Representing an entire food group, bread's benefits are numerous. For past few decades, bread has been sidelined by people keen to lose weight as they try to limit their carbohydrate consumption. Dieticians across the world strongly discourage this, saying that bread is an integral part of a healthy and balanced diet.
With a wide variety of bread promising unique benefits, there is much that you need to know about bread before you head for the bread aisle. Bread, a "nutritionally dense" food, is high in complex carbohydrates, which give the body a sustained energy source. It can be made from the flour of various grains. Bread is popular across the world.
The history of bread dates to beyond 1000 BC, the year the Egyptians discovered yeast and added it to dough to raise bread. Since then people have used different types of flour, different process and ingredients to make bread. Through much of history, a person's social station could be discerned by the color of bread they consumed. The darker the bread consumed, the lower was the social station. This was because whiter flours were more expensive and harder for millers to adulterate with other products. The scenario has been completely reversed now. The end product -- the various varieties of bread available to us -- spells different nutritional benefits and impact on our and our family's health.
Why should I be aware of this?
The type and quantity of bread you eat determines your nutritional intake. You also need to know the manner in which it is prepared, to ensure your family's health. The choice of grain type is also important.
Is the bread you are having responsible for your constipation? The irritable bowels your spouse has been experiencing, is it related to the bread you eat. The heavy feeling you have when you have lots of fluids after eating bread, is it something to worry about. The brown bread you have been having, does it address all your concerns? The label "natural bread" or "organic bread" what does it actually mean? Does your choice of bread have an impact on the environment too? If somebody in your family is on a "no carbs diet" and avoiding bread, what nutrients are they missing? Find out all this and more in this article.
How does this affect me?
Regular whole grains food consumption is believed to reduce risk of coronary heart disease by 26 percent. Switching from white bread and white rice to whole-wheat bread and brown rice often helps relieve constipation. It is important to drink lots of fluid along with the fiber—at least 16 oz (480 ml) of water per serving of fiber. Otherwise, a “dry sponge” is now in the system, which can worsen the constipation.
Health fact: White Bread
- White bread contains carbohydrate, iron, niacin and calcium.
- One slice of regular white bread contains about 80 calories.
Whole grain bread and whole meal bread or brown bread
- Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown bread contain B vitamins, vitamin E, and a wide range of minerals. It is rich in nutrients such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc. It also contains protein, fiber and some fat.
- Wheat breads have a high fiber content, which aids in regulating the bodies digestion system.
- The carbohydrate present in whole grain bread or brown bread is good carbohydrate -- carbohydrates that take the body longer to digest and are therefore better. On consuming whole wheat bread you feel full and energetic longer.
- Whole wheat breads are a good source of iron and contain about 60 calories per slice.
- The increased amounts of antioxidants, lignans, phenolic acids and other elements present in whole grain bread is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Others breads: Health facts
- Rye bread is a good source of iron and thiamine.
- One slice of rye bread also contains approximately 65 calories.
- Pumpernickel bread (a type of German bread traditionally made with rye meal. It is now often made with a combination of rye flour and whole rye berries) is a good source of fiber. One slice of Pumpemickel bread contains about 80 calories and also contains Iron and Thiamine.
- Bagels, English muffins, and Pitas are all good sources of Iron. These are higher in calories ranging from 105 to 165 calories per piece.
Health risks associated with bread
- White bread is high in gluten which damages the walls of intestines and the duodenum, causing maldigestion and malabsorption.
- White bread is low in fibers, which lengthens the transit time through the digestive tract, resulting in constipation. Regular and large quantities of white bread and increased incidence of constipation can cause hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and increased risk of colon cancer and rectal cancer.
- The combination of refined flour and refined sugar in white bread is associated with tooth decay.
- Eating large quantities of white bread increases the risk of renal cancer.
- Having iron enriched refined flour can cause toxicity in older people and result in premature atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, cancer and other age-related diseases.
- Breads can also be high in salt.
- People with allergic reaction to molds may have a reaction to bread.
- Bread also lacks vitamins and minerals that can be made up with other food groups.
Bread and the environment
For those concerned with their carbon footprint, note that the "refining" process requires more energy than would have been otherwise consumed. Moreover, having exotic bread - bread made from grains not available in a particular region, also adds to carbon miles. The demand for these exotic breads lures farmers to grow grains that might not be so suitable to the region -- using up precious agricultural resource -- land and water. The practice also has an adverse impact on the ecology of the place.
