Caitlin Reid makes it easier to choose a healthy loaf.
Remember the lunches you used to take to school? You had a choice between white bread and brown bread. Things have come a long way since then, and we’re now confronted with a bewildering choice. So which one should you buy?
The basic ingredients in bread are either white or wholemeal flour, water, yeast and salt. Under the Food Standards Code, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc can also be added. Bread is a good source of carbohydrate and is low in fat. Wholegrain varieties are also a good source of protein, fibre and a number of important vitamins and minerals.
The basic choices
This is made from wheat that has had the germ and bran removed, which reduces the fibre, B-group vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. White bread contains about 30-50% of the fibre and nutrients found in wholemeal or grain bread.
The verdict: This is the least nutritious variety for both kids and adults.
This is made from wholegrains, which are milled to a finer texture. It contains all the components of the grain, meaning that wholemeal foods are also wholegrain. Just be careful, though, as some wholemeal breads sold in supermarkets contain a mixture of wholemeal and refined white flour, so they are not as high in fibre and other nutrients as you may think. Read the ingredients list to find out.
The verdict: If you’re buying this for extra fibre, read the label and compare brands. Wholemeal will usually be higher in fibre than white bread.
This contains the entire grain – the bran (rich outer layer), endosperm (middle, starchy layer) and germ (nutrient-rich inner core). It also contains three different types of fibre: soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. Wholegrain bread is a rich source of carbohydrates, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, protein, iron, selenium, magnesium and vitamin E.
The verdict: This is the best choice for everyday consumption. The varieties with pre-softened grains are a good option for children.
This is made with flour from rye grain and can be light or dark in colour, depending on the type of flour. It is typically denser and has a stronger flavour than bread made from wheat flour. It is classified as a wholegrain bread.
The verdict:: Another good choice for consumers wanting a high-fibre, lower-GI bread.
This is not made with yeast, but with a ‘starter’ batter of flour and water, filled with living yeast and bacteria. This bread also has a low GI.
The verdict: The low GI keeps you full for longer than ordinary white bread. However, it doesn’t contain as much fibre as wholegrain bread.
Breads with ingredients added to provide additional health benefits are called functional breads. The claims made on these breads, such as ‘good for digestive health’ or ‘helps with brain development and function’, are often marketing hype, but these breads can be beneficial for individuals with specific needs.
High-fibre white bread
White breads can have fibre added to them in the form of resistant starch, inulin and guar gum. This added fibre makes these breads a better choice than regular white bread, particularly if your children will not eat wholemeal or grain bread.
Grain breads have a lower glycaemic index (GI) than white or wholemeal breads, so they help maintain blood glucose levels between meals. Sourdough breads also have a low GI due to their higher acidity level, while ‘stoney’ wholemeal varieties contain larger particles, which also lower GI.
Omega-3 fats can be found in soy, linseeds and canola, therefore you’ll find naturally occurring omega-3 fats in soy and linseed breads. Occasionally, tuna oil or fish oil powder is added to breads, to give an extra boost of omega-3, particularly in the form of DHA. DHA is important for early brain and eye development, and also plays a role in heart health.
This contains the soluble fibre, beta-glucan, found in oats, which helps remove cholesterol through the digestive tract and stops it being absorbed back into the liver. However, a bowl of porridge contains more beta-glucan than oat-containing bread.
These contain added prebiotics – fermentable fibres which help maintain gut health by causing increased bowel function. Prebiotics are also an important fuel source for the healthy bacteria in the gut, helping them to flourish.
Phytoestrogens, such as lignans and isoflavones, are oestrogen-like chemical compounds found in plants such as soy, linseed and rye. These breads are particularly good for women’s wellbeing, as they promote bone, digestive, heart and breast health.
Breads with added iron are often marketed to children. This added iron is believed to help increase energy levels, but remember, the best source of iron is red meat.
This can help those people who don’t eat enough dairy foods. These breads don’t contain as much calcium as a serve of milk (145mg compared to 300mg respectively), so dairy products are still a better source of calcium.
The verdict: Functional breads may be helpful for specific dietary requirements, but always compare labels to ensure you really are getting the health benefits – not just marketing hype.
Hot bread shops, corner stores and franchises such as Baker’s Delight offer an ever-increasing range of breads – some high-fibre and others low-GI. For nutrition information, ask for nutrition pamphlets, which are available in many stores, or go to the store’s website.
Fibre added to bread generally comes in three forms:
Inulin: A type of soluble fibre found in garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks and artichokes. It is also a prebiotic, which means it passes through the small intestine undigested and becomes fuel for the healthy bacteria in the gut.
Hi-maize®: Produced from different varieties of maize grown in Australia. It is high in resistant starch – a type of starch resistant to digestion in the small intestine. Adding Hi-maize® increases the fibre content without changing taste or texture. It also has prebiotic properties, meaning it acts as a fuel for good bacteria in the gut, thereby promoting bowel health.
Guar gum: Can also appear on packaging as ‘vegetable gum (412)’. It is a soluble fibre, which helps to reduce the bread’s GI by slowing down its digestion in the body.
What to look for on the label
Don’t shy away from breads that contain slightly higher levels of total fat. Look at the ingredients list to see the source of this fat, because most of the time it will be from the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in the seeds and nuts added to the bread.
Bread can actually contain a lot of sodium. Breads featuring the Heart Foundation Tick have to meet strict criteria for sodium, but this doesn’t mean other breads aren’t good choices, too. A low-sodium bread contains less than 120mg of sodium per 100g, but you will find it hard to find. Look for breads that contain less than 500mg of sodium per 100g.
Look for the words ‘wholegrain’ or ‘whole’ on the packaging. Always choose products that contain at least 51% wholegrains.