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The Bread Conundrum

Before I even begin, I have to dispel one important myth. Bread and carbohydrates do not cause weight gain! (calorie intake > calorie output does) In fact, grains add a lot of nutritional value and should be incorporated into a well balanced diet.

Whole Wheat, Whole Grain, Flax, Buckwheat, Barley…and the list goes on and on! How can we determine which bread is the best option given the array of choices? Once again terminology and labeling makes it difficult to really know what we’re buying and whether or not we’re purchasing the healthiest choice available to us. Let’s simplify the next stop in the bread aisle!

There are a number of concepts that will help us get to the crux of the matter such as the Glycemic Index, the components of a grain, as well as the terms “fortified” and “enriched” and what they really mean.

The Glycemic Index measures how quickly carbohydrates enter into the bloodstream. A high Glycemic Index indicates quick entry which consequently results in fluctuations in energy, weight gain, as well as the possibility of the onset of Type 2 Diabetes. White bread ranks high on the Glycemic index whereas whole grain bread ranks low. Whole grains contain a higher fiber content (as do most items that have a low glycemic index) which keeps you feeling full for longer, and maintains optimal health.

When it comes to grains, there are two ends of the spectrum; whole grains vs. refined grains. Whole grains contain 3 parts consisting of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. The germ and the bran have the most nutrients including minerals, fibre, essential fats, as well as phytonutrients that help protect us against disease. Refined grains have been stripped of the germ and bran, contain only the endosperm, and therefore lack these powerful nutrients.

Fortified breads indicates that vitamins and minerals have been added to the bread, whereas enriched implies that the vitamins and minerals have been removed, only some of which have been added back. As such, look for “fortified” labels and avoid those that indicate “enriched”.

Again, it is important not take labeling jargon at face value. The words “Whole Wheat” do not guarantee that the bread has been made from whole grains. It could simply mean that there is some extra whole wheat or blackstrap molasses that have been added to the white bread to make it appear as though it’s whole wheat! So how can you determine whether the bread you are buying is in fact whole wheat? Here are a couple of indicators to help you out:

  • Look for “whole” or “whole grain” among the first ingredients listed

  • “Wheat” without the word “whole” prior to it should be avoided

There are a number of factors that you should look for when selecting which bread to buy:

  • A serving should contain approximately 5g of fibre (whole grains tend to have more fibre)

  • Breads higher in fibre will be heavier

  • Avoid bread where one of the first ingredients is glucose, lactose, sucrose, sugar, or corn syrup

  • Look for monounsaturated fats such as canola or olive oil and polyunsaturated fats such as corn, peanut, or sesame oil

  • Avoid “hydrogenated” ingredients

  • “Stone Ground” may sounds healthy but it is similar to wheat flour and isn’t as healthy as 100% whole wheat flour

There are other healthy grains that can be considered such as spelt, amaranth, rye, etc. Some of the healthiest breads are as follows:

  • Pumpernickel is a type of sourdough bread with its main ingredients as rye flour and rye meal

  • Flaxseed is high in omega-3 fatty acids

  • Hemp Bread is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids

  • Oat Bread contains flavonoids which are antioxidants (prevents cancer, heart disease…)

Finally from an organic perspective, bread does not contain a different nutrient value if it’s organic. As such, when selecting which elements on your grovery list should be organic, this one wouldn’t rank very high. In fact, highly processed foods such as pasta, cereals, oils, etc. should rank low among these items.

In a nutshell, the healthiest breads available have the following characteristics:

  • Whole Grains

  • Low Sodium

  • Fortified

  • High in Fibre (feel heavier)

  • Low in sugar

  • Contain Mono- and Poly- Unsaturated fats

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