Enjoy Whole Wheat Bread this Month

Whole Wheat Bread

Did you know that January is national wheat bread month? There is something magical about bread. Whether it is hot out of the oven, toasted and spread with butter, dipped into a steaming bowl of soup, or enveloping your favorite sandwich - it is easy to see why it is such a staple food. In the US, wheat makes up about 16% of our diets! Whole wheat is also a traditional dietary staple in the Mediterranean, making it part of the health-promoting Mediterranean diet. Whole grains, including whole wheat, have been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and improved weight maintenance. Whole wheat contains nutrients such as vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, fiber, and even antioxidants!

Yet, despite its potential health benefits, wheat has gotten a bad rap over the last five to ten years, from claims that wheat is the culprit behind the obesity epidemic and chronic disease to the idea that whole wheat is no better than refined wheat. Popular media found a way to influence many Americans to jump on the low-carb bandwagon or avoid wheat all together, thinking they are allergic or sensitive to the grain.

The truth is, while some individuals have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergies, this does not mean that wheat is unhealthy for everyone. Studies show that in many cases, wheat and gluten have become scapegoats when there is actually something more complex going on. It is true that many Americans eat too much refined wheat in the form of highly processed packaged foods like pastries, cookies, pizzas, and crackers, which can lead to weight gain and complicated health issues. These foods can be enjoyed, but on occasion and in moderation. However, 100% whole wheat can be part of a healthy diet on a daily basis, providing many nutritional benefits. So why not indulge in some healthy whole wheat bread this month.  

Grain PartsWhat Makes Whole Wheat Whole?
Whole wheat includes every part of the kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran and the germ contain most of the fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. To be called a “whole grain” the product must contain all three parts in their original amounts. Refined wheat, on the other hand, contains only the endosperm, removing the bran and the germ, thereby removing many important nutrients.

To Bake or to Buy?
Try your hand at baking bread this month! Home-baked bread costs a fraction of that purchased at a market. On top of that, your house will smell wonderful and you will thank yourself with every bite. You can experiment with various additions like seeds, sliced olives, or dried fruits. If you are not able to finish the bread within two days after baking, slice it and store it in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag to maintain freshness. When ready to enjoy a slice, pull out and pop in the toaster or thaw until soft. If you choose to purchase your bread instead, read the labels. If the front of the package label reads “multigrain,” “stoneground,” or “wheat flour,” it might contain whole grain, but it might not. If it does, it may only be a very small amount. Instead, look for the phrase “100% whole wheat”. If the front of the package does not indicated that it is a 100% whole wheat, then look at the ingredient list and search for “whole wheat” (or other whole grain) listed as the first ingredient.

Other Ways to Use Whole Wheat
Don’t limit your use of whole wheat to just bread. Think of other foods you normally eat that are made with flour and try substituting whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour, if not already doing so. Substitute whole wheat flour for refined flour in pizza crust, muffins, pancakes, and cookies. Look for recipes that include whole wheat already, or if you have a favorite recipe that currently uses refined flour, experiment with different ratios of whole wheat to refined until you find your favorite ratio. For the most health benefits, try to aim for a 50/50 ratio or a higher ratio of whole wheat to refined. If you find that traditional whole wheat is not the right fit for your recipe, consider whole white wheat instead, which has a lighter color, softer texture, and sweeter taste.

In addition, remember, while this article focus on wheat, don’t forget that variety and moderation are key to a healthy diet! Choose from a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, farro, and bulgur and include a variety among all food groups- fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. But, most importantly, take time to enjoy!

More on Bread

Experiencing the aroma, texture, warmth, and taste of your own homemade loaf of whole wheat bread, can be so rewarding! Yet the baking process can be intimidating, especially for Coloradoans, since we all live at elevations above 3000 feet.

Kneading breadBaking above 3000 feet
We see a big impact from increased elevation when baking yeast-based breads because the structure of the bread dough is so important for a high quality product. Yeast, a leavening agent, produces carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the dough by the protein strands, giving the bread its desirable rise and texture. Higher elevation results in lower atmospheric pressure, which allows the gases to expand faster. This would seem like a good thing, but when the structure of the dough is not stable enough for quick rise, the bread loaf will collapse. The baker’s goals are to develop an elastic dough structure, ensure leavening agents produce gas for rise, and capture it so the baked loaf of bread has the sought-after airy texture. Recommended modifications for baking at higher elevation help provide stable dough structure. Recipe modifications for several products affected by living at higher elevations, including yeast bread, are available on the Higher Altitude Food Preparation brochure from CSU Extension.

The protein, or gluten, in flour builds the dough structure. When baking yeast bread, incorporating flours with higher protein will strengthen dough structure, and making the taste and texture of the baked bread quite pleasing. Whole-wheat flour has more protein than white flour, which has had the outer bran removed. Flours that work well at sea level will also work well at higher elevation; they simply absorb liquid at different rates. This is because another impact from living above 3000 feet is that our air is drier in Colorado. Liquids boil at a lower temperature and evaporate faster. For baking yeast breads, this translates to modifying recipes to include more liquid or less flour to compensate for loss of moisture.   

Sprouted wheat
Flour milled from sprouted grains follows a historical process that is regaining popularity for bread making. Sprouting refers to encouraging growth of the whole grain, much like germinating a seed, to boost enzyme activity, which helps benefit the nutrient profile. Commercial loaves made with sprouted flours will likely advertise the word “sprouted” on the label, yet there is not a regulated definition of sprouted grain. Sprouted grains and sprouted flour, like their un-sprouted counterparts, should still be cooked for safe consumption.      
Sprouted grains often boast benefits to the baked product, including nutrition and health attributes, ease of digestion, as well as a pleasant texture and taste. If sprouted whole grains are new to you, check Sprouted Whole Grains from the Whole Grains Council for a quick overview. Flour made from sprouted grains are “sprouting” up all over the grocery store.

Yeast and bacteria
In addition to the recent interest in the traditional practice of sprouting grains, desire to make sourdough and no-knead bread are on the rise (excuse the pun!). With each of these old practices, becoming new again, there are concerns for safety in bread baking.

Sourdough and no-knead bread are similar in that they both rely on cultivating living yeast for dough development. A sourdough starter develops from setting up a suitable environment for the wild yeast and bacteria that are already present on the flour. Sourdough differs from no-knead bread in that it creates a protective, acidic environment from fermentation activity of beneficial bacteria. Baking bread with sourdough starter produces a slightly sour flavor, in addition to similar health and nutrition attributes as seen with sprouting grains. No-knead bread uses commercial yeast, but instead of physically kneading the dough, it uses time to establish the environment for dough development. Both of these traditional products can be made safely, following tips for best practices on the Farm to Table handout, Sourdough Starter Best Practices. The same concerns about dough stability and moisture loss of baking at higher elevation apply to sourdough and no-knead bread. Follow modification recommendations for your elevation, but most importantly, keep an eye on the dough, keep records of your methods, and enjoy the process of perfecting your homemade bread.

Hyperlinked resources:
Colorado State University Extension. (2013). High Altitude Food Preparation. Retrieved from:
http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/high-altitude-food-preparation-p41/
Oldways Whole Grains Council. Sprouted Whole Grains. Retrieved from:
https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whats-whole-grain-refined-grain/sprouted-whole-grains
Colorado State University Extension, Colorado Farm To Table. (2016). Sourdough Starter Best Practices. Retrieved from: