We love bread, it is delicious, convenient and filling. However, there is a war that has been waged against this versatile food which has long been a foundational part of the human diet. Most dieters and healthy eating proponents have sanctioned it as the ‘enemy’ because most breads are made with the things they consider to be bad; gluten, dairy, wheat and sugar.
Consumption of bread has been linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality.
According to Regina Nantege, a nutritionist, healthy eating needs a more progressive and broad approach to be successful.
Labelling foods as bad or good is simplistic. Most Ugandan dieters believe when they stay away from bread, they will lose weight. What they forget is they eat piles of carbs from most of our staple foods. Instead of starving oneself and denying yourself the foods that bring you joy, find healthier versions or portions of them.
“The generalisation of bread as the enemy is wrong. The mistake people make in regards to bread is usually about choice of ingredients, portions and exercise. There is nothing wrong with bread in measured amounts. Just be careful with the ingredients and if necessary, reduce your calorie intake from elsewhere,” says Nantege.
The right bread
Sylvia Chelengat, a nutritionist from Smart Nutrition Uganda, says bread can be good or bad, depending on the composition. The right bread has benefits such as reduced the risk of heart disease, encourage proper bowel function thus reducing constipation, and increasing the feeling of fullness to help with weight management and even loss. The challenge, therefore, is choosing the right kind of bread.
Usually, shoppers take a casual glance at the labelling when buying bread without really reading them. Just because bread is brown or the package says “wheat,” “multi-grain” does not mean it is made from whole grains. Instead, look for labels that say “100 per cent whole wheat” or “100 per cent whole grain.” But as a general rule of thumb, Chelengat says, brown breads are better than white.
Ignore the labels
Just because bread looks brown, it is not necessarily whole wheat bread. The first ingredient on the list should either be whole meal flour, or whole wheat, and not wheat flour or enriched wheat flour. Whole wheat bread is a good source of magnesium and phosphorus, two minerals needed to maintain bones and teeth. Magnesium is also needed for proper muscle function, energy production as well as promoting healthy blood pressure. Whole wheat grains are also rich in selenium, which supports immune function and is necessary for proper thyroid hormone activity.
The remaining ingredients should be recognisable such as fibre both soluble and insoluble. Healthy bread according to a Harvard School of Public Health study should have a 10:1 carb-to-fibre ratio.
Avoid bread with lots of hard-to-pronounce artificial ingredients and synthetic preservatives. So, if a bread has 15 grammes of total carbs per slice or per serving, it should have more than 1.5 grammes of dietary fibre.
Extended shelf life
Nutritionist Mary Jackie Nanyonjo cautions against bread that sits on the shelf for a long time because it has been pumped with many preservatives, sugar and salt to extend its shelf life.
So, it would be best to buy bread kept in the fridge as a method of preservation or fresh from the baker.
Watch out for the sodium content. A typical daily intake should not exceed 1,500 milligrammes; meaning a two-slice sandwich can provide nearly a quarter of what you need in a day.
When it comes to bread, moderation is key. Nanyonjo notes that you do not have to stop eating bread altogether. Instead, look for the healthiest options and eat it in moderation.
Studies that have specifically looked at bread in the context of Mediterranean-style diets that have been linked to health and longevity have found that people who eat the most whole-grain breads; six slices or more a day are the least likely to be overweight or obese.
Enjoy it but do not overdo it.