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How to choose bread

Your guide to which bread is right for you.

We’re encouraged to eat six or more serves (1 slice of bread = 1 serve) of cereals and breads every day (including rice, pasta, breakfast cereals and other grains), as they provide carbohydrate for energy, fibre for digestive health, some protein and a range of vitamins and minerals.

Most breads are low-fat and low-sugar. A bread with a high seed content will have more fat in it as seeds are around 50% fat. However, they are healthy fats, so don’t let that put you off. Fruit bread is higher in sugars thanks to the added fruit.

These days we know white bread is ideal for toddlers and pre-schoolers, who can’t digest fibre as well as older children and adults.

But, for most of us a wholemeal or whole grain bread is what we need for everyday use.

Whole grain bread usually describes bread made using wholemeal flour and often some white flour, with some other whole grains added, like kibbled (broken) grains of wheat, barley, oats or rye.

Wholemeal flour is made by grinding the whole grain kernel – which includes the endosperm, germ and bran of the grain – into a fine light brown flour. Because it contains all parts of the grain, this can also be described as whole grain. Wholemeal bread describes bread made mostly with wholemeal flour.

The amount of whole grains in different breads will vary. Molenberg uses standard wheat flour and kibbled (whole) grains which provides a nice bridge between a soft white bread, which young children will be used to. A heartier grainy bread like the Baker’s Delight Cape Seed Loaf uses wholemeal flour, seeds and grains.

Including whole grain breads and cereals in your diet helps protect you against developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Eating whole grains has also been linked to better weight control.

To find whole grains you’ll need to read the packaging and especially the ingredients list. Terms to look for include: whole grain, whole wheat, stone ground (grain), rye, kibbled (grain), brown rice, barley, oats, millet.

These contain all parts of the grain. Remember that ingredients are listed in order of weight, so better sources of whole grains have them listed earlier.

It may surprise you that on average, bread accounts for around one quarter of all the salt (sodium chloride) in our diets. Salt is important in bread making as it adds flavour and lightens the texture of the bread, but the amount can vary considerably.

We’re advised to try to limit our sodium intake to 1600mg a day, so have a look at the amount of sodium you’re getting from two slices of your preferred bread and check there isn’t a better option in that style. This is especially important for anyone with high blood pressure.

The Tip Top Goodness range includes products with added nutrients. One of their white breads has added iron and fibre, which they suggest is suitable for vegetarians.

For anyone (other than young children) only consuming white bread – which is not recommended – you might as well choose one with added fibre. It won’t be as good as choosing whole grains, but it’s probably better for your gut than white bread without added fibre.

By the same token, many women don’t get enough iron so a fortified bread may help.

The best sources of long chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are fatty fishes like sardines, tuna and salmon. Often we don’t get as much of these as recommended for good health and a fortified wholemeal bread, like Tip Top Goodness wholemeal + omega-3 could help with that.

Wheat is the most commonly used grain for making bread because of its relatively high gluten content, which produces a lighter bread.

People with coeliac disease are not able to digest gluten and eating grains with gluten damages the lining of their intestine, which then interferes with the absorption of almost all nutrients. As a result people with coeliac disease must adhere to a life-long gluten-free diet.

Fortunately there is now a good range of gluten-free breads available. Unfortunately, as the grains used are not as cheap as wheat, and production tends to be on a smaller scale, they are also usually more expensive.

The glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods based on their effect on blood glucose.

Low-GI foods are digested more slowly and blood glucose increases gradually, whereas high-GI foods are rapidly digested and blood glucose increases more quickly.

Once people start using whole grain breads they find white breads don’t fill them up as well, or for as long. That’s because whole grain breads are generally lower-GI and white breads are higher-GI.

While the GI is a useful tool it’s just one thing to consider when choosing foods (for example potato chips and chocolate are generally low-GI because the high fat content slows their digestion).

More whole grains: White bread is for kids. For everyone else, your daily bread should be whole grain. There’s a huge variation in how ‘grainy’ these breads are, so if you need to you can ‘wean’ yourself or the family onto them. When making sandwiches, you can even start with one slice white, one slice whole grain. It’s worth the effort: once you’re a whole grain bread eater you’ll never look back!

Less sodium: Compare the sodium content of different breads. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure or know you may be at risk of it.

More fibre: More whole grains in a bread will provide more fibre. The target is 28g fibre a day for women and 38g for men. Most of us get considerably less than that, so the more fibre you get in your daily bread the better.

Note: Fresh unwrapped breads are not required to carry nutrition information, but you can always ask for it. For Baker’s Delight breads, the nutrition information is available on their website

Wondering why your bread that used to have the Tick doesn’t any more?  In February this year, the Heart Foundation Tick Programme toughened its nutrition criteria for sodium in bread by reducing it from 430mg to 400mg per  100g.

This is considerably less than most breads. The Heart Foundation is working with the Ministry of Health and the food industry to reduce salt in processed food. Currently around 75-85% of New Zealanders’ salt intake comes from processed foods.

Date modified: 27 December 2020
First published: Aug 2007


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