Some of us worship bread, some limit their intake and others avoid it altogether. But almost all of us love bread. Any bread is a rich source of carbohydrates yet whilst some are very healthy, others are nothing more than — well, sugar. Here’s all you need to know to have your bread and eat it! Most bread starts with grains — traditionally wheat or rye — but what happens next is the deciding factor for how healthy or unhealthy the bread is going to be. If the grains are stripped of all outer layers and finely ground into white flour, the resulting product will be akin to baked sugar and not healthy by any standard. If the grains retain the natural outer layers and are ground into wholemeal flour, it’s off to a healthier start. However, there are many other ingredients, such as colouring, different fats, other flours, seeds, grains, salt and sugar. It’s the final mixture that determines how healthful the product is.
White flour is devoid of most nutrients and is made up almost entirely of starch that’s absorbed by your body very fast and gives you a reaction similar to a sugar rush. In the UK, white bread flour has to be fortified so it contains at least some added nutrients – a public health regulation. What you’ll see on the ingredients list usually looks like something like this: wheat flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin). But don’t be fooled, fortification doesn’t make it a healthy product!It’s best to steer clear of white bread or have it occasionally, just like any other ‘junk food’. Of course, it depends on what you eat with your white bread as healthier accompaniments can partially make up for its lack of nutrients but it shouldn’t be an everyday staple. Some manufacturers add ingredients, such as wheat protein, fibre or wheatgerm to improve the nutritional value of white bread but it’s still better to choose wholemeal bread as it naturally contains all these and more.
Wholemeal, Brown or Granary?
Apart from carbohydrates, wholemeal flour contains many essential nutrients — protein, several B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, selenium and fibre. You not only get a good dose of these nutrients from wholemeal bread but you digest the carbohydrates in it slower, getting a steady supply of energy over several hours.
As a rule of thumb, bread made with 100 per cent wholemeal flour and with the fewest ingredients tends to be the healthiest. Bread can’t legally be called wholemeal unless the all the flour used is wholemeal so you can safely rely on that description.
There are many ‘brown’ breads made with a blend of flours – white flour and colouring and just a little bit of wholemeal flour, sometimes not even that!Be careful not to fall for this marketing trick. Granary, multigrain and wheatgerm breads may contain ingredients such as kibbled or flaked malted wheat, wheatgerm, bran or whole cereal grains but their main ingredient is still white flour. Thanks to these additions, they are a bit healthier than white bread but are still not the best.
Malted wheat or barley means that the grains have started to sprout and then the process was stopped by drying the grains with hot air. It’s done to improve flavour and it also makes the nutrients inside the grain more digestible. The malted grains are then pressed to form flakes or cut into smaller pieces (kibbled) before being added to bread dough to add flavour and texture.
Seeded or Plain?
There’s a wide variety of seeded breads available and they’re many people’s favourites, not just because they’re
flavoursome but also thanks to their rich texture. Seeds add fat and protein so can increase the nutritional value of your bread, which is welcome, especially if you’re not having much else with it. On the other hand, if you’re watching your weight or follow a low-fat diet, richly-seeded breads can hike up your fat intake.
Sourdough bread goes through a fascinating metamorphosis — it takes longer for the bread dough to rise, which increases the lactic acid content and this in turn creates an ideal pH for the enzyme phytase. This enzyme breaks down natural grain components called phytates that bind to minerals like iron, zinc and manganese and hinder their absorption. It follows that with sourdough bread, these minerals are more readily digestible and so are some other nutrients thanks to the long fermentation process the dough undergoes. However, this is important mainly for wholemeal sourdough bread – when it comes to white sourdough, the nutrition value is still low.
Sprouted – Worth The Money?
You may have noticed small loaves of sprouted bread (also called Ezekiel) – in the shops and it always comes with a hefty price tag. So what’s the deal? It’s made from ground, sprouted whole grains with very little of anything else added and that’s why it’s usually very dense. The sprouting process increases the bio-availability of vitamins and minerals, whilst decreasing the amount of gluten because some of it is used up during the sprouting process. It also breaks down some of the starch in the grains, making the bread even easier to digest. In short, it’s healthier and provides more nutrients than your usual bread but if you have a healthy diet already, you don’t need to break the bank for it.
Pumpernickel bread is made from coarsely ground rye flour with a sourdough starter to aid in rising and often it also has whole rye grains. It’s definitely a healthy choice thanks to the amount of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals
it contains, all in an easily digestible form. But it’s not to everyone’s taste. It’s digested slower than other types of
bread so if you’re after a sustained energy supply, pumpernickel is your guy.
Unless you have a genuine gluten intolerance or allergy, there’s no advantage to gluten-free bread. It’s usually made using corn (maize) starch, tapioca starch, potato starch and rice flour. These ingredients do the job where gluten’s concerned but are not the healthiest substitute for wheat. On top of that, gluten-free breads often contain eggs, making them unsuitable for those on a fully plant based diet.
There’s absolutely no need to avoid bread just because it contains carbohydrates! We all need them and it’s best to get your fix from a healthy source, such as wholemeal bread. It’s recommended that we eat 3-4 portions of wholegrains a day and two slices of bread (wholemeal or rye) count as one portion. However, bear in mind that variety is the key to a healthy diet so whilst bread can be a great staple, you shouldn’t eat it with every meal.
TOP TIP: Always read the ingredients list to know what you’re buying!