By Teresa Cheong for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Department of Dietetics and the LIFE Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group
In Singapore, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to bread. You can choose from a wide array that includes traditional kaya toast and savoury breads stuffed with ham and cheese, potato or mushroom. Or you can have sweet breads filled with coffee cream and pumpkin paste.
But do you know just how healthy or nutritious your favourite bread is?
“For many Singaporeans, bread makes a quick and hassle-free breakfast. But not all breads are the same. They may differ in their nutritional content such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates including sugars,” says Ms Wong Hui Mei, Dietitian at the Department of Dietetics and the LIFE Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.
We’ve all heard that it’s best to choose wholemeal bread over white bread. But what about multigrain bread?
“Wholemeal bread is a rich source of B vitamins with twice the fibre compared to white bread. The term “multigrain” simply indicates that a loaf contains different types of grains, which distinguishes it from whole wheat bread. These grains may be oats, wheat, barley or millet. Multigrain bread can be as healthy as wholemeal bread if whole grains, not refined grains, are used,” explains Ms Wong.
Bread is usually made from white flour or whole wheat flour, yeast, water, sugar and salt. Check the ingredient labels to see what type of bread you are buying.
Wholemeal bread is nutritious because it is made from whole wheat flour produced from milling the entire wheat grain. You get all the nutrients – dietary fibre, antioxidants such as vitamins A and E, essential minerals and B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, folic acid) from the bran (the grain’s outer layer) and germ (inner layer).
In addition, whole grains also contain phytochemicals which may help to reduce risk for conditions such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.
White bread is made from refined wheat flour. During the refining process, the bran and germ are removed, so most of the nutrients that you can get from the bran and germ are lost. What remains is the carbohydrate-laden endosperm (middle layer).
Multigrain bread contains different types of grains and seeds. However, this does not mean that all multigrain breads are nutrient-rich.
Multigrain bread is nutrient-rich if the flour is milled from grains that are indeed 100 per cent whole grain or 100 per cent whole wheat, and the bread is not made from white or enriched white flour.
Adding sunflower seeds, raw flax seeds, rolled oats and barley gives the bread texture and some health benefits, but if these grains are refined and have had the bran and germ removed, the nutritional value is still essentially the same as white bread.
ENRICHED WHITE BREAD
Enriched white bread is white bread that has been artificially enhanced with small quantities of B vitamins (usually vitamins B1 and B3), fibre and minerals (iron and calcium).
The brown colour doesn’t necessarily mean the bread is made of whole wheat or whole grains. Brown bread is white bread with added colouring. Brown bread is a popular choice for traditional kaya toast. It is important for you to check the ingredients and the nutritional value of the bread before you purchase it.
SWEET AND FLAVOURED BREADS
Many bakeries in Singapore offer sweet breads. These are white breads with added fillings such as raisins, sweet corn and custard cream. Often, manufacturers use additional sweeteners such as sugar, corn syrup or honey to make their bread taste sweeter. As these breads are usually high in calories and may not necessarily be nutrient-rich, buy them as occasional treats.
Flavoured breads such as pandan bread are usually enriched white bread with added green colouring from pandan leaves or approved artificial flavours to enhance the taste of bread.
Need help adopting a better lifestyle? The LIFE Centre at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has a multidisciplinary team of experts who can provide you with guidance on weight management, exercise and diet.
Reproduced with permission from SingHealth’s Health Xchange, Singapore’s first interactive health and lifestyle resource portal. For more information, visit www.healthxchange.com.sg.