In the Western world, bread with its excellent source of complex carbohydrates forms part of basic nutrition. In ancient times bread was manufactured using grains such as emmer and einkorn resulting in a dark, coarse and heavy consistency. These days baking has evolved to such an extent that one could be forgiven for being confused by the varieties of bread available today and their respective health benefits.
The most common bread available in your local superparket is undoubtedly White Yeasted Bread made from wheat.
Wheat is the ideal grain for baking, its high starch content combined with gluten gives it the elasticity we have grown to expect from white, soft bread. In terms of nutritional value, whilst it is true that wheat it is fairly high in B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, calcium and copper, the extensive processing and genetic modification adopted in the production of white yeasted bread strips the grain of some of its nutritional value.
Further, highly refined bleached flour is used in the manufacture of such breads, so the milling and bleaching process also removes or at the very least partially removes most of the goodness naturally found in the grain such as the germ, bran, vitamins and minerals.
This would explain why many white yeasted breads make claims such as 'added thiamin'. Ironically, to make up for this depletion bakeries add back some of the nutrients – it is then sold as “enriched” bread! Doesn't it just make much more sense to just eat the whole grain in the first place?
White yeasted bread is leavened using baker's yeast. This is largely due to mass production and the need to keep costs low and profits high.
Wholegrain or Wholemeal Yeasted Bread is generally made from refined flour to which the bulk of the bran and wheat germ removed by the milling process has been put back in. Look out for “Stoneground” varieties, as this indicates that the grain has been ground on a traditional millstone. This carries health benefits as it means that the wheat germ has not been exposed to excessive temperatures which cause oxidisation and loss of nutrients.
The bran in wheat grain contains a substance called phytic acid which can reduce the absorption of some minerals including calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium. When wholemeal flour is combined with bakers yeast and quickly baked into bread, the rapid fermentation process hinders the conversion of phytic acid thus preventing the nutritional value of the grain from being 'unlocked'.
The parts of the grain like wheat germ and bran that have the health benefits are taken out to create white flour and then partially added back in to make whole wheat. The best way to get nutritional value is through a whole grain bread, not whole wheat.
Many bakeries promote sourdough bread. Be aware, unless the bread is naturally leavened it is little more than slightly improved white-yeasted bread.
The process is not dissimilar to the white yeasted loaf described above, the only distinction being that the baker will add some fermented dough from the previous bake. This fermented dough will have the slightly sour tang of a traditional sourdough, but apart from a potentially better flavour yeasted sourdough is no better for you that regular white yeasted bread.
If you want to get the best nutritional value out of your bread eat 100% genuine wholegrain sourdough. The natural fermentation of the sourdough changes the nature of the starches in the bread, creating a more beneficial bread.