Everything you need to know about bread #NationalBreadWeek
If you haven’t guessed already, we LOVE bread. There is nothing better than the smell of fresh bread in the morning and a warm slice for breakfast.
To celebrate National Bread Week we have enlisted the help of Dietitian, Juliette Kellow, to tell you everything you need to know about bread!
From bread myths to nutritional facts… find out everything you need to know below.
Bread Myths… Debunked!
Myth #1 Carbs are bad for us
Head into the world of social media and you’d be forgiven for thinking that carbohydrates are the enemy, with many advocates recommending we ditch them in an effort to lose weight and lower our risk of type 2 diabetes. But, while the idea may be controversial to some, health guidelines in the UK recommend we continue to put carbs firmly on the menu1. That’s not to say we should be eating mountains of white pasta, mashed potatoes and long-grain rice, instead, the key is to choose high-fibre, starchy carbs and, ideally, wholegrains. We also need to keep a check on portion sizes, especially if we’re struggling to maintain our weight or want to lose a little. And of course, we should limit refined and sugar-laden carbs such as sugary drinks, confectionery, biscuits, cakes, muffins and doughnuts. Good carb choices include wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice.
Myth #2 Bread is fattening
Bread isn’t the calorie fright many of us think it is – a typical medium slice of bread contains around 90kcal, while thick slices have around 130 calories. To put that into context, UK health guidelines recommend women have 2,000 calories a day and men, around 2,500 calories a day2. Instead of worrying about the bread itself, it’s more important to watch what we put with it. For instance, piling on butter or spread, dipping it into olive oil, smothering it in jam, honey or chocolate spread, or adding thick slices of cheese or mayo-laden fillings to make a sandwich, will seriously increase calories, together with fat, sugar and/or salt.
Myth #3 Bread is full of added sugar
Despite what you might have read, most bread – including white – is actually low in sugar (defined as having no more than 5g total sugars per 100g)3. A typical slice of bread contains around 1-2g sugar per slice – that’s around ¼-½ teaspoon. It’s a small amount when compared with health guidelines in the UK, which recommend a maximum of 30g free sugars per day (the type of sugar that’s typically added to food, as well as honey, syrups and fruit juices)1. In fact, bread provides less than 3% of the free sugars in adult diets in the UK4.
Myth #4 Bread causes bloating
According to a report from the British Nutrition Foundation, there’s little proof that bread – or the way in which it’s produced, whether by modern or traditional methods – causes bloating or any other form of digestive discomfort in normal, healthy people5. People who suffer with conditions, such as coeliac disease, may suffer with gastrointestinal symptoms though, if they eat bread, with bloating being one of the main symptoms of undiagnosed coeliac disease.
Myth #5 Many of us are allergic to wheat so need to avoid bread
Studies suggest as many as 20-30% of us believe we are allergic or intolerant to one or more foods. However, the real prevalence is, in fact, closer to 1-2%6. It you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, then it’s vital to get it diagnosed by a properly qualified health professional. Start with an appointment to see your GP – they will investigate further and refer you to a registered dietitian if they think it’s necessary. It’s important to avoid simply cutting wheat out of your diet without medical supervision – you may end up with an unbalanced diet that’s lacking in certain nutrients or you may mask another underlying health problem that needs investigating.
Myth #6 I have coeliac disease so need to avoid all bread
Coeliac disease affects around one in 100 people in the UK7. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an allergy or intolerance. It’s an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to gluten – one of the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. This damages the lining of the small intestine, which prevents food being digested and absorbed, resulting in digestive symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea and bloating. The only solution is to stick to a gluten-free diet for life, and that means eliminating all foods that contain gluten. This means anyone with coeliac disease needs to avoid bread made with wheat, rye or barley flour. However, they can still enjoy bread if it’s gluten-free. Supermarkets are now full of gluten-free loaves but it’s also easy to make your own, thanks to more and more gluten-free flours and ingredients becoming available. Using a breadmaking machine, such as the Panasonic Hard Crust Breadmaker (£239.99, John Lewis), is ideal for making gluten-free bread, too – if you only use it for gluten-free loaves, you’ll find it easier to avoid cross contamination with gluten-containing ingredients.
