From sourdough to white loaf: Nutritionist’s ultimate guide to best and worst supermarket breads

Bread has been a dietary staple for thousands of years, and is a significant source of carbohydrates and B group vitamins which play important roles in energy production.

Less processed varieties of bread such as rye, wholegrain and artisan sourdough also offer a range of other nutrients – including dietary fibre, vitamin E, zinc and iron – which is generally why loaves of grain-based bread contain more fat than white bread.

Apart from the distinct nutrient differences between white and grain-based varieties, the other major and most significant difference is that of the glycaemic index (GI) between breads.

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Australian nutritionist Susie Burrell has rounded up the best – and not-so-great bread varieties on supermarket shelves. Credit: Susie Burrell/Supplied

As white, wholemeal and flat breads have all had the grains ground down in their processing, they have a relatively high GI compared to wholegrain bread.

This means they release glucose into the bloodstream more quickly than wholegrain breads.

More grains the better

Over time, this means that choosing processed breads as a dietary staple will be resulting in regular glucose peaks and troughs, and subsequent insulin release.

High insulin levels over time are related to weight gain and increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Generally speaking, the more grains the bread has, the better it will be for you.

Soy and linseed loaves are a standout due to their high polyunsaturated fat content thanks to the presence of linseeds.

Polyunsaturated fats have been shown to have a number of long-term health benefits including helping to reduce inflammation in the body.

Bread has been a dietary staple for thousands of years.
Bread has been a dietary staple for thousands of years. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

While wholemeal bread does contain more dietary fiber than standard white bread, it is still a high GI choice.

And Turkish is perhaps the worse bread of all, with its mixture of large serving sizes, holes that readily get filled with butter or margarine, and large amounts of white flour – giving it its high GI and carbohydrate load.

Another a popular choice, sourdough does have a lower GI than regular white bread.

Serving sizes

But keep in mind that the serving sizes of sourdough tend to be large, which may be contributing to a kilojoule overload if you are trying to lose body fat.

The average adult will need just two to four slices of bread each day and be mindful of the increasing sizes.

Some large, thick slices of bread can contain up to double the amount of carbohydrates and are really not necessary for the majority of us who would ultimately like to drop a few extra kilograms.

White bread is a staple food in the diet of many Australians with almost 60 per cent of all bread consumed a white variety.
White bread is a staple food in the diet of many Australians with almost 60 per cent of all bread consumed a white variety. Credit: Getty Images

White bread

Commonly found as sliced ​​loaves in supermarkets, white bread is a staple food in the diet of many Australians, with almost 60 per cent of all bread consumed a white variety.

White bread has a base of refined white flour, in which wholegrains have been processed so both the bran and germ component of the grain are removed.

As a result, white bread also has a relatively high GI, meaning that it is associated with blood glucose peaks relatively quickly after eating.

Wholemeal bread

Unlike white bread, wholemeal retains more dietary fibre and nutrients, as the entire wholegrain has been used to make the flour, but milled to create a flour with a slightly darker appearance.

A fiber-rich option, the only down side of wholemeal bread, compared to wholegrain, is that the processing of the flour means that the glycaemic index is higher than wholegrain varieties of bread.

Unlike white bread, wholemeal retains more dietary fiber and nutrients
Unlike white bread, wholemeal retains more dietary fiber and nutrients Credit: Getty Images/EyeEm

Rye

Ranging from light rye to dark pumpernickel, the healthiest variety of rye bread will be made with up to 50 per cent rye flour, signified by a relatively dark loaf.

Most commercial forms of rye bread tend to be blends of wheat and 15 to 20 per cent rye flour.

So, where possible, seek out darker breads and as high a percentage of rye as a flour base as possible.

Sourdough

When it comes to bread and nutritional value, sourdough is a tricky one.

The slow fermentation phase involved in making sourdough helps to reduce the GI or digestion rate, while also increasing nutrient availability and digestibility.

But sourdough made using only white flour still lacks the nutritional density of wholegrain bread.

In addition, sourdough slices are notoriously large, with the average slice equivalent to two small slices of wholegrain bread.

For this reason, opting for small slices of wholegrain or rye sourdough is important.

Whole grain

Breads made with wholegrains are nutritionally denser, with higher amounts of dietary fibre, protein and key nutrients including zinc, B group vitamins and vitamin E.

As a general rule of thumb, the greater the number of wholegrains, and the denser the bread overall, the higher the nutrient content will be.

Wholegrain breads also have a lower GI than both wholemeal and white breads, as it takes the body longer to digest the grains, helping to slow the release of glucose into the blood stream.

Close-up of salted egg shrimp in flour tortilla gourmet with freshly squeezed lime on a rustic wooden table
Close-up of salted egg shrimp in flour tortilla gourmet with freshly squeezed lime on a rustic wooden table Credit: Karl Tapales/Getty Images

Low carb

The number of low-carb, high protein loaves and wraps is growing quickly.

Most lower carb loaves have been made using higher protein flours or additions such as soy, along with extra seeds and grains, that help reduce the overall carbohydrate content.

It is also important to note that low-carb breads are generally not low calorie.

Wraps

Wraps are often considered healthier and lighter alternatives to bread.

But the reality is they are only as healthy as their base ingredients, and most have a relatively high GI.

That’s thanks to their dense carbohydrate content and the refined flour used to create the dense consistency of the wrap itself.

Wraps can also be extremely large and contain more than 50g of carbohydrate in a single wrap, the equivalent of more than three slices of wholegrain bread, so watch your portions and opt for mini’s where you can.

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