Which is the healthiest bread?
White, wholegrain, rye, sourdough, gluten-free … whichever way you slice it, bread choices are seemingly endless. So how do you get the most from your toast?
Bread is a grocery list must for most, but how healthy is it?
New research from New Zealand has cast a spotlight on bread, finding households are much less likely to buy healthy products from convenience stores and bakeries compared with supermarkets.
With so many places now selling bread and so many loaf choices, when it comes to spending our dough on, well… dough, what should we look for?
Our experts help separate the wheat from the chaff.
Is bread generally healthy?
Bread doesn’t deserve its bad rap, says dietitian and nutritionist Sanchia Parker.
“It’s convenient, budget friendly, easy to get and can be part of a healthy diet, as long as it’s good quality and eaten in the right amounts,” Sanchia says.
Swinburne University of Technology dietetics lecturer Leah Dowling says bread is a good source of carbs and low in fat.
“And wholegrain varieties are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy fats,” she says.
“Refined” white bread contains wheat flour with the bran and germ layers removed, leaving the bare minimum of nutrients, Sanchia explains.
“It has a high GI or glycaemic index so your body breaks it down quickly, which gives you an instant energy hit but then leaves you feeling hungry almost straight away,” she says.
Leah recommends leaving soft and fluffy white breads for the occasional Bunnings sausage sizzle, where the only decision is onions or no onions.
Wholemeal bread is made from wholegrains that have been milled to a fine texture and contain more fibre than white flour, says Leah.
She adds wholemeal bread also contains more vitamins and minerals than many white breads, but has a higher GI than wholegrain breads.
“Look at the ingredients panel to see whether any whole grains or seeds have been added, such as rye grain, sunflower seeds or pepitas,” Sanchia suggests.
Multigrain contains more than one type of grain, although not necessarily whole grains.
“Absolutely a step up from white bread – grains are nutritional powerhouses, meaning extra vitamins and antioxidants,” Sanchia says.
Leah says you just need to be aware that many multigrain breads are still made with white flour with some added grains.
“Despite this, they tend to have more fibre and a lower GI, meaning longer lasting energy,” she says.
Wholegrain bread has a dense wholemeal flour base and lots of grain and seeds, Leah says.
As the name suggests, wholegrains contain the entire grain – the bran (outer layer), the endosperm (starchy middle layer) and germ (nutrient rich inner part).
“Wholegrain breads are a rich source of carbohydrates, protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as three types of fibre,” Leah says.
Typically made with a combination of rye flour and rye grains, “rye bread is one I’d absolutely recommend”, Sanchia says.
“The texture is usually quite chewy and it’s a dense bread which can slow down how fast we eat, meaning we’re less likely to overeat.”
Leah says wholegrain rye with added grains is a good choice for health as it has a higher fibre and vitamin content than light rye and has a lower GI, as does rye sourdough.
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Sourdough is usually easier to digest, believed to be due to its prebiotic content and probiotic-like properties, and the fermentation process involved in making it lowers its phytate content, making it easier to absorb the vitamins and minerals from the whole grains.
Authentic sourdough takes a long time to produce and results in an acidic and chewy bread, two features that lower the GI, explains Leah.
“Look for a chewy texture and the absence of yeast in the ingredients, preferably with wholewheat flour or rye wholemeal, grains and seeds,” she says.
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Made from an alternative grain to wheat, so as to avoid the wheat protein gluten, it may be hip to “go gluten free” but unless you are gluten intolerant, be wary, says Sanchia.
Leah agrees: “These breads are useful for people with a gluten intolerance such as coeliac disease, but offer no additional health benefits beyond regular breads for the rest of us,” she says.
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How to choose the healthiest bread
“Ideally look for heavy, dense breads with lots of grains and seeds,” Leah says.
“Foods with more than 4g fibre per serve are considered a good source of fibre under the Australian food standards code.”
“Stick to quality bread and pile up with vegies, leafy greens, good sources of fats and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil,” Sanchia says.
Written by Liz McGrath.