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Fiber by the slice.

Fiber By The Slice

Presidential candidates may argue over whether our nation is losing its moral fiber. But there's little doubt that we're falling short on dietary fiber.

The average American eats about 10 grams of fiber a day. The National Cancer Institute and an expert panel convened by the Food and Drug Administration say we should be eating 20 to 30 (but not more than 35) grams a day. Colon cancer, constipation, and diverticulosis are just a few of the ills fiber may keep at bay.

Ads for bran cereals carry on as though cereals were the one and only fiber-rich food. Yet virtually all experts recommend getting fiber from a variety of foods, including beans, fruits, vegetables--and bread.

Bread has great potential as a fiber supplier because we eat so much of it. In fact, bread now contributes more calories, more carbohydrates, more sodium, more thiamin, niacin, and iron to the average American's diet than any other food.

Of course, it's really white bread that's so popular. On a given day, about 75 percent of the population eats white bread or rolls, while only 25 percent eats whole wheat or rye. And the usual white bread provides a measly 1/2 gram of fiber per 2-slice serving. It's not a gross exaggeration to say that Wonder bread and its refined cousins are largely responsible for the low-fiber pickle we're now in.

Fortunately, non-white loaves have multiplied in recent years. Products with names such as "Multigrain," "Seven Grain," and "Sun Grain" now abound.

Earthy and robust as they sound, those names aren't good guides to selecting the highest-fiber, most nutritious slices in the store. Most labels omit fiber content, and several major manufacturers, such as Flowers Industries, Heileman Baking Company, and Taystee Baking Company, won't supply the information even if you call or write.

Only a few companies--Pepperidge Farm, Wonder, and Roman Meal--get credit for telling us how much fiber all of their breads contain. At right we publish the most complete fiber listing for breads available.

Foraging for Fiber. Two slices of bread can supply anywhere between 1/2 and 7 grams of total dietary fiber. But the differences don't end there.

Standard 100% whole wheat bread gets its fiber solely from whole wheat flour, typically yielding about 4 grams for two 1-ounce slices. Whole wheat bread is an excellent food. However, the food industry seems convinced that consumers want whole wheat's fiber without its flavor and texture. Accordingly, it has combined white flour--which appears as "wheat flour" on the label--with a variety of fibrous ingredients.

Bran and Berries. In most cases, when a bread label says "bran," "wheat berry," "multigrain," "cracked wheat," or "wheat germ," you're probably getting more white flour than any of those ingredients. Nevertheless, some of these loaves are quite decent.

Among the best is Arnold's "Original Bran'nola," which combines white flour with wheat bran plus whole wheat, oats, rye, and barley to reach a total of 6 grams of fiber in two big slices. Ounce for ounce, that's comparable to 100% whole wheat bread.

But other brands compare poorly to whole wheat. For example, two slices of Pepperidge Farm's "Honey Wheat Berry" and "Honey Bran" breads offer only 2 to 3 grams of fiber. The caramel color helps to disguise the fact that they contain a lot more white flour than wheat berries.

Bleak Horizons. In 1977, "low-calorie, high-fiber" Fresh Horizons brought comedy to the bread aisle. That's when consumers learned--from newspaper articles, not ads or labels--that the bread's fiber--listed as "cellulose" on the label--came from wood pulp.

In 1985, NAH blew the whistle on eight similar "light" breads (September/October 1985). Oven Fresh's "40," Sunbeam Lite, Roman Meal Light, Interstate Brands' "Lite," and W.E. Long's "Vim" breads still appear to get their cellulose fiber from wood pulp.

In contrast, Wonder's Light and Schmidt's "Less" breads get their fiber from finely ground soybeans or corn bran. These and other "light" breads have slightly fewer calories because the largely indigestible--and therefore largely noncaloric--fiber replaces some of the digestible flour.

Several companies continue to lie about how much fiber their "light" breads contain. According to the labels, "Less" and "40" contain "400 percent more fiber than whole wheat bread." Those false claims are based on a method of analyzing fiber content--a crude fiber analysis--that works well for paper and textiles, but gives wildly inaccurate results for the dietary fiber in food.

