Light the fire, put the kettle on and pop one of your favourite types of bread into the toaster – winter is here!
But hang on – before you do, can you be sure that the innocent slice of bread is vegan?
Not vegan? It’s basically just flour, water and a little yeast – what could possibly go wrong when choosing your favourite baked indulgence?
Well, actually there’s more to consider than you might think when it comes to choosing which bread may or may not be suitable.
You see, to maximise profits, food companies have a few crafty ways to keep costs down – and you coming back for more. And many of these ways are not necessarily compatible with a vegan lifestyle.
In this article, I’m going to cover what you need to look out for when buying bread, as well as ways to incorporate it into a well-balanced diet that will help with any fitness goals that you might have.
Things to avoid
So, here’s the low-down on what to look out for. And just to re-emphasise, none of the following need to be used to make yummy, wonderful bread. If you want to go above and beyond the basic bread recipe and make your own, there are plenty of vegan alternatives that will add excellent structure and taste (shown next to each).
- Eggs – used to help thicken and give texture to the dough (vegan alternative: flax or chia seeds).
- Milk, whey, casein, ghee – used as a flavour enhancer and to add the soft structure to the dough (vegan alternative: banana, plant-based milk – soy, almond).
- Honey – used for added sweetness (more addictive). (vegan alternative: banana, applesauce, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, maple syrup).
- Gelatin – used to give the dough structure – makes it stretchier (vegan alternative: Agar, Irish moss).
Less common non-vegan ingredients
- Cream – helps to add structure and flavour to the dough (vegan alternative: banana, plant-based milk).
- Enzymes – used to break down the proteins and carbohydrates into sugars which helps the yeast to do its work. Most are plant based, however, a few, such as rennet and trypsin are sourced from animals (vegan alternative: lactase, papain, pectinase).
- Omega 3 – as you probably already know, mainly sourced from fish – used as a health fortification (vegan alternative: plant-based omega 3)
- Enriched flours – vitamins are added to white flour to offset the loss by the refining process. Many of these may be sourced from animals, but each has its own vegan alternative. If unclear which is which, the best advice would be to seek advice from the supplier.
Bread and fitness
Not something that you’re probably used to hearing, but yes, maintaining a portion controlled diet that is in line with your health and fitness goals and includes bread is possible!
Bread is a great source of energy, providing carbohydrates, one of the most important nutrients to the human body. This micro-ingredient does a number of things, including:
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the brain and muscles – allowing us to function longer and work harder.
An aide to muscle growth
Eating sufficient quantities of any carbohydrate with lead to an increase in the production of glucose for energy, which will free up any protein for muscle repair and building.
Glucose plays an important role in the production of insulin, a hormone in the body that helps shuttle the nutrients into the muscles. This is vital for the growth and repair of muscles after training, as proteins (as amino acids), fats (as fatty acids) and carbohydrates (as glucose) are absorbed into the muscle and fat cells.
Bread and health
Like any food choice, there is the good and the bad. Like many sources of carbohydrate, bread has traditionally been given a lot of negative press. There is a general assumption that carbohydrates are inherently bad for you and result in weight gain or illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes.
The reality is that any food group can be of poor quality or may be eaten to excess, resulting in health problems. On the other hand foods like bread may also be enjoyed without guilt and may even help you to reach your health and fitness goals. The main considerations include:
Choice of bread
There is so much choice of bread out there. Here is a list of those that will provide you with the most health benefits – and also taste great:
- Spouted bread
This type of bread uses sprouted or germinated grains. This means that the protein content is much higher and the number of anti-nutrients (molecules that prevent absorption of nutrients) are lower. A great example is Ezekiel bread, which also has no added sugar.
This bread is considered to be one of the healthiest around due to the presence of lactic acid and wild yeast, instead of the regular baker’s yeast which is used in other bread. This alternative mix results in the better absorption of nutrients into the body, as well as providing a distinctive taste and texture. Be careful though, because most commercial sourdough loaves are fake, as the bakery only uses a small fraction of the sourdough starter, before reverting to regular baker’s yeast, which is much cheaper. Our advice? Find a good recipe online and make your own.
