Best Breads for Healthy Digestion
It's no secret that I'm pretty passionate about digestive health. In 2014 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and it made me acutely aware of just how crucial a healthy digestive system is to whole body health- both physical and mental.
The health and fitness industry is an industry of trends, and in recent years gut health has really been placed in the "spotlight" and for good reason. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system (did you know 70% of your immune system is in your gut?) , to heart health, brain health, even to mental health. It impacts your sleep and your energy, your hormones, and your body's ability to maintain a healthy weight.
More and more people are beginning to pay closer attention to their digestion and to how their body reacts to the consumption of specific foods.
Bread- in particular, can prove to be problematic for many people. Bread is a staple food in many countries and has been eaten worldwide for millennia, but despite its widespread popularity, it is often characterized as unhealthy or harmful, particularly in the case of individuals who have autoimmune or digestive illnesses such as celiacs disease, IBS and IBD (Ulcerative colitis and Crohns). This is largely due to either the gluten in bread ( a mixture of two proteins that gives bread dough it's elasticity) or the fact that most whole grains can be hard on the digestive system.
If you have found, in the past, that bread bloats you, upsets your stomach, makes you sick, or gives you otherwise negative side effects upon consumption, consider that it might not be ALL bread, just the TYPE of bread you were consuming.
The following are three types of bread that are easier to digest:
#3: White Bread
Unlike whole wheat bread, which includes all three parts of the wheat berry: the outermost layer (bran), the innermost layer (germ), and the starchy part in between (endosperm), white bread includes only the endosperm. White bread is comprised of this processed, refined wheat flour, called “white flour” or “bread flour." This means white bread has less fiber, vitamins and minerals.
For most people this is a bad thing, but for people with digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis this CAN, sometimes, be good. Less fiber means white bread is much easier to digest. On the other hand, it also means white bread breaks down into glucose more quickly and can spike your blood sugar if eaten on its own.
One thing to watch is the presence of FODMAPS in white bread. Fructans, for example, are OFTEN present in bread. And some breads (particularly gluten free white breads) have added FODMAP ingredients such as apple juice, pear juice, agave, or chicory root which can aggravate your stomach.
Another bummer is that the flour used in white breads can be bleached with chemicals such as potassium bromate or chlorine dioxide gas which can cause problems.
If you’re going to go for white bread be VERY cautious when reading the ingredients and be sure you understand what EVERY SINGLE THINGS LISTED is, and what it does in the body. If possible try to buy organic and be sure to top your toast with some healthy fat like ghee, nut butter or coconut oil to help keep your blood sugar stable.
#2: Sprouted Grain Bread
You might have noticed this type of bread popping up on more and more grocery store shelves but sprouting is not a new fad. It’s an ancient way of preparing grains that dates all the way back to biblical times. Sprouted grains are grains that are soaked in water until the begin to grow a sprout. This process helps REMOVE the "antinutrients" naturally present in grains, which are compouonds that make it hard for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals present in the grain itself. These compounds can also cause digestive issues. Once sprouted, the grains are ground, combined with gluten, and leavened with yeast.
Sprouting is also said to activate enzymes, which help break down starches in the grain, lowering the carbohydrate content, increasing protein content and making the grains easier to digest.
Sprouting may also reduce the oligosaccharides in the wheat and other grains, but when tested, these types of bread still had too much fructose in them to be low-FODMAP. So keep that in mind.
Typical ingredients: sprouted wheat, sprouted barley, sprouted millet, sprouted lentils, sprouted soybeans, dates, raisins, wheat gluten, yeast, salt.
#1. Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is my winning pick for you to try if you have digestive issues or digestive illness. Monash University (leading university in Australia, known for it's research on gastrointestinal health) has recently stated they believe sourdough bread to be the BEST viable option for those with IBS/IBD.
Sourdough bread is primarily known for its distinctive taste but like sprouting, the souring of dough is actually a traditional practice that enhances the nutritional value of the bread.
A true sourdough bread is leavened with a sourdough “starter”. The starter is made from flour and water that has been left to sit out for several days. During this time the wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria naturally present in the flour ferment. The fermentation makes the vitamins and minerals in the flour more digestible, which is why its a suggested try for those with IBS/IBD. As a nice added benefit the fermentation lowers the sugar content – which can be helpful for people with blood sugar control issues.
Additionally, research shows that sourdough preparation significantly lowers gluten content, so this type of bread could be an option for people with gluten sensitivity.
The bacteria-yeast combo also helps predigest some of the starches in the grains, which means less digestion for you. This could also be why some research indicated sourdough bread to be better for people suffering with digestive issues like IBS.
Even those without digestive illness claim eating sourdough doesn’t come with the oh-so-attractive bloating and gas that often follows a typical slice of bread.
Although the baking process kills most of the live bacteria, some research has shown that even dead bacteria can offer health benefits similar to live probiotics in foods like raw sauerkraut and kimchee.
Better nutrient absorption, easier digestion and less gluten are the main reasons why this would be my number one suggestion for anyone with IBS/IBD looking to try bread.
A word of caution: Be aware that most commercially made sourdough breads are not fermented. They just taste sour thanks to flavoring agents. If you want to be sure your dough is legit, the ingredient label should list a sourdough starter.
Studies listed below if of further interest: