Despite the growing number of gluten free breads now available, gluten free bread still hasn’t managed to replicate the taste, texture and nutritional qualities of bread made from wheat.

Why can’t gluten free bread be more like wheat bread? Because gluten is the key to most of the properties that make wheat bread so popular. Replicating these properties in gluten free bread means using several kinds of flour and additional ingredients. This also means differences in the nutritional value found in gluten free bread compared with gluten containing bread. To find out what you get when you eat gluten free bread, we compared two supermarket home-brand white sliced loaves and two supermarket home-brand gluten free white sliced loaves.

Let’s imagine that two people – we’ll call them Amelia and Jack – are making sandwiches for lunch with white sliced bread. Jack is on a strict gluten free diet. Amelia can eat gluten.

Amelia is already ahead on price. She only had to pay $1.40 for a standard 650 gram loaf compared to Jack paying $4.50 for a 525 gram loaf. See Cost of a Gluten Free Diet.

When Jack eats two slices of gluten free bread, he’s actually eating more bread (in grams) – and more calories (or joules) of energy – than Amelia. A slice of gluten free bread is thicker than a gluten containing slice. It’s also likely to be around one-third heavier. In other words, three slices of gluten free bread weighs the same as four slices of wheat bread.

Both our diners eat about the same amount of protein, depending on which supermarket they shop at. The same goes for carbs. But Amelia’s two slices of bread contain less than one-third of the fat that Jack’s two gluten free slices contain, around 1 gram compared to 3.6 grams. And Jack eats at least twice as much sugar as Amelia does, say 4.8 grams compared to 2.0 grams. Jack’s gluten free bread slices also contain more salt than Amelia’s gluten containing slices.

So Amelia’s wheat bread habit doesn’t just mean she’s ahead on price. She’s also eaten less fat, sugar and salt than Jack although they’ve had two slices of bread each. Jack may be disappointed to learn that the law requires Amelia’s wheat bread to be fortified with vitamins (thiamin and folic acid) but not his gluten free bread.

When you’re on a strict gluten free diet, you can’t choose and it could be a while yet before better gluten free breads appear on your supermarket shelves. See Gluten-Free Bread – Possible?

So, what can you do right now?

Accepting that gluten free breads are less healthy than wheat bread, you can start to manage the rest of your daily diet to counter the extra fat, salt and sugar in gluten free bread.

If you decide to eat less bread, you could switch to open sandwiches, or salads and soups accompanied by one slice of bread rather than two. Or you could vary your choice of treats to include some that are lower in fat, salt and sugar. Try avocado, mustard or hommus in sandwiches instead of margarine. If you’re concerned about thiamin and folic acid, it’s best to read the ingredients list – some gluten free breads contain these vitamins and some don’t. A qualified dietitian will help you make the most of your limited food choices and find a good nutritional balance that doesn’t mean you have to give up treats completely.

Contributor: Nancy Mills

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