Healthy Eating

Nutrition: grain gains

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Fancy a hot slice of toast? Bread’s back on the menu! But which loaf is best for you?

Whether you’re one of the two per cent of people who are allergic to gluten or the 25 per cent who identify themselves as wheat intolerant, everyone has an opinion on bread. And it’s not always a favourable one.

Thanks to the work of casual carb dodgers and committed wheat-free warriors, the humble loaf is having a serious image crisis right now.

But should we really be jumping on this bread-free bandwagon?

According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of adults, bread contributes 10 per cent of our daily intake of protein, thiamine, niacin, folate, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium and one-fifth of the fibre and calcium we need. The wholegrain variety also provides plenty of B vitamins (to help the body convert food into energy efficiently), iron (for transporting oxygen around the body), zinc (for the growth of cells, healing and fighting infection), antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium (which protects cells from damage caused by toxic substances), and phytonutrients (plant substances that help protect against disease).

An impressive list, right? Sounds like a slice of the stuff is actually pretty healthy. However, this is not an invitation to gorge on processed white bread. Bread can be a nutritional and tasty addition to your diet – the trick is picking the right slice. Here’s our handy guide…

Fabulous fibre

As a nutritionist and independent advisor to the Fat Information Service, Dr Emma Derbyshire is resolute on the benefits of a bit of toast. ‘Bread can be an important source of dietary fibre, providing we opt for the right varieties,’ she says. ‘High-fibre breads like rye and wholegrain are best. For wholegrain breads, check to make sure this is the first ingredient on the list and contains wholegrain flour. Breads with added seeds, such as pumpkin and sunflower, can also provide micronutrients and essential fatty acids. But refined white breads are best eaten as a treat rather than as a diet staple.’

Weekend loafing

Nutritionist and personal trainer Ben Wilson goes a step further and tells his clients to keep bread, whatever the variety, as an occasional indulgence. ‘I prefer my clients to be bread-free Monday to Friday and treat themselves on a weekend. But I do know people who have seen results while eating bread, so it really comes down to your own body,’ he says. ‘The main problem is that so many people are sensitive to gluten and wheat. The result is that people often gain weight and experience digestive issues. If this affects you, then eating breads such as rye and spelt bread, may be slightly less reactive.’

Use your loaf

Have some protein with your bread, such as an egg or peanut butter on your breakfast toast. It’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and stop a spike in blood sugar.

If you don’t have a wheat allergy don’t bother with gluten-free bread unless you particularly like the taste. There are no benefits over a slice of regular bread and it’s much more expensive.

If you’re dodging dairy, make sure you read the back of the pack. Lots of brands pad out bread with milk powder.

SOYA & LINSEED

λ Burgen Soya & Linseed, £1.20, supermarkets nationwide

With slightly more protein, soya and linseed loaves are also thought to be beneficial for women going through the menopause. Research suggests menopausal women who supplement their diet with soya or linseed experience fewer symptoms, particularly hot flushes. ‘Soya and linseed breads provide extra nutrients from the seeds, including vitamin E and essential fatty acids,’ explains nutritionist Dr Emma Williams.

SPELT

λ Cranks Spelt, Honey & Sunflower, £1.89, waitrose.com

Thanks to the Viva Mayr Diet, which advocates chewing dry spelt rolls to train you to eat slowly, spelt bread has become big business. It’s high in fibre and contains much more protein than wheat. It’s also higher in B complex vitamins, and simple and complex carbohydrates. Plus, some gluten-sensitive people have been able to include some spelt-based food in their diets. The husk also protects it from pollutants and insects, so its likely to be pesticide free.

WHOLEMEAL

λ Hovis Wholemeal Bread, £1.45, supermarkets nationwide

Wholemeal bread is made from flour that has been ground from the whole grain and includes the outer husk (rich in fibre) and wheat germ (brimming with B vitamins). Expect four times as much fibre, over three times as much zinc, and almost twice as much iron as white bread. ‘Fibre is key for gut health as it’s fuel for our gut bacteria and helps bowel movements,’ says Dr Williams. ‘Fibre also keeps you fuller for longer so it’s useful for weight control.’

SEEDED BREAD

λ Waitrose LOVE Life Wholemeal & Seeds Bread, £1.02, waitrose.com

Seeded breads are a great option to help you get more muscle-building protein into your diet. Look for varieties that contain several different seeds for the best value. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, important for hormones, while sunflower seeds are a fantastic source of vitamin E, a good nutrient for skin. Poppy seeds add colour and are rich in minerals like iron. Go for wholemeal varieites for the perfect balance of complex carbs and protein.

GLUTEN-FREE

λ Knead bakery Fresh Seeded Bread, £2.99, ocado.com

For coeliacs in search of a slice, gluten-free loaves are a real lifesaver, but what’s actually in them? To create a gluten-free product the wheat protein is swapped for a different flour, such as almond, rice, corn or even bean flour. But this doesn’t necessarily make it healthier. In fact, gluten-free products are often higher in fat and calories than the regular type. ‘I’m not a fan of bread substitutes,’ says trainer and nutritionist Ben Wilson. ‘I’ve seen a poor level of results with these in people’s diets.’

RYE

λ The Village Bakery Organic Rossisky Rye, £1.77, waitrose.com

Rye bread is a dense alternative to brown bread, packed with essential minerals such as B vitamins and vitamin E, as well as iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese and zinc. It also has higher amounts of lysine than other grains and the highest content of lignans (phytoestrogens) – which are good for your digestive and heart health. Take note that rye bread, when made with 100 per cent rye flour, is wheat-free, but it’s not gluten-free.

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