The bread aisle of the supermarket has exploded in recent years and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to choose a bread for your family. Bread is also a staple that most kids enjoy, so you want to try and choose something that delivers on nutrition.
We can widely categorise bread into white, wholemeal and wholegrain varieties - within each of these categories there is now a fair amount of choice.
Somewhere between the low carb trend and the “clean eating” phenomenon white bread got a bad wrap. First and foremost I want to point out that all bread varieties deliver on nutrition and can be included in a healthy balanced diet. All bread varieties are a great source of B vitamins and carbohydrates, an essential fuel for our bodies.
White bread is made by removing the outer husk of wheat and finely milling it into a flour. The outer husk contains a lot of fibre as well as many of the other nutrients found in wheat, making white bread varieties naturally lower in both fibre and nutrients (B vitamins, vitamin E and zinc to name a few). I think most of us would agree that the processing of white bread delivers a mouth feel that most of us find appealing, and kids even more so. Therefore it’s not surprising to me that for kids, who are motivated by not much else outside of taste, the desire for white bread is strong. To compensate for the reduced fibre in white bread (and recognising that many kids prefer white) there are now many high fibre white options available. These are generally made by adding ingredients such as wheat fibre, soy flour or guar gum (all forms of soluble fibre).
As a dietitian I have noticed a trend to fortify many of the foods kids find appealing with added soluble fibre (often inulin) - think sweet biscuits, muesli bars and alike. Whilst this is a helpful strategy to improve fibre intakes amongst kids in particular, it should be noted that you need both soluble and insoluble fibre for optimal gut health. Insoluble fibre (some like to call this roughage) is found in seeds, nuts, the outer husk of cereals and fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibre, like the name suggests, does not dissolve in water. It adds bulk to your stools and improves removal of waste from your gut. I see many kids who are getting lots of soluble fibre through fortified foods and alike but are lacking in insoluble fibre which is still causing them gut issues.
Sourdough is a variety of (usually) white bread that’s worth a special mention. Yes we all went a bit crazy trying to make it ourselves at home during lockdown, but that aside, if you enjoy the slightly sour taste then you might like to know that it’s also low GI (Glycaemic Index) meaning it releases glucose more slowly into your blood stream. This is notable, as most white bread is high GI. The long fermentation process also makes traditional sourdough suitable for those following a low FODMAP diet.
Wholemeal breads are made by grinding the entire wheat husk into a flour. Wholemeal flour therefore naturally contains more fibre and nutrition. Wholemeal is often the ideal choice for kids as it lacks the “bits” of grainy bread, and has a smooth mouth feel.
It also has a lower GI than white bread, meaning it delivers glucose more slowly into the blood stream.
Multigrain bread is a variety that often causes confusion. Multigrain bread is usually still made from white wheat flour but has added seeds or grains. It delivers more nutrition than white bread but I’d honestly skip this category and go straight to the wholegrain varieties.
Wholegrain bread is made from wholemeal flour that then has added seeds and or grains mixed through it. It gets the highest points for nutrition as it’s loaded with fibre, protein and nutrients like vitamin E and B vitamins as well as being low GI. It’s your best choice, but I know many kids really don’t enjoy the texture or the taste - and that’s ok!
What about fortified breads?
Since 2009 Australia has had mandatory fortification of wheat bread with iodised salt and folic acid. This has been a huge public health campaign that’s made significant inroads into the health of the nation. Before mandatory fortification of bread it was estimated that up to 60% of women of child bearing age were getting inadequate iodine, that’s now fallen to 9% whilst intakes of folate have increased by over 100%. Adequate iodine is vitally important for preventing neurological problems in children and folic acid is associated with preventing neural tube defects in pregnancy. It should be noted that breads labelled as “organic” are exempt from fortification.
Aside from mandatory fortification, there are now breads available fortified with novel nutrients such as iron, calcium and fish oils. If you’re worried that your child’s diet is low in these nutrients then choosing to use products with extra fortification can be helpful.
What do I choose?
It’s worth noting that kids will learn to eat from what is offered. When my kids were younger, Bakers Delight Cape Seed loaf was my go to bread. I still love it because it delivers on both nutrition and taste. No surprises here though, as my kids have made their way out into the world they have discovered white bread and become more fussy and demand to have what they see everyone else with. This means I’ve had to compromise a little which is perfectly fine, because I truly believe that all food fits within a healthy diet.
My go to bread is now Wonder Wholemeal with Iron. I think the iron fortification in bread can be really useful for young kids that may still struggle to eat meat. My kids are all pretty good with meat, but I like the extra fortification. I also buy one loaf of white bread a week so my kids know they are heard. Most recently I’ve been giving them “Wonder Wholegrain Smooth White”. This is a hybrid between a white high fibre and a wholemeal loaf and I really quite like it. It contains 18% wholegrain flour (yes I know, not much, but it’s something) and also contains added wheat fibre and acacia gum to boost the (soluble) fibre content. I also like that this bread has a faint hint of “brown” colour. I think this can be useful for kids who are stuck on white bread as it may help them make the transition to wholemeal.
On the weekends we are quite likely to buy a loaf of sourdough - white if the kids get their request and a seedy wholegrain variety if I get my choice. Toasted seedy sourdough with avocado, feta and a poached egg makes a great weekend lunch or brunch.