All about bread
Bread comes in various forms in all parts of the world. Some examples of popular breads include pizza, baguettes, pitas, lavash, biscuits, pretzels and bagels. Then there is Naan, Chapatti, Puri and Paratha -- natives of India, Ciabatta from Italy, Cornbread from the Southern United States, Matzo a Jewish bread served at Passover meals and tortilla, a Mexican bread.
The soft-textured thin crust bread sold in readily-sliced packages is the most widely consumed bread in Britain and the United States. Though it is usually eaten with the crust, during occasion such as the famous British high teas the crust is removed.
Most of these breads are made from refined flour and are what we call white breads. Some like chapatti and paratha are traditionally made from whole wheat flour. However, all these breads can be made from whole grains or can have whole grains added to them.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of bread -- white bread, brown bread and whole grain bread.
White bread is made from refined wheat flour from which the bran and the germ -- where much of the nutritional bread value rests, have been removed. These include vitamin E (44%), pantothenic acid (52%), folic acid (65%), biotin (76%), vitamin B6 (84%), and half or more of 20 minerals and trace elements (magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium, manganese, selenium, vanadium, and copper).
In many countries, white bread is fortified by spraying vitamins and minerals (normally vitamins B1, B2, B3, and iron are added) into the mix. Despite the fortification, white bread is lower in zinc, fiber, thiamin, niacin, trace elements and good fats and oils.
But the damage done to nutrients in white bread does not stop here. To get a “whiter” colour, the refined flour in most instances is bleached with potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide or chlorine dioxide gas.
Potassium bromate, better known as Bromic Acid or Potassium Salt can be fatal if swallowed, is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may also cause kidney damage. The second chemical, Benzoyl peroxide is known to kill animals, birds, or fish, and cause death or low growth rate in plants. In the US, the third chemical, Chlorine Dioxide is listed as having a very hazardous impact on the environment.
The British medical journal, The Lancet, reported that during an experiment, dogs fed exclusively on white bread died of malnutrition while dogs fed stone-ground, whole-wheat flour lived in good health.
Breads may also be classified on the basis of whether they contain yeast. Leavened breads contain yeast and unleavened breads do not.
Traditional brown bread is actually whole wheat or whole meal bread. It enjoys all the advantages mentioned above.
Sprouted Wheat Breads
To get the most out of your bread, go for sprouted wheat bread. Sprouting, soaking and genuine sourdough leavening "pre-digests" grains, allows the nutrients to be more easily assimilated and metabolized. Sprouting increases the enzymatic activity in foods and inactivates enzyme inhibitors that hinder optimal digestion and absorption. Soaking neutralizes phytic acid that reduces mineral absorption.
Sprouting also enhances nutritional elements. Sprouted whole wheat was found to have 28 percent more thiamine (B1), 315 percent more riboflavin (B2), 66 percent more niacin (B3), 65 percent more pantothenic acid (B5), 111 percent more biotin, 278 percent more folic acid, and 300 percent more vitamin C than non-sprouted whole wheat. This phenomenon is not restricted to wheat. All grains undergo this type of quantitative and qualitative transformation on sprouting.
Whole Grain Bread
The wheat kernel has three parts to it -- the bran, germ, and endosperm. Though the bran and germ comprise only 15% and 3% respectively of the entire kernel, they are rich in dietary fiber, iron, and many vitamins and minerals. Whole grain breads are made from flour which has all three parts of the wheat kernel.
The whole wheat flour is darker, coarser and stronger in flavour than white flour. Freshly milled wheat flour is rich in protein, thiamine, niacin, minerals and dietary fibre. However, the presence of bran and germ limits its shelf life. Since whole wheat flour gets spoilt if it is stored at room temperatures for more than 72 hours, it is advisable to store it in freezers.
The use of ingredients such as milk and yeast provides some additional amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Sometimes while baking bread at home, soy flour – a rich source of protein and amino acids is added to whole grain flour.
In addition to wheat, other whole grains that are used in bread recipes include:
- Brown rice
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Rolled and crushed oats
True whole grain breads are very low in gluten, or are gluten free. But since gluten plays a key role in maintaining a neat shape of the bread, manufacturers usually add refined flour to their whole grain recipes. If you are baking your own bread, avoid adding refined flour.
