environ Sci Eur 34, 8 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12302-021-00578-9

[2] Okarter N, Liu RH. Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010;50:193–208; USDA, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page; 2009. [cited 2010 Jun 1]. Available from: http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/wheat-belly-arguments-are-based-on-shaky-science-critics-say-1.2974214

[4] Sanders LM, Zhu Y, Wilcox ML, Koecher K, Maki KC. Effects of Whole Grain Intake, Compared with Refined Grain, on Appetite and Energy Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Adv Nutr. 2021 Jul 30;12(4):1177-1195. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmaa178. PMID: 33530093; PMCID: PMC8321865.

[5] Khan J, Khan MZ, Ma Y, Meng Y, Mushtaq A, Shen Q, Xue Y. Overview of the Composition of Whole Grains’ Phenolic Acids and Dietary Fibre and Their Effect on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Mar 5;19(5):3042. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19053042. PMID: 35270737; PMCID: PMC8910396.

[6] Slavin J. Whole grains and human health. Nutr Res Rev. 2004 Jun;17(1):99-110. doi: 10.1079/NRR200374. PMID: 19079919.

[7] Mateo Anson N, Aura AM, Selinheimo E, Mattila I, Poutanen K, van den Berg R, Havenaar R, Bast A, Haenen GR. Bioprocessing of wheat bran in whole wheat bread increases the bioavailability of phenolic acids in men and exerts antiinflammatory effects ex vivo, J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):137-43. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.127720. Epub 2010 Nov 24.

[8] https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/knead-relax-baking-bread-eases-151846164.html

[9] https://www.theepochtimes.com/bread-making-raises-mood-says-british-report_336028.html

[10] Conner, T.S. et. al., Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing, The Journal of Positive Psychology , Journal of Positive Psychology, The Volume 13, 2018 – Issue 2, Pages 181-189 | Received 27 Jan 2016, Accepted 28 Oct 2016, Published online: 17 Nov 2016, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049

[11] Aubert, Claude. “Farine fraiche et moulins familiaux.” Les quatre saisons du jardinage 56(mai/juin 1989). Baker’s Digest 36(1962): 50; Mount, James Lambert. The Food and Health of Western Man. London & Tonbribge: Charles Knight & Co. Ltd., 1975.

[12] Moritz and Jones (Moritz, L.A.; and Jones, C.R. “Experiments in grinding wheat in a Roman-British Quern” Milling 114(1950): 594) and Schultz et al. (Schultz et al. “The Thiamin Content of Wheat Flour Milled by the Stone Milling Process.” Cereal Chem 19(1942): 529) showed that stone-milled flour was relatively high in thiamin, compared to roller-milled flour, especially when from hard wheat.

[13] https://daisyflour.com/the-freshly-milled-flour-movement/

   Send article as PDF   

2 Replies to “Whole Grain Bread: Why You Should Make Your Own”

  1. Thanks again, Donnie Yance. Another fine blog post. I do want to start baking my own bread again, and your latest post has convinced me to do it sooner than later! Have a great day!

  2. This blog post started me on a bread-baking journey that shows no sign of slowing because I’m having an absolute blast. I never wanted to make bread because of kneading. Now I know that’s one of the best parts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *