Bread is very much an established staple in the diets of many countries and cultures, and has been prepared in various forms for thousands of years. Despite its enduring popularity, bread often gets quite a bad rap. So, is bread bad for you?

 

Health benefits of bread

The major health benefit of bread (besides warming our hearts and souls) is that it can be a good source of wholegrains. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that adults should be eating six serves of healthy grains (mostly wholegrain) per day for good health. Wholegrains provide us with dietary fibre, which passes through the stomach and intestines and remains relatively undigested.  As it passes through the digestive system, fibre performs several important functions that contribute to our health – it doesn’t have the nickname Nature’s Broom for nothing! Not only does fibre help to keep the bowels nice and regular (you know what we’re talking about), fibre also contributes to a healthy gut microbiome, and helps to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis, and some types of cancer. Find more tips for hitting your fibre goals here. Wholegrains can also be a good source of micronutrients including B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium. Australian bread is also fortified with iodine in the form of iodised salt. Iodine is an important mineral that much of the population is deficient in. In addition, bread can form the foundation of a healthy and balanced breakfast or lunch (i.e. when paired with protein, fruits/veg, and a touch of healthy fats). It’s also convenient and affordable, making it a sustainable addition to your diet.

 

Downsides of bread

It’s important to acknowledge that not every type of bread provides the benefits listed above. Depending on what type you grab off the shelf, bread can also be rather void of nutritional value. White bread is made from flour that has been processed to remove the part of the wheat grain that contains most of the nutrients. White bread, therefore, contains less fibre and fewer vitamins and minerals. Some brands of bread are also high in added salt and sugar, which can be detrimental to our health. Let’s also not forget that what we put on or between our bread also counts. If we don’t consider what spreads/toppings/fillings we pair with our bread, we could end up making a meal or snack that is high in calories and low in nutritional value, which is a recipe with the potential to cook up weight gain and poor health.

What to look for in a bread

  • Opt for wholemeal, rye and spelt varieties. Sourdough is also a great option to add to the mix. The browner the bread, the better.
  • Visible grains and seeds throughout the loaf gets the dietitian tick of approval. Get those wholegrains in!
  • Flip over the packaging and have a peek at the nutrition label. You want the fibre to be at three or more grams per serve.
  • Look out for the low GI certification on the front of the packaging. These are a good option to pick. When we eat low GI (or low glycaemic index) foods, it means that the carbohydrates are digested at a slower rate. This will help to keep our blood sugar levels more even throughout the day. If we eat high GI foods, we are more likely to experience that blood sugar rollercoaster that sends our energy levels into a tizzy, making it more likely we will grab for a quick sugary fix when we crash.
  • Don’t be so salty. Choose breads with no more than 400-500mg of sodium per 100g.
  • If you have coeliac disease, choose options that are certified gluten-free. Your bread must not contain any wheat, rye, barley or oats, but it’s still important to try to choose options that provide a source of wholegrains and fibre.

 

Healthiest bread you can buy in Australia

  • Abbott’s Bakery – farmhouse wholemeal.
  • Burgen – they have an extensive range of different flour and seed combinations.
  • Helga’s – wholemeal or lower carb range.
  • Coles or Woolworths brand – low GI, wholemeal, high fibre, and seeds and grains options.
  • Tip Top – wholemeal or 9 grain.
  • Visit your local artisan bakery – plenty of options to try that tick the nutritional boxes, and freshly made.

TIP: mix it up and choose a different loaf each week – the greater the variety of seeds and grains you are eating, the greater the variety of nutrients you will be receiving!