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Bread: Choosing a healthy loaf

Bread is a convenient and well-loved food. Choosing bread based on its nutritional value should be an easy task, but we are bombarded with claims and packaging that confuse even the most educated amongst us.

Wheat can be divided into 3 components; bran, germ and endosperm. The bran, which is the husk, is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. The core is made up of the endosperm, which consists of proteins and carbohydrates. Finally, the germ contains vitamins, minerals, fat and protein.

In an effort to be healthy, many people think choosing brown bread over white bread is a good decision. However, it’s not uncommon for only a small amount of bran to be added to what is essentially white bread. Caramel is also used to dye the wheat flour so it appears brown and therefore ‘healthier’. If you look at the list of ingredients on the packaging, ‘whole grain / whole meal flour’ should be the only flour mentioned and avoid breads that include caramel.

White bread Made with flour milled after the bran and germ has been removed. Often contains various additives, preservatives and bleached.
Brown bread Made from wheat flour with some bran removed and sometimes caramel added to improve the colour.
Granary bread Made with either wholegrain flour or white flour with bran and wheat germ added.
Whole grain Contains the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain.
Whole meal Contains the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain but is milled finely to give a smoother texture. Has a similar nutritional value to whole grain.

 

Whole grain breads are the best for you in terms of nutrient content due to the fibre and health fats contained in the bran and germ. They are also have a lower glycemic index than white bread which is better for controlling blood sugar levels. For a bread to be called whole grain it must contain bran, germ and endosperm. Look out for a whole grain loaf that contains at least 2-4 g fibre per slice. To make matters more confusing, whole grain and whole meal are often used synonymously in the UK.

Multi grain and seeded breads are becoming more popular and are often marketed as a healthier option. Whilst adding oats or seeds boosts the nutritional value of the bread compared to white bread, unfortunately many of these breads consist of a high proportion of wheat flour and only a small amount of healthy grains. The better option would be to choose a wholemeal loaf with seeds.

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