Myth #7 White bread contains no nutrients
White bread lacks the fibre of wholemeal varieties, but it still provides energy-providing carbs and a range of vitamins and minerals. White flour is fortified with calcium and iron, which means white bread contains these nutrients. It’s good news as calcium is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and helps the body to absorb vitamin D. Meanwhile, iron is needed for making red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body. This mineral also helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue, keeps our immune system functioning well and is needed for normal cognitive function. White bread is also a source of B vitamins, thiamin (B1) and niacin, which help to release the energy from food and keep the nervous system functioning normally. It also contains a nutrient called manganese, which acts as an antioxidant and so helps to protect cells from damage.
Myth #8 Posh bread is better for you
It doesn’t matter whether your bread is mass produced, from an artisan bakery or made in your own kitchen – it’s all good for you. Research has found the vitamin content of bread baked using modern techniques is very similar to bread baked using more traditional methods and this applies to both white and wholemeal breads4. In particular, making your own bread, either by hand or in a breadmaking machine, means you have complete control over the ingredients that go into your loaf. That gives you the option to make breads healthier if you want to by using wholegrain, high-fibre flours, reducing the amount of salt you add, and mixing in extra nutrient-rich ingredients such as nuts, seeds, oats or dried fruit.
Myth #9 Bread is hard to make
Bread is relatively easy to make as a basic loaf contains just a few key ingredients – flour, yeast, salt and water. It does tend to take a long time though from starting out to seeing the finished product as most doughs need to be left to prove a couple of times. Using a breadmaking machine though means you can make a loaf with only five minutes of your time – just pop all the ingredients into the pan, switch on the machine, leave it to mix, knead, prove and bake, then enjoy a perfectly cooked homemade loaf several hours later!
1 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) Carbohydrates and Health.
2 NHS. Healthy Weight. Understanding calories. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/understanding-calories/
3 NHS. Eat Well. How does sugar in our diet affect our health. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/
4 PHE/FSA (2018) National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015-2015/2016).
5 Weichselbaum E (2012). Does bread cause bloating? Nutrition Bulletin 37, 30-36.
6 British Nutrition Foundation. What is food allergy and intolerance. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/allergy/what-is-food-allergy-and-intolerance.html
7 Coeliac UK. About coeliac disease. https://www.coeliac.org.uk/coeliac-disease/about-coeliac-disease-and-dermatitis-herpetiformis/
8 nutrition facts about bread
- It’s the perfect fit for a plant-based diet
We’re hearing more and more about how plant-based diets are better for both our bodies and the planet. A recent report from the Lancet suggested that promoting a healthier, mainly plant-based, diet will help to prevent around 11 million premature deaths each year, and protect the environment1. The ideal diet recommended in the report includes adding considerably more wholegrains such as wheat, to our diet. Wholemeal bread, made from wholemeal wheat flour, is therefore a great choice to include in a plant-based diet. Providing the bread doesn’t contain any added animal ingredients such as butter, milk, eggs, cheese or honey, it’s also suitable for vegan diets.
- It’s not the sugar horror we’ve been led to believe
In recent years, bread has been highlighted as a food that contains a lot of added sugar. Sweeter breads such as brioche certainly contain more than a standard loaf, and some artisan loaves can be brushed with honey. But most standard loaves contain very little sugar – around 1-2g per slice equal to ¼-½ teaspoon. That’s a small amount when compared with health guidelines in the UK, which recommend we have a daily maximum of 30g free sugars (the type of sugar that’s typically added to food, as well as honey, syrups and fruit juices)2. It’s the obvious sweet foods such as chocolate, sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits and puddings that contribute most of the sugar in our diet. In fact, bread provides less than 3% of the added sugars in adult diets. Confectionery on the other hand is responsible for a massive 28%3.
