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The question: Is rye bread healthier than white bread?

The answer: It's easy to assume that dark-coloured rye bread is more nutritious than white bread. But if you look at the ingredient list on many brands of rye bread, you'll be surprised to see that unbleached flour (a.k.a. refined flour) is the first ingredient listed.

In other words, white flour is the main ingredient. (Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The first two or three ingredients are the ones that matter most.) Many rye brands don't have a stitch of whole grain rye flour.

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Take Dempster's Rye Dark Russian Style Loaf, for example. The first three ingredients are unbleached wheat flour (refined), water and rye flour (refined). The bread owes its dark colour to caramel colouring. Nutritionally speaking, these fluffy versions of rye (and pumpernickel) bread aren't much different than white bread.

When buying rye bread look for names such as whole grain pumpernickel and whole grain rye. On the ingredient list, words that indicate whole grain include whole rye flour, rye meal, rye kernels and rye flakes.

Most rye breads are not made entirely of whole grains; many include refined wheat flour or refined rye flour in addition to whole grains. Ideally, choose a rye bread that lists a whole grain at the top of the ingredient list. For instance, the first grain on the ingredient list of Dimpflmeier Bakery's Vollkornbrot Whole Grain Rye Bread is coarse rye meal followed by unbleached wheat flour, rye grain and rye flakes.

Another clue to a healthier rye bread: sourdough (you'll find this on the ingredient list). Traditional pumpernickel and rye breads are made with a sourdough starter, rather than yeast, to aid in rising. The acid produced from the starter, combined with the fibre in whole grain rye, give these breads a low glycemic index. Unlike white bread, low glycemic breads don't spike your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct ( www.lesliebeck.com ).

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