Low-GI bread – the staff of life

Bread has been the "staff of life" since Biblical times. Until quite recently South African consumers had to make do with white, brown or wholewheat bread, with the odd loaf of rye as a variation.

This situation has changed dramatically. Now that low-GI (low glycaemic index) foods and diets are all the rage, bakers have come up with a variety of low-GI and other health breads that will fulfil most people’s needs.

Low GI
Low-GI or low-GL (low glycaemic load) breads have the advantage that they don't make your blood sugar or insulin levels shoot up as is the case with white and standard brown and wholewheat breads.

For this reason, low-GI breads are suitable for anyone with insulin or blood sugar problems, such as individuals with:

  • Obesity, especially resistant obesity
  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) that is usually also linked to insulin resistance and/or metabolic syndrome
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Slow release of energy
The most important characteristic of low-GI breads is that they cause a slow, steady release of energy and keep you feeling full for longer. This will counteract cravings and help to stabilise blood-sugar levels to prevent hunger pangs and overeating that can cause obesity.

The low-GI effect is achieved by adding soy flour, other soybean products and a variety of different seeds or nuts to bread. Many of these new breads also have an increased dietary fibre content, which bakers obtain by adding additional wheat bran, crushed wheat or oat bran to their breads.

Some breads already list their GI or GLvalues, for example the three Woolworths breads listed in a separate article on Health24 have GL values of 15 to 18 per two-slice serving. Presumably the other three varieties listed also have a low GI and GL.

High fibre content
As mentioned above, low-GI and other health breads have a high dietary fibre content varying between 7.2 g to11.4g per two-slice serving (i.e. between 36% and 57% of the suggested dietary fibre intake per day).

Most of this fibre is of the insoluble variety, which will stimulate bowel function and prevent constipation. Woolworth’s Low-GI Omega-3 Wholewheat bread is an exception with its high insoluble fibre content. Insoluble dietary fibre helps to lower blood fat and cholesterol levels.

Good fats
Like most other types of bread, all these health breads are free of cholesterol and care has been taken to ensure that they're also practically free of any harmful trans-fatty acids.

Most of the fat in low-GI breads is of the polyunsaturated variety, which also helps to protect the heart. Breads that specifically contain omega-3 fatty acids will have an even more protective effect. A two-slice serving of Woolworths Low-GI Omega-3 Wholewheat bread contains 134 mg of EPA and DHA, or 13.4% of the suggested daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. You'll be doing your heart a favour when you eat low-GI and/or omega-3-enriched breads.

Added benefits
On some of these health breads it's stated that they're suitable for strict vegetarians. For example, all the ingredients in the Daybreaker Low-GI True Whole Wheat Brown Loaf by Sasko are derived from plants, and even the emulsifiers are of vegetable origin and the enzymes used in baking are of non-animal origin.

Strict vegetarians can, therefore, use this type of bread without having to worry that it contains any animal products.

People with wheat, gluten or soya allergies will unfortunately not be able to make use of these low-GI health breads. They're all baked with wheat flour and have other wheat products (e.g. crushed wheat, wheat bran etc.) added to them to increase their dietary fibre content and lower the GI.

The soy flour that's added to these breads to further lower the GI makes them a no-no for people suffering from soya allergies.

As one would expect, all these low-GI breads cost more than standard brown or wholewheat bread. The prices range from R7.89 to R13.95 per loaf of 15 slices (or about eight servings).

If you suffer from insulin resistance or diabetes or raised cholesterol levels, then you'll have to pay more for your bread, but considering the benefits that you'll obtain with lowered blood sugar and insulin levels, less constipation, weight loss, lowered blood fats and improved satiety, it's worthwhile to spend more on your staff of life.

Click here to view the nutritive contents of some of the low-GI breads available in South Africa.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, September 2008)

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