Just before the most recent general election, the government introduced long-awaited regulations regarding bread. This may seem a very basic product, but the situation wasn't actually as simple as it seemed. For example, the 'pan integral', which was supposed to be wholemeal bread, did not live up to its name.
Unfortunately, in Spain there were no regulations to insist on the percentage of wholemeal flour in this type of bread, and some varieties which are called 'pan integral' contain no flour of this type at all.
It is not difficult to imagine that producers have been taking full advantage of this lack of regulation. Many of the loaves we have been buying as wholemeal only contained a small amount of wheat bran, but credulous consumers would see that the bread was brown and had a few bits of cereal and believe that they were buying a quality product. It was an easy mistake to make, because the colour could be obtained by adding other flours which were darker in colour, or molasses.
There are basically three parts to a wheat seed: the grain, the germ and the bran. In white flours, the germ and bran are removed. This results in a considerable reduction in fibre, minerals and vitamins, so the refined flour becomes little more than starch and a little protein.
People generally prefer the taste of white bread, for the simple reason that it is similar to sugars - in other words, sweeter. We get used to sweet tastes as a child and our brain generates a strong link with them which is hard to lose. In fact, it is adults rather than children who tend to eat brown bread, which means we are depriving our youngsters of a series of benefits which they should have at their age. Also, the rapid absorption can lead to dangerous peaks of blood glucose which our body will resolve with a generous production of insulin, and in the long term can lead to a number of health problems, including: lipogenesis, metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
The main benefit of wholemeal bread is soluble fibre. This fibre makes us feel fuller, because it hydrates with water and takes up more space in our digestive tube; but the most interesting thing is that it will modulate the absorption of starch, preventing the increase in blood sugar which is associated with white bread. Nor should we forget that the minerals and vitamins in wholemeal bread make it much more interesting from a nutritional point of view.
The principal change in the new regulations, which are being updated for the first time in 30 years, is that the term "pan integral" will only be permitted to apply to bread which is made with 100 per cent wholemeal flour. This may sound obvious, but in fact it is major progress compared with the regulations until now.
The government has also decided that breads which are made from different flours must clearly state the percentage of each type of flour, and that was also a huge achievement by the legislators.
The new Royal Decree will also expand the denomination 'pan común' to more varieties of bread, including rye and wholemeal. This is more important than it seems, because only four per cent VAT is charged on 'pan común' , while the rest is subject to ten per cent. We can now look forward to finding wholemeal bread which really is what it says on the label, and at a better price in the near future.
This major improvement in a product which is consumed by millions every day highlights the problems with existing food legislation. It seems surprising that something so simple and commonsense has not been done earlier, and it makes us wonder how many other tricks the food industry is playing on us, under the legal cover of existing laws and regulations.