Ask the Nutritionist: Nutritional quality of rye bread depends on the flour

  • The nutritional quality of rye bread depends on the type of flour used to make it. Dark rye bread, such as pumpernickel, is often a whole-grain product, but light rye breads frequently contain mostly refined flour.

    The nutritional quality of rye bread depends on the type of flour used to make it. Dark rye bread, such as pumpernickel, is often a whole-grain product, but light rye breads frequently contain mostly refined flour. Thinkstock

 
Updated 3/2/2015 11:42 AM

Q. Rye bread is highlighted as part of the new Nordic diet that is supposedly so healthy. Is rye bread a whole grain?

A. Just as with wheat bread, the nutritional quality of grain -- rye bread depends on the type of flour used to make it. Dark rye bread, such as pumpernickel, is often a whole-grain product, but light rye breads frequently contain mostly refined flour. Scandinavian-style rye flatbread crackers are often whole grain. Check the list of ingredients and look for the words "whole rye" to top the list, since that is the primary ingredient.

 

You don't need to restrict yourself exclusively to whole grains, but they do provide much more nutritionally than refined grains. With all their extra fiber, vitamins B-6 and E, magnesium, zinc, and protective plant compounds (phytochemicals), it's smart to choose whole grains for most of your grain products.

Whole grains vary in nutrient and phytochemical content; each has something to offer. All whole grains are high in fiber and help reduce risk for colorectal cancer. Whole-grain rye tends to be especially high in lignins, which some studies suggest might play a role in reducing breast cancer risk. Like other whole grains, rye contains natural compounds, including phenolic acids, alkylresorcinols and others, that limited studies suggest could affect cell signaling, gene expression and antioxidant defenses to reduce cancer risk. Since much of this research has been in isolated cells and animals, we need more studies. Meanwhile, don't misinterpret the latest interest in rye as suggesting you give up on whole wheat and other whole grains. Let it be a reminder of the potential benefits of making a variety of whole grains part of your daily eating habits.

Q. If 100 percent juice is the recommended choice, why is the sugar content on some still so high?

A. The reason sugar content is high even in 100 percent juice is because listed grams of sugar include all forms of sugar, including those that occur naturally in the fruits. But a product labeled 100 percent juice means it contains only juice or juice concentrate with no added sugars. Choosing 100 percent juice helps you avoid "empty" calories, which means the natural sugar and calories come with some combination of vitamins, minerals and natural plant compounds (phytochemicals).

Navigating juice labels requires careful reading. For example, "100 percent cranberry juice" must be exclusively cranberry juice; "100 percent juice, cranberry" cannot contain added sugar, but may be a blend of several juices, and cranberry need not dominate. Since the juice of some fruits, like grapes, tends to be naturally higher in sugar and sweeter tasting than an equal amount of other juice, producers often use grape and apple juice concentrates as the primary juice in a blend, even when the label lists another fruit, such as cranberry, peach or raspberry, as the juice flavor and name. Read the label.

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Juice drinks or cocktails -- not 100 percent juice -- may have a small amount of real fruit juice, but also contain added sugars like beet and cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These beverages lack the nutritional benefits of 100 percent juice.

You can have juice drinks that are lower in calories and sugar by diluting them with water, which will also dilute nutrient content. Drinking 100 percent juice is recommended as the best fruit beverage option, but also note that for most people, solid fruits are an even better choice. A cup of unsweetened solid fruits provides more fiber and about half the calories and sugar as a cup of unsweetened juice.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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