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Slice of life

Bread is the first thing you are told to drop when you are on a diet. But not all breads are bad for you, notes Colleen Braganza.
Hindustan Times | By Colleen Braganza, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2008 11:17 AM IST

When Advertising professional Nayantara Mehra joined a gym to lose some weight, the dietician there handed her a diet plan that Mehra looked at and gagged. No, she wasn't against increasing her intake of fruits and vegetables and soups and all the healthy stuff that we all intend to eat but somehow never get down to doing.

The diet plan had ample options for her meals. But there was one catch: she was banned from eating bread! Now Mehra lived on bread. She loved it. In fact, she firmly believed that the best thing since sliced bread, was, well, sliced bread. She registered her protest with the dietician, who relented. Eat bread, but stick to brown or multi-grain bread, her dietician said.

Empty Calories

Most of us know by now that we must avoid white bread because it is made of nothing but pure, processed flour that has been stripped of anything remotely useful to our bodies, like fibre, wheat germ, bran and vitamins. As nutritionist Naini Setalvad says, white bread is just empty calories.

So it's no wonder that bread is one of the first things we give up when we want to lose weight. "Commercial bread has maida, which is processed flour, and preservatives that make it fattening.

So, when people are on a health programme, we do tell them to avoid bread for breakfast and opt for dalia, cereals and vegetables instead," says nutritionist Dr Shikha Sharma. Not only that. The commercial white bread that so many of us still dig into every morning contains additives to ensure it stays soft and white - chemicals our bodies can well do without.

"There is a 3-4 day gap between the time commercially made bread leaves the factory to when it reaches your table. Because of that, bread manufacturers have to resort to additives to keep the bread soft and to ensure it lasts," says Sharma. Le Marche, Vasant Vihar, Aurobindo Ashram, Whole Foods, New Friends Colony, Wengers, Connaught Place, Choko La, Khan Market, Bisque, Central Arcade, DLF Phase II, Gurgaon

But the truth is with more and more people short of time to cook proper meals, a sandwich is the best thing that can happen to them. "I don't have the time to roll out chapattis for breakfast or dinner It's good enough that I have time to eat at all," says Mehra.

But nutritionists believe all bread is not bad. "In the end, though it's always better to eat chapattis, I do not ask my clients to cut bread from their diet," says Setalvad. She simply asks them to look for the right kind of bread. "The best kind of bread to eat is rye, oat, ragi, whole wheat and multigrain bread," says Setalvad.

This is because these breads are not made from refined, processed flour and therefore are more nutritious than white bread since they come intact with vitamins (vitamins B and E) and minerals (potassium and magnesium). These breads also contain a good amount of fibre that help you feel full for a longer period. But opting for whole wheat/brown bread is easier said than done, as Mehra found out to her dismay .

She tried commercially produced brown bread but suspected that it wasn't whole wheat bread but bread made of regular white flour with colour added to make it look brown. It turned out she was right. "A lot of bread manufacturers add caramel colour to make ordinary bread brown... The problem is that the rules in India are not very strict and labelling is not given much importance.

Fortunately, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is strengthening its rules," says Kainaz Messman of Theobroma, a patisserie in Mumbai. But this doesn't mean you cannot get authentic whole wheat bread and eat it too, says Dr Sharma. "There are many neighbourhood bakeries in every city that make lovely, authentic brown bread," she says (see box). That brings us to the sheer varieties of healthy breads available in stores across Mumbai and Delhi. The varieties are too many to document but here's a rough guide.

Whole wheat bread:

Depending on how reliable the manufacturer is, whole wheat bread is generally made of 100 per cent whole wheat - bran, wheat germ, vitamins, fibre and all. This bread is high in fibre, so it makes you feel full faster, making you eat less. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a few years ago showed that eating white bread could expand your waistline but those who ate whole grain foods, such as whole wheat bread, did not have the same gain in waist size.

Multi-grain bread:

This bread is made of a mix of six or seven different grains like jowar bajra, barley and soybean. "Some producers import their multi-grain mix, but we make our flour from scratch," says Messman. She adds that multi-grain bread usually contains 20 per cent white flour for gluten, a protein that gives bread its shape and structure. Oat/bran bread: These breads are also made of 80 per cent oats/bran and 20 per cent white flour, that is added for the gluten content. Hi-fibre bread: This is bread enriched with natural fibre from vegetables like carrots or beetroot - that accounts for its slightly sweet flavour

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