Choosing a healthy bread can be tough in today's crazy world of food. Some people advocate low carb, or eating paleo or going gluten-free but where does this leave bread? If you chose to eat bread, there are three things to look for to make it a healthy loaf.
1. In general, healthy bread should be made from a whole grain flour. Read the ingredient list and look for words like "whole grain whole wheat flour" or "whole grain rye flour." Flour made from oats, beans or pulses and quinoa tend to be whole grain. But beware! Whole wheat is not the same as whole grain. Although whole wheat sounds like it is made from grinding up the entire grain (be it wheat or rye, for example), it actually isn't. The label "whole wheat" means up to 5 per cent of the kernel of the grain can be removed.
2. Take a peek at the sodium levels. Unless the bread is a specialty no-salt bread, it will contain sodium. Salt is added to bread dough for both the taste as well as for its role in gluten development. Sodium helps the dough be more strong and stable. For every 70 grams of bread, an ideal amount of sodium would be a maximum of 275 milligrams but amounts up to 320 milligrams are OK.
3. Fibre is your friend. Bread made from whole grain flour tend to be naturally the richest in fibre. Look for breads that contain 3 grams of fibre or more per 70 grams of bread. Sometimes inulin, a type of fibre that has an easy to mask flavor, is added. This can make breads made from refined flour high in fibre. The problem is that inulin may not help us feel full or lower cholesterol levels like naturally occurring fibre from whole grains do. Read the list of ingredients to find out if your bread contains inulin to boost the fibre content. To be fair, inulin is not a bad added ingredient since it is a prebiotic and thus feeds the good gut bacteria. It just may not be exactly the same as traditional, natural fibre found in whole grain foods.
Sugar is not something you typically have to worry about in bread. This may come as a shock to some since many people believe that bread, once digested, turns into sugar. Although there is some truth to this, it is an oversimplified way of thinking. Bread needs some form of sugar to feed the yeast which leavens the bread. Sometimes fruit juice is used (instead of white sugar or molasses) so the manufacturers can claim that "no sugar is added". Regardless of the type of sugar used, there is usually very little in each slice. One to 3 grams of sugar per slice is typical and if there are fruit in your bread, like raisins, you can expect to have more sugar. Let's go back to the digestion of bread and why it is said that it turns to sugar once digested. Sugars are not the only nutrient that contributes to raising blood sugars. Starch and other carbohydrates (save for fibre) all are broken down into sugar to be digested. So even though your bread maybe sugar free, it will still raise your blood sugars since it contains starch from the flour. This is not a bad thing! It is completely natural and is why our body requires carbohydrates.
Fat is also something that tends to be quite low in bread. Some exceptions include sweet bread or bread with added high fat ingredients like chocolate and nuts. Fat helps to keep the bread moist so a little bit can help improve its palatability. One to 2 grams of fat per slice is typical so changing to a no-fat bread will not have a great impact on your health.
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"Everyone always thinks of vegetables and fruits and whole grains when they think of high-fiber foods, but nuts are very impactful," says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, a quarter cup of almonds has 4 grams of fiber. But Crandall says she doesn't advocate one type of nut over another. "Each nut yields a different nutrient profile," she explains. "Add variety rather than getting burned out on one."
"Another hidden source that many people don't [think of] is frozen peas," Ansel says, explaining that they're a great option to always have on hand. "A cup of cooked peas has about 4 grams of fiber," she continues, "and it's a really easy way to get it."
"Chia seeds are a great source of fiber, because they have both soluble and insoluble fiber," says Ansel, who explains that just one tablespoon of chia seeds packs around 6 grams. She recommends adding them to liquid, like iced tea and waiting half an hour for them to swell up (chia seeds absorb liquid) before enjoying. Crandall also suggests sprinkling them in yogurt, oatmeal or rice dishes, or tossing a few in your next salad. Another great seed option to consider? Flax seeds, Crandall says.
Ansel says that a medium onion has 2 grams of fiber, which isn't necessarily an enormous amount, but it's the type that matters. "Onions have inulin, a water-soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and promotes regularity," she explains. Inulin is often added to fiber supplements, but Ansel says onions are a good natural source, as are foods like asparagus and leeks.
"If you are going to have grains, one of the best ones you can have is bulgur wheat, which has 8 grams per cup," says Ansel. The key, she explains, is preparation: Cook up a batch over the weekend or after grocery shopping so it's ready to go throughout the week. You can then throw some bulgur into a salad, which will help keep you fuller, longer, or throw some into a soup.
Ansel said that people don't often think about kiwis, which have about 2 grams of fiber and are a sweet and tangy option. The great thing about this fruit, she says, is that they're both satisfying and easy: Just a few tossed into your bag for an afternoon snack can help you hit those daily fiber recommendations. In the same vein (although perhaps a little bit more obvious) are berries -- particularly raspberries, thanks to their tiny seeds. Just one cup has 8 grams of fiber.
When it comes to sources of fiber, apples are basically hiding in plain sight. "Anything with 3 grams of fiber is considered a good source of fiber, and an excellent source is anything with 5 grams," Crandall says. "An apple has about 4 grams of fiber." Given that, eating just one a day can really help you meet your fiber goals. Have a few and you're well on your way.
Follow Lisa Rutledge, Dt.P on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lisarutledgeRD