Bread is organic when 95 percent of its ingredients come from organic farming and has no added improvers or bulking agents.
Organic bread is made from organically grown whole grains or sifted organic wheat flour. It is prepared by slow grinding method on natural (not synthetic) stone mills. Baking them in hearth ovens gives a different taste to these artisan breads. All organic breads are 100 percent hand-formed. Gentle hand shaping gives the breads a more complex flavor than any other method.
Heirloom varieties of wheat seeds are grown by local farmers according to stringent organic requirements. During grinding many of the nutrients are preserved. No sugars or flavoring agents are added and natural flavor is developed by the slow, cool fermentation.
Leavened Bread and Unleavened Bread
The word leavened comes from the French word "levain" which means "to raise". It is also the root of other familiar words like "elevate". Unleavened breads do not contain yeast and are therefore flatter and less puffy than leavened breads. Leavened breads tend to have a longer shelf life than unleavened ones.
Both leavened and unleavened breads are very often cooked in the same manner with completely different results.
There are many types of leavened bread --
- Baked- these are the most common bread types and include brown, white, whole grain loaves as well as loaves with different grains and yeasts like Sourdoughs,pain au levain,Pagnotta.
- Baked enriched- These breads are a pastry-cake-bread hybrid group. They are made of doughs enriched with butter, milk, eggs, sugar and very often fruit and chocolate. They include breakfast bakes like croissants, danish pastries and brioches.
- Tandoor cooked-Naan and Kulcha
- Fried- Bhatura, doughnuts.
- Griddle cooked- the Ethiopian bread injeramade with teff flour
Non-yeast leavened breads- these are breads that are raised with agents like baking soda and baking powder like English tea scones, and American Corn and Soda bread. Other leavening such as egg-white is less long lasting, but it does provide aeration. Beignets a French pastry made with choux paste classifies as a semi-bread of this type.
Types of unleavened bread include --
- Baked- most agrarian societies have one or other form of baked unleavened breads. These are usually wads of dough that are baked in the embers of a coal fire. "Batti" from rajasthan is a good example.Matzo, the traditional Jewish passover bread is also unleavened.
- Tandoor cooked- Tandoori Roti from India and Lavash from the middle east.
- Fried- Poori and luchi from India are unleavened deep fried breads.
- Griddle cooked- Indian chappatis, parathas,
What can I do about it?
Useful Tips: How to choose your bread?
- Buy bread which lists wholemeal flour as the first and the major ingredient.
- A good whole grain bread loaf is heavier to lift, firmer to squeeze and chewier.
- The lesser ingredients in the bread, the healthier it is and the smaller its smaller carbon footprint.
- Buy stone ground bread. If slow-speed steel hammer-mills have been used in the place of stones, they are as effective and listed on the label as “stone-ground”.
- If bread is made entirely with l00% stone-ground whole grains, it will state so on the label.
- Choose a product with a minimum of chemicals listed on the label.
- If fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil/fats or trans fats feature in the list of ingredients, then you should avoid buying this bread. Fructose corn syrup causes headaches and is associated with feelings of depression. It has an adverse impact on the digestive system. Hydrogenated oil and trans fats are banned in several European countries as they are associated with to the development of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
- If the label says –“60% extraction” -it means that 40% of the original wheat grain was removed, and only 60% is left. It also means that while removing 40% of the original wheat grain, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber has been lost.
- Gluten flour is just another name for partially refined flour. Even so-called "unbleached whole-wheat flour" which is processed on high speed roller mills is missing many of the vitamins, bran, and germ.
- Select the densest, grain-based bread. Since they take more time to get digested, they make us feel satiated and full longer.
- If a loaf made with such l00% stone-ground flour cannot be found, choose one with unbleached flour.
- If caramelized sugar or colourant is mentioned in the list of ingredients, then it is not true brown bread but coloured white bread.
- Read the labels. Just because a product is sold in a health food store does not ensure that it is of high quality.
- The safest alternative is to buy stone-ground whole-wheat flour at a natural food store, or have it ground in your presence and bake whole grain bread at home.
- For non-bread eaters, flat and mountain breads or wholegrain crackers or beans are all good, low-GI carbohydrate choices that you can use as an alternative source of carbohydrate in your diet.
