One of the main reasons why I don’t eat bread, often referred to as ‘the staff of life’ on the basis of the dominant role it’s played – and continues to play – in human diets of recent history, very often is that it generally contains considerable quantities of sodium chloride, AKA salt. This salty side of many people’s chief dietary mainstay is often overlooked and has received fairly little public attention, which is unfortunate, as it serves as a source of easily ignitable fuel for inflammatory, blood-pressure raising fires within human bodies.
The problem with salt
In the past, I’ve written extensively about the threat that all of the salt that’s found in our modern nutritional environment poses to our health, particularly focusing on the effects that a high salt intake has on the cardiovascular apparatus and immune-related parameters (Some relevant research on the topic: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). As I see it, the data clearly show that salt is a troublemaker. Actually, I’d go as far as to say that I consider the current widespread utilization of sodium chloride by food manufacturers and consumers to be one of the most pernicious and pressing nutritional problems we’re currently faced with.
When compared with the Paleolithic man, the modern man takes in ridiculously high quantities of salt (1, 2, 3, 4). Whereas the former only ate natural, unsalted foods derived directly from his proximate environment, the latter constantly exposes his internals to a steady supply of NaCl coming from processed, manufactured food items such as potato chips, cookies, cheese, and bread. Not only that, but many modern humans add salt to their meals, which comes on top of the salt their already taking in via their consumption of industrially produced convenience foods. This behavior places additional stress on the heart, kidneys, and brain, among other organs.
How much salt does bread actually contribute to people’s diets?
Let’s assume that a young, fairly active man, let’s call him Joe, takes in on average rougly 400 grams of bread every day. That equals to about 8 moderately thick slices of whole grain bread, which is a fairly high intake, but certainly not unheard of. Some people, in particular hard-training individuals, may in some instances take in even more than that, especially if they rely on bread as their main source of calories (which many do).
Let’s then assume that the bread that Joe eats contains on average 1.25 grams of salt per 100 grams – a typical salt content of bread. Some types of bread contain a bit more than that, whereas others contain a bit less; however, most all commercially sold breads fall somewhere around the 1 gram mark. That may not sound like a lot, but in real life, it quickly adds up. Joe, for example, will be taking in 5 grams (!!) of salt through his consumption of bread alone. That’s a lot of salt when viewed against the intake that would have been typical for humans throughout our evolution. Personally, I’ve noticed that it’s when my salt intake creeps up towards 4-5 grams a day that I really start to feel that it’s having a deterimental effect.
Obviously, Joe won’t solely be eating bread; hence, he’s likely going to be exposed to salt contained within other foods as well. Also, chances are he’ll be adding a bit of salt to some of his meals, like his dinner, either during or after preparing them. Combined, this may quickly cause his salt intake to end up somewhere in the realm of 10 to 15 grams a day, which is a lot. It’s certainly sufficient to cause internal turmoil, including gastrointestinal dysbiosis, hypertension, and potentially also autoimmunity and renal disease.
The general saltiness of baked goods
An argument can be made that not all breads are equally bad with respects to their salt content. What’s important to recognize though is that pretty much all commercially sold breads, as well as other grain-based food products such as cookies and dougnuts, contain significant amounts of salt. This is something you’ll quickly notice if you head into a supermarket and proceed to look over the ingredient lists of the products that are sold there. Part of the reason why salt is so popular is that it adds to the taste of food. Furthermore, it plays a role in production processes and helps preserve food, aiding its protection against bacteria and fungi.
It’s certainly possible to make bread that contains less than 1-1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams, particularly if one utilizes sourdough cultures; hence, it could be argued that the problem isn’t bread per se, but rather all of the salt that we’re adding to it. What’s important to recognize though is that some salt appears to be required to make good bread, and that at present, bread is a major source of salt in the human diet.
Bread features heavily on the nutritional menu of a lot of contemporary people and is generally perceived to be a healthy food item, at least when it’s predominantly made of whole grains, as opposed to refined ones. What’s largely missed by the general public is that there’s a dark side to bread. In addition to being very high in carbohydrate and containing troublesome entities such as gliadin and wheat germ agglutinin, bread is also a major source of salt. This is concerning, as salt is centrally involved in the etiology of many diseases of civilization and is high on the list of compounds that the typical modern man and woman would benefit from taking in less of.