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 Diet & Nutrition

september 2012

Be Bread Wise!

Ishi Khosla
The irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread and its sway over our senses are the stuff of classics. Unleavened bread, like chapattis were the first breads. At some point, the Egyptians invented the leavened bread and in the course of history and progress, it became the staple of the standard European/ American diet.
Leavened bread is prepared with yeast or baking soda to make the dough rise before baking. World over, the market today is spoilt with mind-boggling varieties on offer. So, what is it about bread that makes it such an all time favourite?

Bread Basics
Usually, bread is named after the grain from which the flour or meal is derived, and there is also the variety of flavours and seasonings that are added to it. The latter could be anything like garlic, cheese, onion, rosemary, dill, sundried tomatoes, pesto, olives, sesame and poppy seeds.

The varied flavours also indicate the ethnic diversity of bread. Buns, rolls, bagels, baguettes, focaccia, multigrain, sourdough and whole wheat/brown are a few that we are familiar with, in India. A variety of flours including oats, soybean, barley and millets, can also be added to whole wheat flour to make different kinds of breads.

In the US, bread is made with powdered cellulose as non-calorie filler to lower calories. In India, breads are being made with alternate flours to lower their glycemic index. Wheat flour is ideal for leavened bread because wheat contains gluten, a protein that becomes sticky when mixed with water. Dough made from wheat flour is elastic enough to rise, as bubbles of carbon dioxide get trapped, thus creating light-textured bread. In contrast, breads made with only low-gluten flours will tend to be heavy or dense.

Bread is less fattening than highfat foods such as processed meats, cheese and fried foods. But butter, spreads, margarine or mayonnaise on a slice of bread doubles its calories. Those on controlled carbohydrate diets (diabetics and the obese) may do well to control such foods.

Whole Wheat Or Not?
  • Firstly, any bread darker than the colour of a ‘roti’ is sure to be coloured artificially.
  • Secondly, anyone who has even the slightest idea about baking bread would know that baking a soft, light loaf of bread with whole wheat is nearly impossible. Therefore, if the brown or whole wheat bread chosen is soft and light, it is unlikely to be significantly whole wheat.
  • Ask for ‘whole wheat’ not brown if you want an atta bread and not refined flour (maida) with colour.

Brown Vs White: 2000 Years Of Debate
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine advised his health patrons and patients to follow the practice of their servants and eat whole wheat bread. The reason being “it’s sanitary on the bowel”!
Nutrients A Slice of Whole Wheat Bread A Slice Of White,enriched Bread
Energy (cals)
Proteins (g)
Carbohydrates (g)
Fibre (g)
Fat (g)
Iron (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) (mg)
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) (mg)
Niacin (mg)
White bread is prepared from bleached flour or maida, which is highly refined and purified. Milling and bleaching the wheat completely or partially, removes the germ (the nutrient rich part of the grain) and the bran (the fibre rich part) leaving mainly the starch-rich endosperm. This leads to loss of more than 22 important nutrients - fibre, vitamins and minerals among them.

In advanced countries, flour is so widely used that some bakeries follow flour-enrichment and replace four vitamins namely thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and iron. Other nutrients such as Vitamin B6, zinc, manganese and folic acid are not added. Also, in the developed countries, white bread contains about half a gram of fibre a slice. So, some bakeries increase the fibre content by adding dates, raisins, bran or purified powdered cellulose. Crystalline cellulose may not be as beneficial for the body as natural cellulose that occurs in the bran of whole wheat bread.

Whole grain breads provide two or three grams of fibre per slice. Bread labelled ‘whole wheat’ must contain 100 per cent whole wheat as the first listed ingredient. Bread simply labelled as ‘wheat’ or ‘cracked wheat’ often contains white flour as the major ingredient; the brown colour of such bread may be due to caramel or artificial colouring. Bread labelled ‘multigrain’ simply means that the bread contains mainly refined wheat flour with small amounts of oatmeal, rye or whole wheat. The label should indicate whether caramel colouring has been added to give the bread a more wholesome appearance.

So, be bread wise next time you go bread shopping!

Ishi Khosla is Clinical Nutritionist and Director, Whole Foods India, New Delhi.