Social entrepreneur and founder of Honest Bread Gulzhan Sarsenova tells us why she decided to start producing healthy bread herself, how traditional white bread affects our health, and what can replace it.
Q: Gulzhan, what is your experience as an entrepreneur, and how did you come to the decision to produce healthy products?
A: Earlier in my career, I worked in more traditional types of businesses such as recruitment, retail, hospitality, and catering. However, over time, I realized that our society lacks knowledge surrounding the importance of healthy food, especially when it comes to frequently consumed products like bread. I was fortunate enough to live in five different countries and deeply explore different cuisines. Upon returning home, I noticed that there were not enough healthy alternatives on market in Kazakhstan. Thus, the idea for Honest Bread was born. Our mission is to instill a healthy mindset in our nation by offering alternatives to traditional bread. As a starting demographic, we are paying special attention to children to encourage healthy eating habits as early as possible. This focus translates to a unique type of bread explicitly aimed at kids.
Q: Have you ever baked bread yourself?
A: For more than fifteen years, I baked bread for my family and friends, experimenting with different types of flour and different recipes and studying world trends in this industry. In fact, I started baking gluten-free bread back in 1998 to address my younger son’s struggle with serious digestion problems caused by gluten intolerance, which wasn’t a well documented phenomena then. Over time, however, my focus shifted towards commercializing nutrient-rich, healthy bread.
Historically, bread is a fundamental part of the human diet. In many CIS countries, it is still one of the staple products. Of all kinds of bread currently available on our local market, white bread is the most popular by far, especially among children, and yet it is the most useless type of bread due to its lack of nutritional benefits.
Q: Why consuming white bread is not good for us?
A: The process of flour refining removes the shell from whole wheat, leading to the loss of an indispensable source of dietary fiber. Then, the flour is bleached and then dried at a high temperature, which destroys all the remaining nutrients in the flour. The lack of nutrients in products made from such flour causes serious harm to health. As a matter of fact, eating such products means consuming empty calories. They fill the body but do not nourish it. Furthermore, frequent consumption of white bread can lead to an increase in blood cholesterol levels, eventually putting the cardiovascular system at serious risk. Likewise, the risk of diabetes increases and liver function is disrupted; depression can occur, not to mention excess weight. At the same time, many scientific researchers have proven that “whole grains lower blood pressure and can improve the functioning of the circulatory system
,” as said in an article by the Harvard Medical School journal. White bread, “like white sugar, is, in reality, a simple carbohydrate,” writes Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University.
Q: It is commonly believed that cigarettes, alcohol and polluted air harm our health more than our diets. What's your opinion on that?
A: Diet and nutrition have a crucial impact on human health. Scientific project “The Global Burden of Disease” (funded by Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation) recently made a sensational discovery that our diet is a bigger killer than smoking. The study showed that suboptimal diet causes one-in-five deaths around the world, and kills 11 million people annually. Specifically, it emphasizes that the lack of whole grains in a person's daily consumption is one of the contributing reasons for short life expectancy. Nonetheless, many people in countries like Kazakhstan still choose white bread in spite of the available alternatives on the market, such as whole grain, rye, multi-grain bread.
Q: Knowing the fact, why do people do that?
A: Two main reasons. First, the more affordable price of white flour results in cheaper products for the end consumers. Second, psychologically people feel that white bread has a more pleasant taste, texture, and color. Children are especially quick to get used to the softness and the color of white bread when compared to the dark color and density of whole-grain bread, so it is quite difficult to switch to alternatives.
Q: But if people do not want to change their habits and knowingly risk their lives, what’s the solution?
A: We need a different, fresh approach. In fighting this epidemic, smart demographic segmentation is a key. At Honest Bread, we have invented a unique type of bread aimed at kids, which will not only benefit their health but will also encourage them to choose nutritious options. That unique bread is enriched by adding different types of flours such as oats, brown rice, and sprouted grains which are rich in Vitamin C, Iron, and Zinc, all of which are essential for a child's healthy growth. To make it more appealing for children physically, we also bake the bread in cute animal shapes. As we address the needs of this segment, we are working on expanding our offerings to breads for athletes and the elderly.
Q: What kind of alternatives to traditional bread your company currently presents?
Our product offering currently consists of 20 types of bread, varying by composition and preparation times. We carry a whole series of yeast-free products: sourdough bread, traditional Irish bread baked on soda. We offer gluten-free bread, which in taste and shape does not differ from white bread. Additionally, we carry common household breads like multigrain, bran, pumpkin, carb-free, and buckwheat, as well as a special bread for people who choose popular worldwide carbohydrate-free bread, this product is prepared with flour from various varieties of nuts and seeds with the addition of psyllium husk, with a high content of omega acids. We even have high protein bread specifically catered for people leading an active lifestyle.
Q: What a variety! Do all these breads have something in common?
A: All breads we bake contain a balanced amount of nutrients and vitamins. For example, our products contain vitamin B, which is important for the health of the nervous system. Vitamin E is fairly called the vitamin of youth and beauty. Vitamin C is the most crucial antioxidant and besides, vitamin C strengthens the immune system of the body, Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce risk factors for heart disease. All of our company’s products contain food bran, which has proven to have beneficial effects on the intestine and its microflora.
At the same time, our bread is pleasant to the taste and has a soft, pleasant texture. The natural aroma of fresh bread from Honest Bread reminds us of the smell of bread of our childhood, which is not present in bread made of bleached flour.
We are confident that eating our bread will allow people of all ages to maintain a healthier diet, meaning a healthier and longer life.
Q: Where do you see your company heading in the next five years?
A: The overconsumption of white bread is not limited to Kazakhstan. In fact, we believe it is a worldwide epidemic. This is why we want to expand the Honest Bread philosophy to as many countries as possible. Furthermore, the problem extends well beyond white bread and encompasses foods such as pizzas, burgers, pasta and other white flour products. Our vision is to introduce more healthy products that we hope will shape the way people consume the those aforementioned foods.