Are you wondering which bread is good for health?
I was chatting with a friend recently and she was very happy that her family had shifted to eating a multigrain loaf of bread and are enjoying the "healthy" bread very much. She was shocked to hear that often, multigrain bread has more refined flour or "maida" than what might be labeled whole wheat bread. In terms of healthiest bread, multi-grain breads are just a step above white breads. We had a long conversation about everything I have discovered about commercially available bread in India.
I wanted to make note of all the points she found useful and share them in the hopes that you find them useful too. Our Bakery at Sampoorna Ahara started with making bread as our very first product because we couldn't find suitable bread for us to eat anywhere!
If you are here, reading this, I'm going to assume you are already aware of why white bread is unhealthy. We are going to skip that portion. Here's how you buy healthy bread:
The most important step. Check the label and all the information on the ingredient list and baking process written there. You will find me repeatedly mentioning this. Do bear with me :)
Here are some facts about the types of bread to help:
1. "Whole wheat bread/brown bread/multigrain bread"
It can legally have up to 70% maida or refined wheat flour. More for multigrain bread. This is also true for most whole wheat sourdough breads. These breads will still produce high blood sugar levels, have less fiber, affect digestion, and have multiple other health impacts.
2. "100% whole wheat bread"
It often has added gluten/dough improvers and strengtheners or oil and maybe sugar. It does have the healthy fiber of whole wheat. However, might have additives that hurt your health.
3. "Bran enriched"
"Bran added" bread - means that the base is refined flour, and bran has been added to it. This increases the grams of fiber in the bread but still isn't the healthiest in all other ways.
4. "Millet bread"
It also often have a mix of wheat flour and other millet flour. Again, a look at the label will give you more information. If labeled "Wheat Flour" they are referring to Maida or refined wheat flour or white flour. If labeled "Whole Wheat Flour" they are referring to Atta or wholemeal wheat flour. This is the whole grain, ground with the bran or the healthy outer layer of the grain.
5. Gluten-Free bread
This is a whole different category or type of bread product. There are lots of possible variations. Again, read the ingredients list before adding it to your shopping cart. Some of these bread can be a very healthy option and are great for people with gluten allergies or Celiac disease.
How do you identify Gluten-free bread?
a. Check for additives
We use Guar Gum here at SampoornaAhara for our Gluten-free breads since this is a safe and healthy option to replace gluten. It is the sap of a cluster bean plant and is a traditional food here in India. Do research any other additives before buying.
b. Identify refined flour
This can be both refined grains and "Starches" which are refined flours from multiple sources, including tubers. This includes Tapioca Starch, a common ingredient in Gluten-free baking. Also avoid White rice powder. Look for any mention of the word refined to see if this means they have removed healthy fiber content from the grain. Breads with a high amount of these flours are similar to white bread in terms of nutritional content, fiber content, and glycemic index (how quickly your blood sugar level increases)
c. Good Gluten Free Breads
They can actually be one of the healthiest options! Since you are able to enjoy the nutritional benefits of millet or other forms of whole grains, sometimes even lentils! This could lead to a more balanced diet.
6. Rye Bread
There are a few different rye bread options. Look at what flour is used in your bread. White or Light Rye flour is refined, don't use this. Dark Rye flour is usually the whole grain that is ground fine - this is quite a healthy option. The healthiest rye bread option uses pumpernickel flour. This is a courser ground whole rye. Because it is courser, this flour is a rich source of food for beneficial bacteria in your gut. This is called Pre-biotic food. Courser ground flours also help maintain more steady blood sugar levels.
7. Enriched flour in breads
Vitamins and Minerals are added to a normal loaf of bread to increase its nutritional benefits. The added nutrients can be good for people with deficiencies, however, the bread itself matters as well. Do check against the previously mentioned list what type of bread you are buying.
Some notes on the process of baking:
These are not things you might see in the label of breads, however, you should be able to notice this in either texture, appearance, or taste.
1. Browning of the crust
Crusts have more AGE formations if they are browner. (We steam our bread for a while before finishing them off by baking a little to reduce this happening) When people bake Sourdough boules they tend to have darker crusts. If you are eating this see if you would like to avoid the crust as AGE chemicals have been linked to higher rates of cancer.
Some types of breads have very high levels of salt. Often the case with typical sourdough recipes.
Our family has been following a Whole food plant based diet for five years now. And I just couldn't find anything to suit my needs. That's actually why I started the bakery. To make bread with just atta (whole wheat flour), water and a little salt. Over the past 2 years, the team and I have been very glad to be able to help people who want to buy it from outside.
But I initially started at home.
If you are up for doing it yourself, here is what I would suggest:
1. Keep a sourdough starter at home or buy some instant yeast (as far as I know, instant yeast isn't unhealthy, just that Sourdough is a bit healthier)
2. Use your own chosen flour at home - can use a mix of atta and up to 40% of any other flour. Including soy/chickpea/almond etc. Millet can be a little tricky, I would suggest taking it up when you feel ready for it.
3. Use water in the ratio of 1 flour : 0.8 water . You can go up to 1:1. The more water you can use, the more easily the bread will rise. However, it will become harder to handle the dough as the water content increases.
4. Add salt as desired. We recommend using only 3/4 tsp of ionized salt per person per day in all your food intake, else using miso paste. Let it rise until there is a generous amount of bubbles. Fold it a few times in between with wet fingers to prevent sticking.
5. Steam it in an idli cooker or pressure cooker without a whistle. If baking in the oven, add a tray of water underneath the bread to increase the steam in the oven.
You can play around with it and make coloured dough with fruit and vegetables or shapes to capture imagination. This is a perfect thing to involve children in.
I hope that helps!
Co-Founder, Sampoorna Ahara Bakery