Bread, beautiful bread. Fluffy, satisfying, fulfilling. Need I say more?
It has been around for centuries, dating back to biblical times. Unfortunately, many of us have a long, ingrained fear of eating bread due to the low-carb, fad diet days of the 80s and 90s. But, bread can be a healthy food choice – depending on the type and the amount you consume. Not all breads are equal in their nutritional profile. So what bread is the healthiest? A breakdown of each type and a rating are provided below.
RATING = 0
First up, the worst kind of bread you can eat. When you eat store bought, white bread you may as well just be eating cardboard with some added sugar. It sounds a bit extreme, but it’s true. The making of white bread involves the stripping of the wheat grain nutrient-rich layers, one of which is the outer shell called “bran” (see image below). This stripping process reduces the bread’s fibre, B group vitamin, vitamin E and mineral (iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus) content.
Because the white bread has such low amounts of protein, fat and fibre, the carbohydrates get absorbed rapidly straight from your gut and into your blood stream. This means that your blood glucose (sugar) levels SPIKE and your energy levels go up quickly and then coming crashing down. Not ideal (particularly first thing in the morning). If you have type 2 diabetes it is particularly important to avoid eating this kind of bread.
RATING = 1
Wholemeal bread is typically made with whole-grain flour. However, the bran and wheat-germ layers are often removed during the baking process of most store bought wholemeal breads, reducing its nutritional value. In saying that, wholemeal bread usually contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals than white bread so it is the better choice out of the two.
**Note** Be careful if you are buying store-bought, pre-packaged wholemeal bread and the label says “wheat” and “multigrain” flour on the ingredient list but does not list a percentage amount (%). This can mean the bread is made with predominantly white flour. Some brands will do this (because white flour is cheaper) and then market it as a “healthy” wholemeal bread.
RATING = 1
Multigrain bread is just white bread with some added grains, so most of the bread is still refined and has had the bran and wheat-germ removed. Nevertheless, multigrain bread’s nutritional profile is a step up from white bread because it has more fibre and protein (from the seeds) and a lower glycaemic index level which results in longer lasting energy and a reduced spike in blood sugar levels.
Watch out for white, wholemeal or multi-grain bread that labels itself as “high fibre bread”. These are often fortified with a type of fiber known as inulin or chicory root fiber. Research has linked this type of fiber with gastrointestinal upsets (bloating, gas etc).
WHOLE-GRAIN BREAD (includes varieties like spelt, rye, buckwheat etc)
RATING = 4
Wholegrain bread contains the ENTIRE grain: the bran, endosperm and germ. Because of this, it’s a rich source of carbohydrates, protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals and fibre. The difference between whole-meal and whole-grain bread is that whole-grain bread has grains and often seeds added to ground wholegrain flour for extra nutritional value. Wholegrain breads will provide you with a slower release of energy because the seeds and grains take longer to digest, giving you longer lasting energy and keeping you feeling full for longer.
A rule of thumb – the darker the loaf, the better the bread will be for you.
RATING = 4.5
The making of sprouted bread involves processing seeds of a whole grain plant that have been harvested after the sprout has grown but before it becomes a full-fledged plant. In contrast, with regular whole grain breads, the seeds haven’t sprouted by the time they’re harvested.
The sprouting process gives these breads some unique properties. For example, it breaks down compounds called “anti-nutrients” (e.g. phytate) which can bind to important vitamins and minerals, preventing our bodies from absorbing them. This means that sprouted breads often have nutrients (magnesium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, and vitamin C) that are more bioavailable to our body.
RATING = 5 (WINNER)
Traditionally, sourdough bread bakes and then rises for about 18 hours and undergoes a fermentation process (thanks to the bread’s “starter”). This fermentation process results in pre-digestion of the starches in the grains, and the proteins being partially broken down for you (making it easier for you to digest!). It also increases the content of beneficial bacteria in the bread which is great for gut health.
The nutritional value of the sourdough bread will depend on the flour used (the best options will be rye, spelt, buckwheat or plain wholegrain sourdoughs). Be sure to choose an authentic sourdough from a good bakery, as some sourdoughs in places like Woolworths and Coles contain yeast rather than the traditional starter so you don’t get as many benefits.
Tips for choosing the best loaf:
– Look for a chewy texture and the absence of yeast or other added sugars in the ingredients.
– Ideally look for heavy, dense sourdough with lots of grains and seeds.
– If you’re buying bread from the supermarket, look for one with the fewest ingredients and minimal preservatives. The fresher, the better.