One of the healthiest bread options is the freshly baked organic sourdough or sprouted bread made entirely with l00 percent stone-ground whole grains. All these qualities will be specifically mentioned on the label.
Brown bread is always healthy-- This is not always true. Though brown bread made of whole grain wheat is very healthy, often, caramelised sugar is added to give white bread a brown colour. This is then retailed as brown bread. It is not very healthy as apart from refined flour, it might contain refined sugar also.
The Journey of Bread --From the Farm to the Consumer
Most of the factory and even bakery produced bread has been subjected to processes and chemicals to give it a long shelf life, uniformity, coloration, and soft texture, with total disregard to the resulting nutritional deficiencies.
- Seed -- Seed companies often use a mixture of fungicides and insecticide to control a broad range of seed pests.
- Pesticides and fertilizers --These contain chemicals such as disulfoton (Di-syston), methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, diamba and glyphosate. Though these are approved chemicals, excess exposure to these chemicals can increase our susceptibility to neurotoxic diseases as well as to certain kinds of cancer.
- Hormones --Farmers use either natural hormones (extracted from other plants) or synthetic hormones such as Cycocel to regulate the growth of their crop i.e. time of germination of wheat and strength of the wheat stalk. Though there are evidences which show that increased exposures to such hormones might have an adverse impact on our health, no studies have yet been done that isolate the health risks of eating hormone-manipulated wheat.
- Chemicals used during storage -- During long storage, wheat grains become vulnerable to critters. Even before the grain is stored for comercial purposes, the collection bins are sprayed with insecticide both on their outer and their inner surface.
- Irradiation -- Wheat and wheat flour were some of the first foods approved by the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for irradiation --exposing wheat berries to radiation to eradicate storage pests. A study conducted to ascertain the impact of irradiation was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1975, revealed that blood samples of four of the five children (fed for four weeks on a diet that included wheat product exposed to radiation) showed abnormal cell formation.
- Artificial drying -- Artificial drying of damp grain at high temperatures results in reducing the nutritional value of the grain and partially cooking its protein. If the grain is dried at temperatures not higher than 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, then its proteins and other nutritive properties are retained.
- Processing and milling – As high-speed mills are not able to grind the germ and the bran properly, the two most nutritious part of the grain are ejected. Operating at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, high speed mills destroy many vitamins and essential nutrients present in the bread.
- Bleaching -- To give a bright white colour to the bread, the flour in many instances is treated with chemical bleach, leaving toxic residues which have been found to cause nervousness and seizures in animals.
- Chemical preservatives – More than 30 different chemicals approved by the Food and Drug Administration are routinely added to bread to extend its shelf life. These include ethylated mono and triglycerides, potassium bromate, potassium iodide, calcium proprionate, benzoyl peroxide, tricalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium chloride and magnesium carbonate. However, little is known about their long-term toxicity and impact on human health when taken together.
- Bread became the main source of food for the majority of people throughout the world only six thousand years ago.
- The first slice-and-wrap bread machine was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder in the US in 1928.
- Sliced bread was introduced into the UK in the mid 1930s.
- Bread, one of the favourite foods in UK, is bought by 99% of British households. The equivalent of over 12 million loaves are sold each day in the UK.
- White bread accounts for 71% of total bread consumption in the UK; Brown/wholemeal sector accounts for 22%; And other bread accounts for 7% of the total bread market in the UK.
- Bread accounts for just a third of the food calories consumed in the U.S. (the figure is just 19% when it comes to families of professionals), as against 40% in most of Europe and 53% in France.
- Consumers in most EU countries eat more bread in general than US consumers. The per capita bread consumption in Denmark stands at 70 kg (according to 2006 retail figures), the Dutch 59 kg and the Germans 61 kg, as against 20 kg in the US.
- The average adult will require two to four slices of bread each day.
- Northern Europeans love whole-grain bread, while US consumers find it somewhat challenging on their palates.
- Germany offer 300 different types of bread – mostly made by mixing different proportions of rye and wheat as well as small amounts of other grains and seeds in accordance with regional recipes.
- As rye is easier to grow in cold climates, it is an integral part of Scandinavian breads.
- Two-thirds of the Dutch population eats bread for breakfast with various different spreads and toppings.
- Asia is still far behind Europe when it comes to having European style bread. While the per capita bread consumption in Hong Kong was 8 kg (2005), it was 1 kg in China and even lower than that in India. 
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