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The truth about bread

When it comes to the benefits or otherwise of bread, there is a mountain of contradictory information which grows every day with the people’s subjective opinions.

Some say it makes you fat, that white bread should be avoided, that sliced white bread is particularly bad because it is full of sugar and salt – and they point to studies that seem to support the case.

Others are keen to put white bread in the same category as sugar and white rice, as refined or ultraprocessed carbohydrates and each as bad as each other.

Yet when we look at the longer-term statistics for obesity in the UK, a curious anomaly arises: namely, as per capita bread consumption has roughly halved, obesity levels have all but doubled.

If bread is the root of all obesity ills, then how can this be the case? A closer look into the make-up of bread itself offers a few telling clues.

Let’s take the issue of sugar. While it’s certainly possible to find bread with higher sugar content, in general it contains no added sugar, unlike bread in the USA.

Even where it is added, such as in some wholemeal loaves to balance the slightly bitter taste from the bran, the amount is normally around 1%. And bear in mind that anything below 5% is formally classified as a low sugar food.

Where confusion often arises is over labelling. Bread labels generally indicate a content of sugars in the range 2% to 4% - but they don’t say that these are usually naturally occurring sugars present in flour, or resulting from the fermentation process as yeast converts starch into maltose to sustain itself.

As for salt, most mainstream sliced bread contains around 0.9 – 0.95%. Its reputation tends to come as a result of bread being a single food group which is heavily consumed.

This means that despite the fact that salt levels in the UK have been reduced, and is relatively low compared to other bread-consuming countries, it contributes to 14% of estimated average sodium intake according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

On its own, this makes for worrying reading. However bread also provides around 12% of energy, 12% of protein, 19% of fibre and between 10-20% of minerals such as calcium, iron, folate, thiamine, zinc and others.

In other words, it’s always worth considering the bigger picture when it comes to bread. It’s called the staff of life for a reason!


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