- It’s low in fat
Most bread is low in fat – it’s the butter or spread we add to it that boosts fat intake. Health guidelines in the UK recommend we have no more than 70g total fat and 20g saturated fat in our diet each day4. A slice of bread contains around 1g fat and around 0.2g saturates, so contributes very little to this.
- It can be a great fibre provider
Wholemeal varieties of bread really help to boost our intake of fibre, which we need for a healthy digestive system and to prevent constipation. Good intakes of fibre are also linked with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer5. Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods helps to fill us up, too, so we feel less hungry which can help us better manage our weight. Most of us fail to get enough fibre in our diet though, having an average of 18g a day3, when in fact, health guidelines recommend almost twice this amount – we should be aiming to reach 30g a day2! Just one slice of wholemeal bread provides almost a tenth of our daily needs for fibre.
- It can boost calcium
Most of us instantly think of dairy products when it comes to calcium-rich foods. Indeed, milk, yogurt and cheese are the main providers of this nutrient, which is needed for strong bones and teeth. However, white flour is fortified with calcium with the result that around a tenth of the calcium in our diets comes from white bread3. In fact, just one slice of white bread provides 8% of our daily needs for calcium. Meanwhile, even though wholemeal flour isn’t fortified with this nutrient, one slice of wholemeal bread still provides 5% of our daily calcium needs.
- It provides iron
Red meat is one of the main sources of iron in our diets. But, as we are encouraged to move towards a more plant-based diet, it’s important to make sure we get enough iron in our diet from non-meat foods. It’s good news, then, that white flour is fortified with iron. This makes bread an important source of iron, especially for teenage girls and young women, many of whom have very low intakes and so are at risk of a potential deficiency3. In fact, a massive 54% of 11-18 year old girls have iron intakes that are exceptionally low3. One slice of white bread contributes around 4% of our daily needs for iron, while one slice of wholemeal bread contributes 7% of our daily needs (wholemeal flour isn’t fortified with iron but it’s naturally richer in this nutrient).
- It provides a range of B vitamins
Most varieties of bread provide thiamin (vitamin B1) and niacin (vitamin B3). These are both important for releasing energy from food and helping to keep the nervous system functioning well. Thiamin is also vital for the heart to function normally, while niacin helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue. One slice of white bread provides just under a tenth of our daily needs for each of these nutrients. One slice of wholemeal bread provides 9% of our daily needs for thiamin and 16% for niacin.
- It’s a main contributor of salt in our diet
Bread manufacturers have worked hard to reduce the salt content of bread over the years and have certainly achieved this. Nevertheless, bread remains the main provider of salt in the food we eat3, with a typical slice containing around 0.4g salt! The daily maximum intake of salt recommended for an adult and children from 11 years upwards is 6g a day, so four slices a day will contribute, on average, around a quarter of this. However, children should have less than this; 1-3 year olds should have no more than 2g salt daily, 4-6 year olds should have a maximum of 3g daily and 7-10 year olds a top limit of 4g daily6. This means, if children are eating toast for breakfast then having sandwiches for lunch, they may be getting a lot of salt in their diet from bread. One solution is to bake your own bread, giving you control over how much you add to the dough. While making bread can be fun – it’s a great thing to do with children – if you plan to bake your own loaves regularly, then investing in a breadmaking machine, such as the Panasonic Hard Crust Breadmaker (£239.99, John Lewis), is a great option. All you have to do is add ingredients to the pan, switch on the machine then let it do all the mixing, kneading, proving and cooking. The result: a perfect, homemade loaf several hours later!
1 Willett, W et al (2019) Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet 393 (10170), 447-492.
2 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) Carbohydrates and Health.
3 PHE/FSA (2018) National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015-2015/2016).
4 NHS. Eat Well. Reference Intakes explained. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-reference-intakes-on-food-labels/
5 NHS. Eat Well. How to get more fibre into your diet. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-get-more-fibre-into-your-diet/
6 NHS. Eat Well. Salt: The facts. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/