Bread has been a staple of the human diet since ancient times. Primitive people baked flat breads 12,000 years ago by mixing flour and water and baking them in the sun.
It is the Egyptians who are thought to have discovered how to make risen bread with a starter made from wild yeast. Today, bread is sometimes demonized as a carbohydrate source that makes people fat, and is often the first thing thrown out by dieters. Some argue that industrial bread production means too many preservatives, additives and salt, making it unhealthy. But bread can be a good source of both carbohydrates and whole grains that are needed in a balanced diet.
Different breads have different properties. Instead of avoiding bread altogether, knowing what is in each slice and watching how much of it you eat each day is usually the healthier course.
So, what's in your bread? Various types of flour are used in bread making. Whole meal flour is made from whole wheat grains, while white flour is made only from the central part of the grain, the endosperm.
Whole meal bread are digested slower than refined white bread carbohydrates, and so keep you going for longer. Whole meal bread usually also contains more fiber and nutrients like vitamin B, calcium and iron, which tend to be lost in white flour refining process - although some of these ‘micronutrients’ must now, by law, be put back into white flour after milling.
Salt is needed to control yeast growth, make dough stretchy and enhance flavor. Factory-baked loaves may contain additional ingredients such as sugar, oil, vinegar, emulsifiers, preservatives and flour treatment agents.
Most bread is made on an industrial scale using a technique – the Chorleywood method – using high speed mixing among other things to rapidly speed up baking process. A standard white loaf is a widely popular choice but there is nothing in the world like the taste of fresh homemade bread. But is there a nutritional difference between homemade or shop bought?
While homemade 'Easy white loaf' simply has white flour, dry instant yeast, salt, water and oil, an average factory fresh white loaf also contains other ingredients; in addition to more fats and salts, about four times the sugar than in homemade breads. Whereas, shop-bought bread provides same amount of fiber, which helps digestion, there are more carbohydrates, fat and protein them.
For something with a little less additives and processing, it is a better choice to make an easy white loaf at home. And here is a way to make homemade bread even healthier: You could swap 25 percent of the white flour for some whole meal, and then add some seeds. This will increase fiber and good fat intake.
Easy white bread
Put 400g white flour, a tsp fast-action yeast and a tsp fine salt in a bowl, pour in 300ml warm water and stir everything together into a sticky shaggy mass.
Cover with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes.
With slightly oiled hands, ease dough out onto a patch of oiled surface. Lightly oil the inside of the bowl. Take an edge of dough furthest from you in one hand and with minimal pulling, simply fold it over, to meet edge nearest to you. Press the heel of your other hand down onto and into the dough, stretching it away from you by 5-10cm.
Give it a clockwise quarter-turn and repeat 'folds towards you, push and gentle stretches away from you' action. Repeat no more than 8-10 times so as to not tear it. Return it to bowl.
Do not add more flour, even if it seems wet; that is exactly as it should be. Repeat light kneading twice at 10-minute intervals, and finally return it to bowl to prove for 45 minutes.
Dust a work surface with flour, pat dough into an oval and roll it up tightly. Place the dough seam-side down on a floured tray. Cover with a cloth and leave until it increases in size by a half – about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat an oven to 220C.
Flour the dough- top, cut a slash down the middle and bake for 35–40 minutes.
If flavors are your thing, then toss in up to 200g of cubed cheddar, or some well-drained pitted olives and a handful of chopped herbs and you will have one of those ‘wow’ breads you see in the best bakeries.
Who should avoid breads: Counting your calorie intake is a good idea to lose weight. It is not just carbohydrates but the fats added to it that pile on calories. Simply cutting out carbohydrates, especially less processed ones like whole meal bread, may not be the healthiest way to diet.
Some people avoid bread because of intolerance for wheat itself, or to a protein found in wheat and some other grains called gluten. A smaller number of people are allergic to wheat and for them, bread can still be on the menu – it just needs to be made with wheat-free or gluten-free flours, such as rice, corn, potato, or polenta.
White: Wrapped, sliced white bread is soft and longer-lasting. But try whole meal for a healthier alternative with fewer additives.
Bagel: Bagels are tasty, chewy and increasingly popular. But they tend to be high in calories and sugar.
Whole meal: A nutritious food that's high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Try also granary and seeded loaves.