Low-calorie bread Catch-22

"Light" may not be right for those trying to lose weight.

Light bread (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Light bread
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
With the festivals over, everyone is frantically trying to shrink their bulging waistline. This brings me to the subject of low-calorie, or “light,” bread. A slice of regular bread contains about 70 to 90 calories, depending on the type, while a slice of low-calorie bread has 30 to 50.
What is low-calorie bread? How is it made? Is it really the holy grail of breads for someone on a diet? What makes bread low calorie is not the type of flour used. The five most common grains ground into flour – wheat, spelt, rye, oats and barley – are all from the similar family of wild grasses. So it is not surprising that the calorie count of wheat flour doesn’t differ substantially from spelt flour, for example. In fact, the five grains are almost identical calorie-wise. It even makes little difference calorie-wise if the flour is white or whole grain (but calories from white flour are absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream than those from whole-grain flour).
So how does one obtain half the calories per volume if not from switching flours? There are two ways, and most low-calorie breads use a combination.
The first is to pump the bread full of air.
If you maintain the same loaf dimensions but increase the air content in proportion to solids, the resultant solids are reduced and hence the calories. Pumping a loaf full of air is done by using different chemical rising agents (in addition to yeast), adding extra air bubbles in the dough. As for the yeast, various enzymes are added to supercharge its performance, resulting in more air from that source. This two-pronged approach doubles or even triples the air content as opposed to regular bread made with a normal yeast fermentation process.
The second method is to substitute noncaloric fillers in place of flour. A common one is cottonseed fiber. This component, while providing bulk, has no nutritive value other than its dietary fiber content.
That all seems to make sense. Everything would be fine if this actually worked and the result was that we lost weight. But in most cases, reality doesn’t correlate with the above logic.
The first problem is that 98 percent or more of low-calorie breads are made with wheat flour to hold their air-saturated form.
Modern wheat is genetically engineered to have higher gliadin content. Gliadin is a major component of gluten, the glue that holds bread together. The more gluten in the bread, the more air you can pump in. However, gliadin (from the family of opiates) is an appetite stimulant. The more gliadin you eat, the more hungry you feel.
Most low-calorie breads are rich in gliadin.
The reason low-calorie breads are mostly wheat and not spelt, for example, is that spelt flour cannot hold the increased air ratio due to its lower gliadin content.
The non-caloric filler causes distension in the intestine, giving the feeling of being full; but since it has no calories, it doesn’t signal the brain to indicate that metabolically speaking you are actually full and should stop eating. So the increased gliadin is telling your brain “Eat more,” and the filler is not telling your brain “Stop!” The result is that most people will not be satisfied with two slices of low-calorie bread and will eat the calorie equivalent of regular bread; or they’ll compensate by adding extra condiments (or walk around feeling hungry).
That’s why when going on a diet, calorie count alone is never the full picture. Only consultation with a qualified clinical dietician will provide you with this full picture. Most dieticians recommend that you should eat the healthiest whole-grain bread possible, preferably not wheat. It will fill you up and satisfy you metabolically and provide the nutrients you need in a balanced diet. In many diets, healthful whole grain bread (not low-calorie bread) is a cornerstone.
So while all the hype surrounding lowcalorie bread may seem to make sense, remember that “All that glitters is not gold.”
While regular bread has double the calories of low-calorie bread, it need not contain more. Simple whole-grain bread with no sugar or extra fat/oil added is still lower in calories than most standard over-thecounter breads that do contain sugar/oil.
✔ 3 cups whole spelt flour
✔ 1¹⁄3 cups water
✔ 2 tsp. salt
✔ 1½ tsp. instant powdered yeast
Mix ingredients in a bowl. Knead for 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes by mixer.
Leave to rise covered for 45 minutes. Punch down. Form into an oval shape and leave to rise in loaf pan for 60 to 90 minutes. Bake at 220º for 30 minutes.
 Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.