BREAD – How to Choose Wisely
Without a doubt bread is a popular staple in our diet. It’s generally affordable, nutritious and tasty. In all parts of the world, bread plays a major culinary role. Whether it’s toast, baguette, naan or pita, everyone enjoys bread. But bread gets a lot of bad rep, seen as high in carbohydrates and low in nutrients. Many dieters even shun bread altogether in order to lose weight. However, our bodies and brains need carbohydrates to function properly. But remember, not all carbs are created equal! In other words, we should pay attention to what kind of bread we consume because there are notable differences between them.
White Bread – Is It Just Empty Calories?
While there are many kinds of bread available today, out of all, white bread is the traditional one and still the most commonly consumed variety. However, the trend is that more and more people are shifting from white to brown, as they wish to go for the healthier option. So, why is white bread not considered as healthy? First, it is normally made using refined white flour, a processed form of wheat grain. During the processing stage, the flour loses the nutritious parts of the wheat grain. The milling process removes the bran, which is the fiber rich outer layer of the grain that contains B vitamins, minerals, and the germ. The germ is the core of a grain that contains vitamins B, E, phytochemicals and essential fatty acids.
Since white bread lacks the bran and the germ, it is made exclusively from the endosperm of the wheat germ. This gives it a very high starch content and its characteristic colour. In fact, white bread and all products made with refined flour, have a finer, lighter texture and usually have a longer shelf life. That is because they don’t have the germ part of the wheat, which is the fat content (natural oils) that can turn rancid.
Whole-grain bread contains the bran, germ and endosperm, while processed white bread only has the endosperm:
When we eat white bread it is quick and easy for us to digest (unlike wholegrain bread), making us feel hungry faster since it lacks fiber. White bread also has little overall nutritional value. This is why some bread manufacturers add back some of the missing nutrients using supplements, such as folic acid and other B vitamins. However, supplemental vitamins are not as good as vitamins that come naturally from food sources (the human body is better at absorbing nutrients from unprocessed sources).
Furthermore, white bread has a high score on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI scale is a measure of how quickly foods that contain carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. Foods with high GI scale raise blood sugar quickly, and over time, consuming too much of it can harm the body leading to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. One more important point to mention is that white wheat in bread (and all other products containing wheat) contains gluten, which is the protein that helps dough rise and gives it its elastic property. Some people are sensitive to gluten, which can cause stomach pain, diarrhea and bloating, and in more serious cases it can be the cause of celiac disease. Luckily, gluten free bread is available in many grocery stores and bakeries or can be purchased on-line. For more information you can also check out https://www.facebook.com/GlutenFreeLebanon/
Healthy Bread Varieties – What to Look Out For
If you love bread but want the healthier option, go for whole wheat bread.
First of all, it is packed with goodness! You can also go for whole grain bread, which in addition to whole wheat, will include grains (such as oats, brown rice, flax seed, barley, buckwheat, sorghum and others). Check the ingredients list to know exactly what grain(s) have been added to the bread. In fact, both whole grain and whole wheat bread have lots of goodness that contributes towards a healthy balanced diet. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), whole grains are a good source of: B vitamins, including folic acid, iron, magnesium and selenium. They are also a great source of dietary fiber. The one main difference between these two is that whole wheat has gluten, so if you prefer to go gluten free then whole grain would be a better choice.
Picture credit: https://leongguan.com/blogs/news/what-is-exactly-is-wholegrain
Sometimes bread labelled as ‘brown bread’ is relatively similar to whole wheat bread in appearance. However, brown bread could also be made with refined flour, so again you need to check the ingredients to make sure you know exactly what type of flour is being used. Sometimes a refined loaf can fool us by appearing as something more nutritious than what it is! In the supermarket bread aisle, you may see terms like whole wheat, whole grain, multigrain, seven-grain, 12-grain, all-natural, organic and enriched. It can get pretty confusing if you ask me!
However, the word “whole” is very important; it means the bread is entirely made up of wheat kernels. In fact, dieticians recommend that you look for “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the package. They are the two healthiest options and vary slightly in nutrition depending on the exact combination of grains.
You should be wary of breads just labeled ‘wheat’, ‘multi-seed’ or ‘multigrain’ that don’t mention a percentage. They may sound healthy, but they could be made with partial or mostly refined white flour. ‘Enriched’ is also another dubious term that pretty much means the bread maker has added nutrients to an otherwise nutrient-free white bread.
Some sneaky bread manufacturers even use a colouring agent, which is actually caramelized or burnt sugar to make the otherwise white bread look brown. Again, this is why it is so important to read the ingredient list. So make sure you see whole wheat or whole grain as the first or second ingredient on the list. The primary ingredients within the loaf (the ones that are most abundant) should be listed first in any ingredient list. Other words to look out for are whole mill, whole barley or whole oats. And as a good habit to follow, always look past the (large print) marketing messages on the front of the package to review the nutrition facts. If the label does not clarify this, ask the retailer or the manufacturer of the product. As a consumer it is your right to have this information.
Here are additional things to look out for on the bread packaging:
– Check Fiber – According to the American Dietetic Association, a healthy adult should be getting between 20-35 grams of fiber per day (the average intake for Americans is only 15 g per day) This is why you should look for breads that have the highest fiber content.
3-5 grams per slice is a good amount.
Remember, fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is essential for our digestive health. It helps to slow down food digestion, promotes stool softening and bulking and regulates blood glucose levels after eating.
– Check Sodium – Yup, sodium is used as a form of preservative in many breads for longer shelf life. Make sure there are 350 milligrams or less per serving
– Avoid Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Fats – These are the worst kind of fats for you and used generously in processed foods. If you see it in any of the bread labels, simply don’t buy it!
– Check Sugar – Check for bread containing no more than 2 grams of sugar per slice. Also be wary of bread with sugar substitutes being added, such as corn syrup or ingredients ending with “-ose”, such as fructose, glucose and sucrose.
Shopping for bread can actually get pretty confusing with the labels. Plus, many freshly baked products don’t even come with an ingredient list for us to check! As a word of advice, don’t deprive yourself from bread if you enjoy it. In moderation, all types of bread can be part of a healthy diet. You don’t have to skip the bread or substitute it for something else. Just make sure you pick the healthiest option – if you can choose. Today, there is a range of whole wheat and whole grain toast and pita bread varieties and even whole wheat manakeesh (Lebanese thyme pizza) in most Lebanese bakeries and in leading groceries. You can even make bread at home and that way you can know exactly what you are eating! Whether store bought or baked at home, enjoy your bread and sahtein!
First Picture credit: http://www.kookybakes.com/find-us/markets-events/month.calendar/2013/10/09/-