- 100% whole grain
Bread labelled in this way ensures that you are eating bread with all parts of the grain kernel. This leads to higher satiation, increased levels of nutrients such as iron, vitamins, healthy fats, protein and also dietary fibre.
When to eat it
There is much controversy about the value of nutrient timing, in other words, when eating bread will maximise the benefit for your body.
What’s certain, is that during and after exercise, your body needs to fuel, repair itself and recoup all of the energy you expended during the session. It makes sense, therefore, that the body will readily absorb carbohydrates far more quickly within a few hours of a workout. The conclusion? Plan to snack on bread for about an hour and a half either side of your workout.
Maximising your gains
Here are some of the scrummiest toppings for your toast – and some of the best ways to maximise the health benefits of your snacks:
- Nut kinds of butter
A perfect source of good fats and with as much as 25% protein, nut butter are a great choice. All types, including almond, peanut and cashew nut butter are packed with minerals such as calcium, iron and also B vitamins.
A nice complement especially if eaten with a nut on your bread. A great source for potassium and B vitamins.
The avocado is one of the only fruits to contain super healthy monounsaturated fat, as well as a range of minerals and vitamins. Surprised to see avocado being mentioned as a fruit? In fact, it’s a large berry with a single seed. Nutritionally, avocados are more like a vegetable and are listed as such in the USDA sites.
Chia, flax and hemp seeds are a great addition to nut butter or avocado. All three contain heaps of heart-healthy omega 3 fats, as well as protein, calcium, other minerals and vitamins. Flax seeds are also the best source of lignans, which are antioxidants and may have a role in cancer prevention.
- Houmous (hummus)
Made from cooked and mashed chickpeas, I’m addicted to this stuff. A good source of protein, with as much as 16%, as well as a whole host of vitamins and minerals. This is also one of the easiest things to make in a blender, so can be super cost-effective!
- Bean pates
Like houmous, cooked beans of any sort can be mashed, together with seasonings, garlic and olive oil, to create fantastic, protein-rich spreads.
5 of the best vegan bread brands
- Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Vegan Whole Grain Bread
Contains all the grains, such as millet, wheat, barley and spelt, as well as legumes such as soybeans and lentils. This means that it comes with a whole host of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats – and fewer of the sugars and anti-nutrients that are associated with other, cheaper loaves.
- Dave’s Killer Organic Bread
Full of 21 whole grains and seeds, which means that this tasty loaf is packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and good fats. Like the Food for Life’s Ezekiel bread above, it is certified non-GMO, meaning that all ingredients are free from pesticides, genetically modified organisms and food additives.
- Crank’s Proper Organic Seeded Farmhouse Bread
Packed full of protein-packed seeds and low in sugar, this great organic loaf is one to go for if you live in the UK.
- Biona Organic Rye Bread
Biona produces a range of organic rye loaves. Super tasty, especially when toasted, these loaves come in various guises, including those with additional pumpkin seeds, amaranth, chia or flax seeds.
I always enjoy this bread most with peanut butter and marmite – lovely!
- Arnold Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat
This loaf is a great, tasty example of a whole grain bread. Low calorie, with around 100 calories per slice, this can fit into anyone’s daily macro-count without bumping up the scales.
Summary – Guilt free carb loading!
I hope that from reading this article you can be convinced of the benefits of adding quality bread to your dietary regime.
To be honest, before I followed a plant-based diet, I used to be allergic to any form of carbohydrate, even fearing that a measly 80g of sweet potato would result in me piling on the pounds around my waist and losing any muscular definition that had taken years to acquire in the gym.
After becoming vegan, I soon realised that this was nonsense. Admittedly, each body is different and has its own intolerances and physical anomalies. However, in my case, I did not experience any such fat gain and in fact, struggled at times to keep on the weight.
My carbohydrate intake, which includes bread, is now at around 3-400 grams per day, which has resulted in no problems in retaining strength and muscle mass.
By choosing a quality bread, you will enjoy a great snack between meals, topped with additions that will add extra health benefits.
My closing advice to anyone is not to believe what you read (even from me!). Try for yourself and see what works for you.
And now that winter is closing in, there’s nothing better than an afternoon cup of tea in front of the fire, together with a slice or two of your favourite toast. 🙂
What are your favourite vegan toasted combinations?