In fact, some "light" breads have as much fiber as whole wheat bread--4 grams in two slices. But Interstate Brands' "Lite" and Schmidt's "Less" fall short of this figure.

Whether it's soy, corn, or wood pulp, can the fiber in "light" breads help prevent colon cancer? Theoretically, yes. But whole wheat or rye flour is a surer bet. That's because the best human evidence linking fiber and colon cancer comes from Scandinavian countries, where people eat whole wheat and rye breads and cereals.

Another factor to consider is that the wood, soy or corn fiber added to "light" breads is ground almost to a powder in order to make fluffy white slices. It's possible that finely ground fiber may not offer the same protection as fiber in its coarser, more natural state.

Fruits and Nuts. By adding fruits and nuts to white flour, Pepperidge Farm has produced a variety of loaves that have more fiber than white bread. For example, its "Date Walnut," "Raisin Walnut Cinnamon Swirl," and "Honey Wheat & Raisins" breads all have about 3 grams of fiber in two slices.

Unfortunately, these products also contain more fat than other breads. While two slices of most breads contain 0 to 2 grams of fat, the fruit & nut breads have 4 to 6 grams, and "Date Walnut" has 7. That's less than you'd get in a serving of ground beef (16 grams) or cheese (13 grams). But breads are supposed to be one of the low-fat foods that balance out the fattier foods in our diets.

It would be understandable if the added fat came from the nuts alone. But Pepperidge Farm's "Oat & Honey Granola bread," for example, has more partially hydrogenated soybean, palm, coconut and/or cottonseed oil than nuts. (Incidentally, it also has more sugar than honey.)

With its line of Five Star Fibre breads, Pepperidge Farm taps new sources of fiber, such as fig paste, citrus pulp, pea fiber, beet fiber, lupine flour (from a white bean), apple fiber, oat fiber, and orange peel. Fiber levels in Five Star Fibre breads surpass those of whole wheat bread, supplying 5 to 7 grams in two slices.

Unfortunately, misleading ads imply that the difference between whole wheat and Five Star is much greater (see page 8). And like Pepperidge Farm's other concoctions, Five Star Fibre breads are also Four-or-Five-Gram-Fat breads.

The Five Star Fibre ads also tout the breads' soluble fiber content--1 to 2 grams in two slices. (Soluble fiber is good for lowering blood cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels; insoluble is thought to help prevent cancer and constipation.) True, that's more than the 1/2 gram of soluble fiber you'd get in whole wheat bread. But if you eat whole wheat bread with an apple or an orange--each has 1-1/2 grams of soluble fiber--you'll get just as much fiber, and no extra fat.

Fiber Isn't Everything. Fiber isn't the only difference between white and whole wheat bread. Compared to white bread, whole wheat--which comes complete with the wheat germ and bran--has more vitamin E, B-6, pantothenic acid, zinc, copper, chromium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

In effect, when companies add bran, wheat germ, or wheat kernels to white flour, they're recreating whole wheat flour. Presumably, the end product may be as nutritious as whole wheat. But since most companies don't analyze their breads for most of these nutrients, no one knows for sure.

Sodium is one other factor to consider in choosing a bread. Most brands contain 250 to 350 milligrams in two slices. Rye and pumpernickel often hit 450 mg. Compared to TV dinners, canned soup, or processed cheeses, that's not high. But the milligrams add up if you eat several slices a day.

Fortunately, sodium levels are listed on most bread labels. Just remember to check the serving size, because while some bakers say a serving is one slice, others use two.

The Bottom Line. Considering fiber, fat, and other nutrients, here are the Five Best breads we found:

* Pepperidge Farm 100% Whole Wheat

* Pepperidge Farm Sprouted Wheat

* ARnold's Bran'nola Original

* Earth Grains Gold 'N Bran

* Earth Grains 100% Whole Wheat

All have at least 4 grams of fiber, no more than 3 grams of fat, and no more than 300 mg of sodium in two slices. Our selections were limited to those companies that sent fiber information. If they don't send 'em, we can't rate 'em.

We didn't select a "Five Worst." That's because all breads are fairly low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates and, as a nation, we should be eating more of them. Some breads are clearly better than others, but none are terrible. It's a good idea to switch around, so you don't get tired of a basically good food.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Apr 1, 1988
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