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Is switching to high-protein bread a good idea?

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Q: Is “protein bread” a better choice than regular whole grain bread? What’s in it? Is it a good way to get more protein?

We’ve become a protein-obsessed bunch. The must-have nutrient is sought after to help build muscle, lose excess body fat, ward off hunger and bolster our immune system.

And food manufacturers have taken notice. Beyond the foods that protein is naturally found in – like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, soy, nuts and seeds – it’s now added to breads, breakfast cereals, snack foods and even water.

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It’s unlikely you really need the protein added to processed foods, but if you do want (or need) a protein boost from bread, you’ll need to read labels to know which ingredients you’re getting and which ones you’re not. Protein breads differ in the quantity of protein per serving and where that protein comes from.

Keep in mind that all whole-grain breads are already a source of protein, most offering anywhere from 3 to 6 grams per slice. Ingredients such as whole wheat flour, rye meal, spelt flakes, quinoa, millet, oats and seeds all naturally contain protein.

Protein breads by the numbers

PB28 High Protein bread delivers a hefty 14 g of protein per 47 g slice, the amount of protein in two large eggs. The protein comes from PB28’s special blend of whey protein, wheat protein and wheat gluten, the major protein in wheat.

President’s Choice Blue Menu Protein bread contains 6 g of protein content per 42 g slice, four more grams of protein than a slice of President’s Choice Blue Menu 100% Whole Wheat bread (which is smaller, though, at 21 g). The protein comes from a grain and seed mix, chickpeas, wheat gluten, split yellow peas, soy protein and pea protein, as well as beans and lentils, which are a source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Country Harvest Protein bread has 9 g of protein in every 45 g slice, which comes from wheat gluten, soy protein and wheat protein. For comparison, the company’s whole-grain Sprouted Wheat bread has 6 g of protein per slice.

Do you need extra protein in bread?

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Most of us already do a good job of getting the protein we need – and more – from our diet. And that’s before factoring in protein powder added to smoothies or protein bars eaten as snacks.

According to the 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey, we’re consuming protein within recommended ranges. In fact, the survey found that adults and kids are consuming more calories from protein than they did a decade ago.

Even so, some people may benefit from eating more than the amount recommended by Health Canada. A higher protein intake can help preserve muscle strength in older adults and enhance the performance of athletes in training.

But most of us are probably doing just fine on the protein front without eating protein-enhanced foods. It’s not just foods like meat, dairy, beans and soy that add protein to your diet. Grains (like oatmeal, pasta and rice) and vegetables have protein, too.

Change the focus to fibre

Instead of pursuing protein in everything, we should be focused on eating more fibre. A high fibre diet is tied to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticulosis and constipation.

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Eating more fibre can help lower LDL (bad) blood cholesterol, improve how the body uses insulin and quell inflammation. And importantly, it’s fibre that feeds our microbiota, the beneficial microbes in our gut that influence our immune system, digestion, metabolism, mood and cognitive function.

And yet, most Canadians get only one-half of the fibre they need each day. Adults need 25 g (for women) and 38 g (for men) of fibre each day; older women and men require 21 g and 30 g, respectively.

In my opinion, eating more fibre-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds can have a much bigger impact on our health than eating more protein than we need.

So, back to bread. Read labels, and look for 100-per-cent whole-grain loaves. Choose brands that contain at least 3 g of fibre per slice, and consider trying a bread made with added beans and lentils.

Then, if you do want extra protein, compare nutrition facts labels for protein content.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

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