B(re)aking bread
The debate on which is healthier, brown or white bread, has been on since 2,000 years, from the time of Hippocrates

The aroma of fresh bread is truly irresistible. Bread consumption over the years has been on the increase both in urban and rural settings. In fact, the number of varieties which one sees these days is mind-boggling. There are eateries specialising only in bread making. What is it about bread that makes it such an all-time favourite through generations all over the world; for many even a craving!

Unleavened bread like chapattis was the first bread. The inventions of leavened bread are attributed to the ancient Egyptians. It became a staple of the standard European/American diet. Leavened bread is prepared with yeast or baking soda to make the dough rise before baking.

Usually, bread is named after the grain from which the flour or meal is derived. There are also a variety of flavours and seasonings added. These could range from garlic, cheese, onion, rosemary, dill, sundried tomatoes, pesto, olives, sesame and poppy seeds. Many varieties available also indicate the ethnic diversity of bread: buns, rolls, bagels, baguettes, focaccia, multi-grain, sourdough and whole wheat/brown are a few of the varieties popular in India.

A diversity of flours, including oats, soybean, barley, millets, ragi etc. can also be added to whole wheat flour to make different kinds of breads.

In the US, many bakers may use powdered cellulose to bake bread. It is a non-calorie filler used to lower calories of the bread. In India, breads are being made with alternate flours, other than maida, to lower their glycemic index. Wheat flour is ideal for leavened bread because wheat contains gluten, a protein that becomes sticky when mixed with water. Dough made from wheat flour is elastic enough to rise, as bubbles of carbon dioxide become trapped, thus creating light-textured bread. In contrast, breads made with only low-gluten flours will tend to be heavy (dense).

Most of the time, bread (depending on the ingredients used) is much less fattening than high-sodium/fat foods such as processed meats, cheese and fried foods. However, slathering butter, margarine, or mayonnaise on a slice of bread doubles its calories.

However, bread itself can be fattening or not also depends on its glycemic index (ability of food to raise blood glucose). Breads made with more refined flour have a high glycemic index, as compared to multi-grain breads or those made with wheat, atta or other coarse grains. People, who are diabetic or obese and are on controlled carbohydrate diets, must avoid breads made with refined flour because of its high glycemic index. At times, these people are even told avoid bread altogether by their dieticians.

Hippocrates: The father of medicine advised his health patrons and patients to follow the practice of their servants and eat whole wheat bread "for its sanitary on the bowel."

White bread is prepared from bleached flour (maida), which is highly refined (purified). Milling and bleaching removes or partially removes the germ (nutrient-rich part of grain) and the bran (fibre-rich part) leaving behind mainly the starch-rich endosperm. This leads to loss of more than 22 important nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, and minerals. In advanced countries of the world, flour is so widely used that some bakeries follow flour enrichment and replace four vitamins namely: thiamine niacin, riboflavin, and iron. Other nutrients, such as Vitamin B6, zinc, manganese, and folic acid, are not added. Since in these countries, white bread contains nearly half a gram of fibre a slice, some bakeries increase the fibre content by adding dates, raisins, bran or purified powdered cellulose. Crystalline cellulose may not provide the same fibre benefits in the body as the natural cellulose that occurs in the bran of whole wheat bread.

Whole-grain breads provide two or three gm of fibre per slice. Bread labelled "whole wheat" must contain 100 per cent whole wheat as the first listed ingredient. Bread simply labelled as "wheat" or "cracked wheat" often contains white flour (may be maida) as the major ingredient; the brown colour of such bread may be due to caramel or artificial colouring. Bread labelled "multigrain" may simply mean that the bread contains mainly refined wheat flour with small amounts of oatmeal, rye, or whole wheat. The label should indicate whether caramel colouring has been added to give the bread a more wholesome (brown colour) appearance.

The colour and texture of bread are also indicators of whether the bread is genuinely whole wheat/whole grain:

  • Firstly, anything darker than the colour of roti is sure to be coloured artificially.

  • Secondly, anyone, who has even the slightest of idea about bread baking, would know that baking a soft, light loaf of bread with whole-wheat bread is nearly impossible. Therefore, if the brown or whole-wheat bread chosen is soft and light it is unlikely to be significantly whole wheat.

  • Also ask for "whole wheat" not brown if you want an atta bread and not refined flour (maida) with colour.

Health Capsules

Breakfast cereal tied to lower BMI for kids

Regularly eating cereal for breakfast is tied to healthy weight for kids, according to a new study. The study endorses making breakfast cereal accessible to low-income kids to help fight childhood obesity. One in every four American children lives in a food insecure household where breakfast isn't a sure thing, says study's lead author Dr Lana Frantzen.

Air pollution kills more people than AIDS, malaria

Air pollution is an underestimated scourge that kills far more people than AIDS and malaria. A shift to cleaner energy could easily halve the toll by 2030, say U.N. officials. Investments in solar, wind or hydropower would benefit human health and a drive by almost 200 nations to slow climate change, blamed mainly on a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from use of fossil fuels, they said. Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the UN Industrial Development Organisation, said most victims from indoor pollution, caused by wood fires and primitive stoves in developing nations, were women and children.

A 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) study found that 3.5 million people die early annually from indoor air pollution and 3.3 million from outdoor air pollution. Toxic particles shorten lives by causing diseases such as pneumonia or cancer. Smog is an acute problem from Beijing to Mexico City. More than 6 million deaths every year caused by air pollution. "The horrible thing is that this will be growing because of rising use of fossil fuels," said Yumkella. By comparison, UN reports show there were about 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths in 2011 and malaria killed about 660,000 people in 2010. Solutions were affordable, the experts said. "If we increase access to clean energy ... the health benefits will be enormous," Yumkella said.

Strict school lunch standards tied to healthy weight

Strict school lunch standards that are similar to new regulations from the US Government may be tied to healthier body weights among students, according to a new study. "It's evident that healthier school lunches have a positive effect but it's preliminary evidence. It's far from definitive," said Anne Barnhill, who studies food policy at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia but was not involved with the new research.

Party drug may harbour addiction risk

A party drug available over the Internet and often taken by young people in Britain and the US may harbour unknown risks because it has both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects, scientists have said. Researchers who analysed the effect of the drug called "Benzo Fury" on the brains of rats found it had similar effects to some illegal drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine, which can cause hallucinations and are also addictive.

Teens can sleep off their excess weight

Adolescents can battle obesity by increasing their sleep duration to ten hours each night, according to a new study. Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found fewer hours of sleep is associated with greater increase in adolescent body mass index (BMI) for participants between 14 and 18-years-old.The relationship between sleep duration and BMI remained even after adjusting for time spent in front of computer and television screens and being physically active.

The findings suggest that increasing sleep duration to 10 hours per day, especially for those in the upper half of the BMI distribution, could help to reduce the prevalence of adolescent obesity. The study observed over 1,000 Philadelphia-area high school students from their freshmen through senior high school years.

Based on the results, researchers suggest that increasing sleep from 8 to 10 hours per day at age 18 could result in a 4 per cent reduction in the number of adolescents with a BMI above 25 kg per square metre. Each additional hour of sleep was associated with a reduced BMI for all participants,

Smoking may impair kidney function among teens

Exposure to tobacco smoke could negatively affect kidney function in teenagers, researchers warn. Researchers examined the association between exposure to active smoking and kidney function among US adolescents and found the effects of tobacco smoke on kidney function begin in childhood.

"Tobacco use and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke was associated with lower estimated glomerular filtration rates, a common measure of how well the kidneys are working," said a senior researcher from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was published in the journal Pediatrics.