A baker's mission to make bread better with freshly-milled flour

Making bread more nutritious

Low-carb diet trends have led many away from eating bread. This morning we continue our "Real Food" series, looking at new ways food is being grown and prepared, with bread that might make people feel less guilty to indulge. 

CBS News' John Blackstone spoke with a baker who's on a mission to make delicious bread that's also packed with important nutrients.

At San Francisco's popular Tartine Bakery, the smell of fresh bread can draw a crowd.

"As long as I'm making bread, there's always something new for me to learn," said Chad Robertson, Tartine's co-owner and chief bread baker.  

Robertson is part of a movement to get Americans to stop thinking about bread as a guilty pleasure by changing the way it's made.

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Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery.  CBS News

"What most of this country has been eating is a really refined, you know, fast process, bread that just doesn't have much flavor and it doesn't have much nutrition," Robertson said.

To make better bread, he's uses something that for now is hard to find in America: freshly milled flour that isn't stripped of grain's vital nutrients.

"Milling fresh flour, it's just like grinding fresh coffee, or fresh spices, it's a much fresher, sort of stronger, flavor and aroma," Robertson explained. "Depending on what grains we're using and what kind of bread we're making, will give you this very flavorful, really digestible highly nutritious loaf of bread in the end," he said. 

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Tartine Bakery bread.  CBS News

Now, you may be thinking, Robertson is just another San Francisco foodie pushing an artisanal fad.  But he's just one of a group of bakers around the country changing the way they make bread—and science is on their side.

David Killilea, a scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, says the white flour most of us are accustomed to is "mostly sugar."

All-purpose white flour was developed during industrialization to extend shelf life. But to make it last months or even years, two main components of the wheat must be discarded: the bran and the germ. That means losing most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber.

"Looking at the iron, copper, zinc, calcium—there's a really big difference when you go from all-purpose [flour], which doesn't have very many of those minerals, to the whole grain, which has much more of it. Sometimes double. For zinc, four times the amount of zinc, six to eight times the amount of manganese, and all those minerals are essential for health," Killilea explained.

However, Dr. William Davis, the author of the best-selling book "Wheat Belly," is still not sold on the health benefits. He told "CBS This Morning" that "replacing white flour products with whole grains is simply replacing something harmful with something slightly less harmful, and it doesn't mean that whole grains are good for you." 

"Right now it's definitely looked upon suspiciously," said Killilea. "But at least in my opinion, a lot of that has to do with the way that the bread is made."

According to Killilea, "If we could get people eating whole grains and bringing all these lost nutrients up, we would do a lot to address the actual missing nutrients in our population."

Getting more whole grains into the American diet means changing the way flour is milled, distributed and stored. Robertson is working on that by encouraging the development of more local, small-batch flour mills.

"Coffee's a really good example that I always go back to. I mean, 20 years ago would you think that everyone would be grinding coffee fresh in their house? All over the country people know what fresh ground coffee tastes like and that was a relatively quick transition," Robertson said.

At his newest San Francisco restaurant, Tartine Manufactory, Robertson hopes to be part of a similar transition so that it's not necessary to go to a high-end bakery to get bread this good—and this good for you.

"Really, all you have to do is taste it and it's pretty easy after that."