Wheatless Wednesday: 6 Alternatives to 87,000 Slices of Bread

Bread Footprint

Over the course of a lifetime, the average American consumes over 87,000 slices of bread.  Yes, you read that correctly — eighty seven thousand. That’s more than a loaf per week per person, not counting the additional 5,000 hot dog buns and 12,000 hamburger buns each American devours in his or her life.

All that wheat calculates out to a lifetime grand total of 21,947 loaves and buns.  The National Geographic Society’s Human Footprint project has illustrated this shocking bread obsession in a stunning visual (see the video clip below).   In the words of my little brother, who is no stranger to wheatless ways,  “That is a totally nasty amount of bread.”

There’s no argument that bread is an American staple.  Amber waves of grain are, after all, an American icon.  But we can’t live by bread alone.  So what are some wheatless alternatives?


Before you reach for loaf of wheat-flour bread, think again. Here are some healthy, wheatless sides to keep you away from that 87,000 slice average.

Starches and Grains

White Potatoes: The average American will consume 20,000 potatoes in his or her lifetime. But why not? Potatoes are satisfyingly filling, and are packed with fiber, vitamin C, manganese and potassium. And there are countless versatile ways to prepare them, from baked to mashed to latkes. Just stay away from the fried ones.

Rice: This one is a no-brainer, since so much of the world population’s diet is based on rice.  When combined with a legume, whole grain brown rice forms a complete protein providing the body with necessary amino acids. Lundberg Family Farms is a Sacramento-based rice producer which offers certified organic and eco farmed varieties of rice.  You can read about their sustainabity practices here. Also, since Lundberg rice is packaged in a dedicated facility, there are no worries about cross-contamination.

Millet is a fantastic, overlooked gluten-free source of magnanese, tryptophan, magnesium and phosphorus.  While it is technically a seed, it is usually prepared as a grain that can be eaten in place of rice.  And did you know that sprouted millet and cashews can be used to make vegan yogurt?

Amaranth, another overlooked grain-like food, is actually an herb.  When it comes to a showdown with wheat, amaranth is the clear winner, with five times the amount of iron and three times the amount of fiber. And yes, protein-rich amaranth is gluten-free.  To prepare, use a 3:1 water:amaranath ratio — more details here.

Sprouted Grain Breads

If you’re sticking to whole foods and staying away from the wheat, but still itching to reach for a slice of bread, there’s good news.  There are an abundance of wheat-free breads on the market that don’t use refined flour.  Made from sprouted whole grains, these breads are better for you than the processed flour kind. Look for breads made from sprouted kamut, spelt, barley and rye in your health food market or local co-op — brands vary depending on where in the country you live.

Gluten-Free Breads

For those with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance though, there’s a catch.  The grains most often used in sprouted breads — kamut, spelt, barley and rye — aren’t gluten-free. In fact, I have yet to find a wheat-free sprouted grain bread that is also gluten-free.  But don’t despair.  This doesn’t mean gluten-free breads don’t exist.  Companies like Food for Life and Ener-G offer a wide selection of delicious gluten-free breads made from rice and tapioca flours. And don’t forget all the variations of baked goods you can create using your own wheat-free, gluten-free flour blend.

So, this Wheatless Wednesday, think twice before you reach for one of the 21,947 loaves and buns you are expected to consume. Instead, think back to the best things before sliced bread. Your body will thank you.

Image courtesy of Roy Gumpel for the National Geographic Society

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10 thoughts on “Wheatless Wednesday: 6 Alternatives to 87,000 Slices of Bread”

  1. I may eat a few bread slices through out the year and it is wheat or wraps. I try to stay away from bread as much as possible. I will do so this Wednesday.

  2. I understand the value of having gluten-and-wheat-free starch staples readily available to those with wheat or gluten allergies and/or Celiac disease. Though for the majority of people without these health-forced dietary restrictions, wheat (whole wheat in particular) is a valuable source of vitamins, minerals, and even protein (including essential amino acids). It is low in sugar and high in complex carbohydrates and fiber. What’s the issue?

    This article is abundant in random statistics without any reason as to what the problem with wheat is.

    I’m a big proponent of eating a little bit of a lot of things. Potatoes, rice, and wheat are human dietary staples for good reason, however, and I am not sure what we gain by throwing wheat out the window.

  3. MotherLodeBeth

    As someone who eats little bread unless is heavy chunky artesian style bread, I like having other ethnic bread products like pita bread, swedish flat crackers, and tortillas since these are thinner bread items which means the vegetables, cheese and small amounts of meat make up a healthier meal.

  4. Hi Teresa, thanks for your feedback. I’m not advocating that everyone gives up wheat. My goal is to encourage us to become more conscious and intentional food consumers — to stop and think about where our food comes from and exactly what it is before we eat it. I am advocating thoughtful — rather than thoughtless — consumption. Also, the “Wheatless Wednesday” is in reference to a WWI food conservation effort spearheaded by Herbert Hoover. You can read more about it here.

  5. MotherLodeBeth — that’s fabulous! An excellent way to keep the carbohydrates in check and, as you pointed out, increase your intake of the more nutrient-rich foods.

  6. I may eat a few bread slices through out the year and it is wheat or wraps. I try to stay away from bread as much as possible. I will do so this Wednesday.

  7. Hi, I am coeliac, and I must point out an important factual error in your article.

    Millet does NOT contain gluten.

    I can refer you to the Australian Coeliac Society Handbook, 2006, p13, where it explicitly lists millet as a gluten-free source of carbohydrates.

    Please correct your article, as this is an important food source for coeliacs like myself. Likewise correct the syndicated versions (such as on Care2.com).

    This is not something to make such glaring errors about.

  8. Rob, I am indebted to you for pointing out that millet is, in fact, gluten-free. There had been some controversy a few years back regarding millet’s gluten-free status. As I personally reacted to it, I made the incorrect assumption that the reaction was gluten-based. I sincerely apologize for this glaring error. I have made the changes. Thank you.

  9. Bryan Luukinen

    Re: “And there are countless versatile ways to prepare them, from baked to mashed to latkes. Just stay away from the fried ones.”

    Just a note, latkes are delicious, but are traditionally fried in oil. Frying in oil is an old practice and produces some very delicious foods, including latkes, and many other potato dishes. Yes, there has been some controversy about fried potatoes and acrylamide, but there are always consequences from eating too much of one thing (soy isoflavones in tofu are estrogen mimics – endocrine disruptors). All things in moderation, no?

    Also, rice, millet and amaranth are all cultivated as grain for human consumption. The portions of each of these plants that we consume are actually the seeds of the plant. The reason that seeds of “grains” and other plants are consumed is because seeds are necessarily high in energy, protein, minerals and other good stuff; seeds are little survival packages for the plant that will develop from them. Due to their intensive history of breeding and cultivation, special seeds like corn, wheat, amaranth, quinoa, millet, spelt, rye and others make great staple foods and are packed with nutrients. So, “grain” and “seed” are not mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all grains are seeds, but not all seeds are used as grain.

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