Bread and superbread

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  • Updated:15 Sep 2006

02.Whole grains and dietary fibre

Whole grains

The claims

  • “Wholegrains … provide a whole range of benefits for our wellbeing, including the protective benefits of dietary fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants.”
  • “Wholegrains are less processed and contain a variety of beneficial nutrients.”
    - BURGEN Rye
  • “Contains wholegrains to help maintain a healthy heart and digestive system.”
    - TIP TOP 9 Grain

The facts

  • There’s very good evidence that eating whole grains in bread and cereals helps protect you against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.
  • ‘Whole grains’ doesn’t just mean the little bits in multigrain bread that can get between your teeth. The whole grains can be milled into wholemeal flour or processed in other ways that retain the nutritious bran and germ.
  • The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals that are concentrated in the outer layers of the grain are mostly lost when it’s milled to make white bread flour.

The verdict

  • Bread made from whole grains is the best you can eat, and the evidence matches the claims.
  • However, some of the ‘wholemeal’ bread we found in supermarkets was made from a mixture of wholemeal and refined white flour.

Dietrary fibre

The claims

  • “Fibre helps keep you regular and helps maintain a healthy digestive system.”
    - TIP TOP Up Calcium & Hyfibe
  • “… to help maintain a healthy digestive system.”
    - TIP TOP 9 Grain
  • “Beneficial for maintaining good digestive health.”
    - BURGEN Rye

The facts

Experts recommend that we aim to eat at least 30 g of fibre a day. Nearly all the special breads we looked at give you plenty of dietary fibre. But it doesn’t all come from whole grains. We found breads with the most fibre have it boosted with various supplements. Some of these supplements don’t contain insoluble fibre, the kind associated with keeping your digestive system healthy.

  • Psyllium husks (COUNTRY LIFE BAKERY Performax, MOORES Rye and Wholegrain Low GI). Psyllium’s rich in soluble fibre and there’s strong evidence it can protect against heart disease. But you’d need about 10 g a day to see a significant benefit, much more than you’d get in a few slices of these brands of bread. It would be cheaper to buy psyllium separately from the supermarket (about $4 for 200 g).
  • Guar gum (BAKERS DELIGHT Hi-Fibre Lo-GI, TIP TOP Up Energi, WONDER WHITE + Calcium, WONDER WHITE Low GI and WONDER GOLD + Iron). Also called ‘vegetable gum (412)’, it’s a form of soluble fibre that’s used a lot in processed food as a thickener. There’s strong evidence that it can protect against heart disease (if you eat enough of it) and it lowers the glycaemic index when it’s added to bread.
  • Inulin (COUNTRY LIFE BAKERY Biomax) is extracted from chicory roots or made synthetically from ordinary sugar (sucrose). It counts as dietary fibre under the Food Standards Code but there’s little evidence that it provides the same health benefits. It may reduce your risk of bowel cancer, but only if you eat a lot more of it than you’d get from regularly eating a few slices of bread. But it’s a prebiotic (meaning that it can boost the numbers of useful bacteria in your gut).
  • Hi-maize is a much-promoted ingredient of WONDER WHITE breads. It’s made from a special variety of maize that’s rich in resistant starch — a form of starch that’s not broken down by our digestive enzymes. It has some of the health attributes of dietary fibre and counts as dietary fibre under the Food Standards Code. So if your kids really won’t eat wholemeal bread it’s better for them than regular white bread.

The verdict

  • Bread with these supplements is probably better for you than white bread with a lot less fibre of any sort, although you don’t get the other health benefits that come from whole grains.
  • However, much of the evidence for the health-promoting properties of dietary fibre comes from studies in which the fibre was in the form of fruit, vegetables and whole grains — not supplements like the ones added to these breads.

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