With dozens of varieties of loaves now available on our shelves, picking your weekly bread can be a nightmare of label reading and decision making. So when it comes to picking a loaf, which bread is the most nutritionally balanced?
White bread is made from wheat that’s milled to remove the outer layers of the grain, resulting in a refined white flour with significantly less fibre than wholemeal or grainy varieties. White bread generally has a high glycemic index (GI), meaning the carbs are quickly absorbed, sending blood sugar levels soaring which is bad news for the waistline and those with a risk of type 2 diabetes. If you can’t stand other types of bread, remember that not all white varieties are created equally. Look for bread that is labelled hi-fibre and low GI. These types of white bread have had nutrients added making them a healthier alternative to regular white bread.
Wholemeal is ground wholegrains milled to a finer texture with most of the fibre still intact. However the GI is often still high because some wholemeal breads contain a mixture of refined white flour which creates a longer-lasting flour but doesn’t provide the same nutritional balance.
Wholegrain is made up of whole nutrient-rich grains (such as whole wheat, oats and rye) and generally has a lower GI for slow digestion. Regular consumption of wholegrain foods is linked to a reduction of several chronic health conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, especially colon cancer. Beware of breads labelled ‘multigrain’ though. Multigrain breads don’t always mean they use wholegrain in their formula. When choosing multigrain, look for the word ‘kibbled’ which means broken grains of wheat, barley, oats or rye.
Although these breads are made with less flour and more seeds they are not low in carbohydrates. They still contain about 20g per sandwich (down from 35g) and are higher in fat (and so kilojoules) thanks to the seeds, so don’t be tricked into thinking you can eat more.
While the availability of gluten-free bread is a wonderful development, especially for people allergic to gluten, this doesn’t mean they have a better nutritional profile than regular bread. Most gluten-free breads are made from purified or refined starches such as maize starch, white rice flour, potato flour and tapioca starch which are low in vitamins and fibre, so choose varieties with lots of visible seeds and grains for a fibre and antioxidant boost.
These breads dish up a combination of gluten free grains, seeds and plant proteins (e.g. pea protein and almond meal). They are extremely low in carbohydrates (2 slices = 3g) and have almost double the protein compared to wholemeal varieties. If you’re very active, this bread may not be the best choice since carbs and fats are the body’s main energy source.
Rye contains less gluten than wheat flour which makes rye bread significantly denser. Light rye, made from rye and wheat flours, comes in halfway between white and wholemeal for health, but wholegrain rye, with added grains boasts more fibre and vitamins.
- Read the label. Choose breads made with wholemeal wheat flour as the base, not just wheat flour (ie. white flour), which means all the good dietary fibre has been removed.
- More fibre. Opt for greater than 5 g per serve since this can potentially assist healthy cholesterol levels and weight management.
- Less salt. Choose varieties with less than 350 mg per serve to promote optimal blood pressure levels and healthy arteries.
- Portion control. Unless there are added healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds, a slice of bread should contain no more than around 100 calories. Choosing a larger loaf means unnecessarily adding to your calorie count.