Is “health bread” a scam?

Bakery firms are making big promises: touting premium loaves to help with everything from dieting and flatulence to memory loss and the symptoms of menopause. I enlisted some experts and we took apart 12 supermarket loaves to ask: are health breads a big gluten-loaded con?


(Extended version of an investigation for the Daily Mail, published 21 Feb 2013)

Once there was white bread, which was nicer, and there was brown bread, which was better for you.

Now most supermarkets stock 40 or more different breads. They’re far more than the building blocks of a sandwich: some “health breads” claim to make you fitter, slimmer, to improve your memory or even to stop you eating so much bread.

Some of the designer health breads cost five or six times what a normal loaf does. They are imported from France, Italy and Germany. Yet many of the products have little or no health value at all – and the claims may be in contravention of labeling law.

Many of these breads also taste horrible. But people don’t buy them first for flavour.

One of the brands, Burgen,  calls itself “bread shaped health food”. One of the loaves is flavoured with linseed and soya and claims to help with symptoms of the menopause through adding natural hormones to the diet.

But medical professionals told us that was “extremely unlikely”.

Burgen, which is owned by Britain’s biggest bakery company, ABF, claims a whole range of medical benefits for its loaves, but our experts poured cold water on most of the promises. We requested scientific evidence from Burgen, but it didn’t provide any.

Burgen breads cost £1.40 each in supermarkets, more than twice as much as basic bread.

There are breads that promise healthier bones and better brain function and memory, and of course, relief for a range of allergies to gluten, wheat or excess yeast. But many of the claims are misleading or unproven.

Our survey found that expensive slimmers’ bread from WeightWatchers and Nimble is almost identical to and just as fattening as budget white bread at less than a third the price.

Some of these breads address problems – like healthy bones – that hardly exist among the sort of people able to pay for designer loaves.

Continue reading

Britain’s shell fish disaster

Image nephrops prawn langoustine  bycatch fish waste

The catch from an Irish Sea bottom trawler – all they were after were the little red prawns. Copyright Johnny Woodlock

Here’s the top of my Observer Magazine  story on the sad and destructive prawn and scallop trawling that’s now the west coast’s most valuable fishery. A huge and interesting response – see the comments here – from academics, fishermen and shellfish lovers… Please tell me what you think below.

The dispute is savage (between the scientists and between the fishermen). Here’s an email I got today from a casual diver I know well:

I was diving for scallops off Lochmaddy 3 years ago and an Oban Registered scallop dredger steamed full throttle towards me and my buddy just after we had surfaced – very intimidating stuff – the intention was very clear and hostile, threatening words were shouted at us. The other thing that no-one sees is the damage these dredgers do to the seabed – everything is obliterated, torn from the sand, ripped and destroyed. It takes decades for the seabed to recover.

If you’re interested, make sure and watch Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4  tomorrow, 14th Feb. We need a simple, clear public campaign not to ban bottom trawling, but just set a modest limit on the inshore seabed ploughing that’s doing so much damage – 1.5km or 3km has been suggested by the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust.  There’s evidence that the Welsh and Scottish governments might be movable.

Continue reading