Today’s dieting world has become so crazy. We deem foods that have been sustaining a lot of people over the past thousands of years to be unhealthy and fattening while the number of our modern diseases increases. So even though bread is known as the staff of life, we are told to cut it out and replace it with high fat foods instead.
Especially here in Germany, bread has a long tradition. If you haven’t eaten our fresh sourdough bread yet, you’re really missing out! And right next to us are our neighbors the French, who make the most delicious baguettes. So should you indulge in these foods at all and is bread vegan too?
Traditionally, bread is made with flour, yeast, water, and sugar. But there are so many different variations and twists on this very basic recipe that one has to be careful about.
In order for a food to be classified as “vegan“, it must not contain any kind of animal-product. The ingredients that you should be on the lookout when buying bread are:
- Eggs, which are used for a fluffy texture
- Milk, which some breads contain either in fresh or dried form
- Honey and royal jelly, which come from bees
- Casein and whey, which are derived from milk and used to add texture or flavor
- Gelatin, which comes from animal’s connective tissue
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But things aren’t always so easy, since these ingredients are only those which are definitely not vegan. But there can be some that can be derived from either plant or animal sources too. The following two are usually, though not always, vegan:
- Mono and diglycerides, which are basically some type of fat. Most of the time, it’s made from soybean oil and therefore completely plant derived. But they could come from other sources too, namely animals and synthetic components.
- Lecithin, which is also an emulsifier and most always derived from soybeans – but it’s possible that in some cases it’s actually derived from egg yolks.
Another ingredient which is sometimes questionable for people in terms of being vegan or not is yeast. The reason for that are the eukaryotic micro-organisms, which yeast is made of. They are classified as fungi, and this of course means that yeast is neither an animal nor derived from animal products, hence vegan-friendly.
Whereas the case for bread is usually pretty clear and simple (most normal loaves are in fact vegan), it’s not the same for other baked items. A lot of them are made with butter, dairy, or eggs – especially when it comes to sweet ones. But be sure to check the label, you might be pleasantly surprised!
Eating a plant-based vegan diet can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like it to be. Of course we all have different values and taste preferences – so if you want to be 100% sure your bread is vegan, then buy certified vegan products or bake it yourself (recipe below).
The Health Question
Just like there are endless ways of eating an omnivorous diet, there are also countless ways of eating a vegan diet. There’s high carb, low carb, macrobiotic, high raw, fully raw, whole foods, junk food veganism, and so many more!
But since a lot of people who come to a vegan lifestyle are very conscious about their health, they like to cut out most processed food – including all types of bread - in favor of rice, beans, and potatoes.
Not all breads are the same of course in terms of ingredients and benefits. Since we always recommend eating a whole food diet, we would suggest you eat whole grain bread instead of white toast – if you have the choice of course. To give you an idea, we compared 2 types of bread here:
White Bread, 1 medium slice (117 calories)
Whole Wheat Bread, 1 medium slice (110 calories)
As you can see, they are very similar to each other. The whole grain version offers more fiber and manganese, along with some other vitamins and minerals. White bread, on the other hand, has more carbs, vitamin B1 and B3. So, one is not even that much worse than the other, but whole grains always win overall. Surprisingly enough, wheat and other grains are actually a good source of protein while being completely free of cholesterol.
Not everyone can handle whole grains well though, no matter their nutritional supremacy. If this is the case, you can easily switch to just sourdough bread that is made with wheat or rye or gently work your way into eating more whole grains. It’s possible that you’ve increased the amount of fiber you eat too quickly and therefore your digestion cannot function properly.
Bread also contains usually a good amount of salt, so if you’d like to decrease your sodium intake you should rather eat rice or potatoes, which at the same time offer a lower calorie density as well – meaning you can eat a larger volume of them for the same amount of calories as flour products.
No need to be worried about the insulin spikes you might get from eating refined flour products like white bread. First off, your blood sugar is supposed to rise when you eat something. And second, some studies suggest that meaty, fatty diets cause the body to be more resistant to insulin’s actions. They have shown that adopting a low-fat, plant-derived diet does indeed improve insulin sensitivity, help with weight loss, and reduce blood sugar and cholesterol.
But what about gluten?
If you’re wondering about the gluten issue: most conventional breads you can buy are made with wheat, rye, barley, or spelt, all of which are gluten-containing grains. Against popular belief, gluten (a protein that’s found in these grains) isn’t a problem for most people.
Only 1 % of the western civilization has celiac disease and needs to avoid gluten completely since this is a serious matter and should be treated by a medical professional. On the other hand, the cases of supposed “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”, which have been coming up over the past years, are most always unrelated to gluten, which a 2015 study has shown.
This is good news, because this means that most of us can actually keep enjoying their bread and pasta made with wheat. Actually, gluten has been shown to be beneficial to people without celiac disease – so don’t worry about loading up on your whole grain avocado toast.
What's actually Convenient
For many of us, convenience plays a huge factor in our daily food choices. So what if you’re in a hurry, your blood sugar is low, so you want to just grab something and get going? If you don’t happen to have some pre-cooked rice or potatoes on hand, then bread would be your next best choice to satiate your hunger.
Even if you try to eat a very healthy vegan diet, bread is actually not that highly refined and processed in order to be avoided at all cost. Check out our graph to see which plant-based foods are more or less refined and therefore have more or less nutrients to offer:
Now we have hopefully shown you that it’s perfectly fine to eat bread on a healthy vegan or plant-based diet. Don’t be afraid of blood-sugar rushes and spikes – if you stick to whole foods most of the time, some refined flour won’t hurt you. It's still a better choice than oil or fish, but of course foods like kale offer higher calorie density.
And if you ask yourself whether a food is healthy or not, you should re-phrase that into “is food A healthier than food B”. A quick look at our graphic will give you the answer. The reason why there are no animal products included is because they are always harmful and should be avoided at all cost.
To make things easier for you, we’ve added a very simple and healthy whole wheat bread recipe at the end of the article! Being prepared and having delicious food at home is the easiest way to set yourself up for success.
Bonus: Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 tsp dry active yeast
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp agave or maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350F. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle on the yeast and add the syrup. Stir to combine then let sit 10 minutes, until foamy.
Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until smooth. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
Once the dough has doubled in size, add 1 1/2 cups more flour, a little bit at a time, stirring until the flour is combined and the dough is no longer sticky.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of flour out onto a large clean surface. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth. Place the dough into a large bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size.
After the dough has risen, punch it down and knead it a few times to release any air bubbles. Shape the dough into an oval shape.
Place the dough into a 9×5 loaf pan (silicone preferred to prevent sticking), cover and let rise another 25 minutes. The dough should rise about an inch above the top of the loaf pan. Bake the loaf for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool a while before removing from the pan
Do you enjoy eating bread? Is it easy for you to buy or do you prefer baking it yourself? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.