I have a distinct childhood memory that may well have been the spark that ignited my nutrition journey.
I was about 8 years old, unpacking the groceries with my mum (which, incidentally, remains one of my favourite chores), when I came across a standard loaf of white bread. Back in the mid-nineties, this was a common staple of most households, and while my mum was usually fairly sensible when it came to food choices, white bread had simply become a habitual purchase. I remarked, “We should really change to brown bread, you know.”
So we did.
I’m not sure where my wisdom had come from – television, perhaps? Whatever the case, even at an early age I had a clear-cut idea that a certain type of bread was healthier than another.
But with an ever-growing range of choices available to us, which is really the best?
White bread – the devil?
Starchy, soft, white bread is the weakness of so many carb-lovers out there. But why does it get such a bad-rap?
The main charge against white bread is that the extensive processing undertaken to remove the outer coating of the wheat also removes fibre, protein and minerals. For this reason, white bread contains, on average, 30-50% less of the fibre and nutrients found in wholegrain or wholemeal breads.
But it’s not all bad for white bread: as nutritionist Rosemary Stanton points out, “Australian wheat is high in nutrients”, with a reasonable proportion of these remaining even in the not-so-favourable white bread.
One thing’s for sure: a sausage will never taste as good as it does when it’s wrapped in white bread and smothered with tomato sauce.
Multigrain – the devil in disguise?
Often touted as the best choice due to the addition of fibre-filled grains, wholegrain bread is not necessarily all that it seems. Often, it’s nothing more than white bread with some grains added.
Even so, in general multigrain breads have a lower Glycaemic Index (GI) than white bread, resulting in slowed digestion and longer lasting energy.
Wholemeal/Wholegrain – same but different?
Often used interchangeably, wholemeal and wholegrain actually have quite a different meaning, both technically and nutritionally.
While both are made from wholegrains – the entire grain, containing the bran, endosperm and germ – in wholemeal bread, these grains are milled to a fine texture to create flour. In some breads, wholemeal flour is combined with white bread flour, reducing its nutritional benefits and stripping its fibre content.
Wholegrain, on the other hand, is made from wholemeal flour with added wholegrains. For this reason, it’s high in fibre (including soluble and insoluble fibre, to enhance feelings of fullness and increase the bodies regularity) and is generally seen as the best choice for everyday consumption.
Sourdough – not always what it appears to be
Sourdough differs in that it’s made with a starter culture of wheat and water (rather than traditional yeast), which ferments – resulting in the distinctive ‘sour’ taste of sourdough bread. This process requires long, constant temperatures to rise and develop flavours, so commercial manufactures will often use yeast and artificial flavours as substitutes. But how does it stack up nutritionally?
Dietitian Dr Alan Barclay explains that in the absence of the slow fermentation process, this faux-sourdough bread is less likely to be acidic and chewy – two features that help to lower the GI of the bread. The chewy texture of traditional sourdough has the added benefit taking a longer time to eat, which in turn gives the body more time to register being full, making you less likely to overeat.
According to Barclay, the texture is the giveaway. If your sourdough isn’t chewy, it probably isn’t authentic, and therefore it isn’t much more than white bread with added flavours.
Rye – another first-rate choice
This heavily textured wholegrain bread is made from rye grain. It has a distinctive strong flavour, and it can be found in a range of light and dark colours.
The bread’s dense texture is a giveaway for low GI and high fibre: as a result of these things, rye makes for a filling and healthy choice.
Fancy mixtures – something for everyone:
There is an absolute plethora of breads on the market these days, with the bread aisle fast becoming one of the most difficult to navigate in the supermarket. An upside of this is the wide variety we have to choose from – soy and linseed (my favourite), high fibre, gluten free, fruit, even added calcium and omega 3!
As a rule, wholegrain is generally best. But whatever you choose, it’s important to ensure you don’t go overboard: remember that a single slice of bread contributes 1 of the recommended 6 serves of wholegrain foods per day for adult men and women.
- Did you know?
In Australia, our bread flour is mandatorily fortified with the B vitamins thiamin and folate, as well as the mineral iodine through iodised salt. Why? You may know folate as the nutrient known to decrease the chance of developing neural tube defects in babies. As such, it was seen as necessary to include the vitamin in bread – a staple food that is cheap, accessible and leaves the vitamin unchanged nutritionally through processing – to ensure women of child bearing age were reaching the necessary amount of folate. (This also benefits unplanned pregnancies, where the mother may not have been consuming extra folate in preparation.)
Thiamin is added for a slightly more bizarre reason – in short, to benefit alcoholics who often experience thiamin deficiency, which in turn results in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a condition characterised by disturbed vision, mental state and an unsteady stance. The condition is very serious, to the point that at one stage fortification of thiamin in beer was considered to combat the deficiency!
Iodised salt is utilised to combat iodine deficiency and thyroid-related issues. Read my post on iodine deficiency here.
So, what bread do you usually choose?