5 ways to make bread and dough part of a healthy diet

Dough can be the starting point for a vast range of healthy meals and teatime treats, explains Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor.

Pizza, pasta, breads of all shapes and flavours, scones and English muffins – they all start out as humble dough. The possibilities are endless, with different grains, flavourings and cooking methods all giving the dough new tastes and textures, and it can form the basis of a variety of healthy meals. Plus, by using a range of flours and added ingredients, you can create flavour and texture without unhealthy additions.

1. Bread can be part of a balanced diet

Heart shaped dough

The most common product made from dough is bread – whether it’s sliced and wrapped, a flatbread, such as pitta or chapati, or a homemade or artisan loaf. Bread sits within the starchy carbohydrates food group, along with potatoes, rice and pasta. About a third of our foods should come from this group.

If you're making your own bread, it can be easy to eat more of it than you would normally. Making individual rolls rather than a loaf can aid portion control if you're trying to control your weight. They make ideal soup companions, and are great for lunch boxes. 

2. Season your bread wisely

Bread

Using herbs and spices – like the chilli in our chilli-spiced wheaten bread recipe – can add flavour to loaves without adding excess salt. Soda bread uses bicarbonate of soda to help it to rise, which is fine, but it’s important to keep to the quantities in the recipe to avoid consuming more sodium than necessary. Plus, too much bicarb can make your bread taste bitter.

3. Use the right flour

Flour

Use strong flour to bake bread with yeast. It has a higher protein and gluten content so is better at holding bread’s structure when it rises.

Wholegrain flours like wholewheat, rye or oatmeal add flavour, texture and fibre so are healthy choices. Use traditional flours when baking foods from other cultures. Try atta or chapati flour for chapatis; this finely milled wholewheat flour will add an authentic taste and feel, while heritage grains like spelt (an ancient wheat variety) will add a twist to your baking.

4. Healthier sweet treats

Scones

Bread-based cakes, such as scones, English muffins, currant buns and crumpets can be healthier treats. These are lower in fat and sugar than cakes and biscuits – provided they don’t come with lashings of butter, cream or jam. But watch out for other bread- based cakes with added fat.

Doughnuts, for example, are a variation on bread dough but are deep-fried, not to mention the fillings, which can include custard or cream. Treats like Danish pastries and croissants come with a lot of saturated fat from the butter in them.

5. Pizza and pasta the healthy way

Pasta dough

Pizza and pasta both start life as dough: a basic bread dough for pizza and unyeasted dough, which might be enriched with eggs, for pasta. In both cases, the final dishes can vary in healthiness, but this is less to do with the pasta or pizza and more to do with toppings and how big your portion is.

Making your own pizzas at home can be a fun activity, especially if you have children or grandchildren. It’s a good way of limiting the addition of foods that add salt or saturated fat (such as olives, capers, cheese and processed meats like ham) and tempting reluctant eaters to choose more foods we should be eating, like vegetables.

Similarly, your pasta sauces can be delicious and healthy. Opt for a ‘red’ sauce based on tomatoes rather than a creamy one, and add plenty of vegetables. Go easy on additions like pesto, which can be high in saturated fat, salt and energy, despite containing some healthy fats.

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