Potato bread should be OK on a low-FODMAP diet, right? Not so fast. Bread names can be deceiving. The ingredients and the bread-making method matter far more than the name of the bread.
Adding to the confusion, bread names and descriptors vary a great deal from one country to another, and FODMAPs is a very international topic. It isn’t so bad with whole foods, when a simple photograph can quickly clear up the confusion, and reassure us that an eggplant and an aubergine are really the same thing. But being on the same page is much more difficult with prepared foods, such as bread.
I learned this firsthand in 2013, when colleague Kate Scarlata and I were choosing the types of American bread that my husband and I would be hand-carrying to Monash University for analysis in their FODMAP lab. Our contact there, PhD student CK Yao, asked for examples of wholemeal wheat and whole grain wheat. Wait. What? Those sounded like the same thing. What about white wheat and white whole wheat? Same? Different? What about good old white bread? (By the way, the results of that collaboration were recently published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.*)
International readers of the IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook might have some of the same questions, so I’ve prepared this blog to briefly explain some the breads that are referred to in my book. If you live in another country, this might be helpful. Heck, even those of us living in the U.S. have questions, so here goes.
First, the low-FODMAP options:
Gluten-free white bread
Gluten-free bread only works for a low-FODMAP diet when it doesn’t have any added FODMAP ingredients such as apple juice, pear juice, agave, or chicory root. In practice, in the U.S. these are white breads made from corn, tapioca, potato, and rice flours. Less often, they might include darker flours such as buckwheat and sorghum. Gluten-free white bread is usually leavened with baker’s yeast. Remember, gluten itself is not a FODMAP.
Millet bread is typically made with a blend of millet and rice flour. It is often leavened with baking powder.
Sourdough white bread
Light-colored bread made of refined wheat flour, often called “white flour” or “bread flour” in the U.S.. These flours are milled first, then sifted to remove the germ and bran.
Sourdough breads are leavened with a “starter” which is carried forward from one batch of bread to the next; the starter includes a complex community of wild yeasts and lactic acid forming bacteria. Typical ingredient list: unbleached wheat flour, water salt. There may or may not be a reference to starter or wild yeast in the list of ingredients. (Baker’s yeast or vinegar on the list of ingredients is a red flag for inauthentic sourdough bread).
The word “sourdough” might not even appear on the package, as it describes the breadmaking process, not the flavor or variety of the bread. The name of the bread might be Tuscan pane, pain au levain, peasant boule, French, Italian, etc. (Note that not all breads with these names are made with the sourdough process.)
Why is sourdough low FODMAP when other breads made with wheat are not? Read more about it in my July, 2016 post, Sourdough Bread and FODMAPs.
Sourdough wheat bread
Same bread-making process as above, made of flour containing the wheat germ, endosperm and bran (all of the milled constituents), called “whole wheat flour” in the U.S. This type of flour is called wholemeal wheat in some countries. Typical ingredients: stone-ground wheat flour, water, salt.
Sourdough spelt bread
Same bread-making process as above, made of flour containing all the milled constituents of spelt. Typical ingredients: Whole spelt flour, water, salt.
Next, the higher-FODMAP breads that are not considered suitable for the elimination phase of the diet:
Spelt is an ancient variety of wheat. Without the benefit of extended fermentation in the sourdough bread-making process, breads made from whole spelt are not low-FODMAP. Regular spelt bread is leavened with baker’s yeast. Typical ingredients: Whole spelt flour, water, honey, salt, yeast.
Rye is high in FODMAPs, so not surprisingly, bread made from rye is not low-FODMAP either. In the U.S., rye breads are almost always made of blended wheat and rye flours and leavened with baker’s yeast, though some 100% rye imported brands are available. Typical ingredients: rye flour, wheat flour, water, salt, baker’s yeast. In the U.S., darker colored rye breads are sometimes called “pumpernickel.” The color may be provided with caramel coloring or cocoa powder.
Sourdough rye bread
Sourdough rye bread is made in the traditional method described above, from rye flour, water and salt. Sourdough rye bread is apparently more variable in its FODMAP content than other sourdough breads; the Monash lab found that it was high-FODMAP, but a bakery in Finland has developed a bread-making process that produces a low-FODMAP sourdough rye. Erring on the side of caution, I don’t recommend sourdough rye bread for the elimination phase of the diet unless the specific brand has been laboratory tested.
White bread is made of wheat, too!
American white bread is light-colored bread made predominantly with wheat flour that has been milled, then sifted to remove the germ and the bran. The following terms for refined white flour might be used in the list of ingredients: unbleached enriched flour, unbleached flour, organic wheat flour, enriched wheat flour, unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour, etc. Basically, if the word “whole” is not included, it is white flour, and it makes white bread.
The flour has often been “enriched” with added nutrients such as iron and B-vitamins to make up for those lost in the refining process. Though higher quality white breads made with better ingredients are sometimes available, typical ingredients in white bread are enriched wheat flour, water, high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, yeast, salt and a variety of additives and preservatives.
Whole wheat bread
100% whole wheat bread is a darker bread made with wheat, including the endosperm, germ and bran, while “wheat bread” usually includes a large proportion of flour which has had the germ and bran removed (white flour). Though higher quality whole wheat breads made with better ingredients are sometimes available, typical ingredients are whole wheat flour or enriched wheat flour, water, high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, yeast, salt and a variety of additives and preservatives. (One further detail: In the U.S., flour made from a lighter-colored variety of wheat may be described in the list of ingredients as white whole wheat flour. Even with the germ and bran included, this variety of wheat produces a light-colored whole wheat flour.)
Oatmeal bread is white bread with some oats in it.
Potato bread is white bread with some potato flour in it.
Sprouted wheat bread or grain bread
These breads are made from grains that are sprouted before being ground, combined with gluten, and leavened with yeast. Sprouting may reduce the oligosaccharides in the wheat and other grains, but when tested, these breads from the U.S. had too much fructose in them to be low-FODMAP. Typical ingredients: sprouted wheat, sprouted barley, sprouted millet, sprouted lentils, sprouted soybeans, dates, raisins, wheat gluten, yeast, salt.
Multi-grain bread is also known as 8-grain bread, 12-grain bread, etc. These breads, marketed toward consumers looking for a higher-fiber bread, often have multiple high-FODMAP fiber ingredients. Some are based primarily on whole wheat flour, others on some variety of white flour. In addition to some type of wheat, typical ingredients might be water, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, sunflower seeds, wheat gluten, rye, chicory root extract, cellulose fiber, oats, yeast, soy grits, sesame seeds, soybean oil, corn, salt, molasses, buckwheat, brown rice, triticale, barley, flaxseed, millet, and a variety of additives and preservatives.
We’ll stop here and go make some toast.
*Varney J, Barrett J, Scarlata K, Catsos P, Gibson PR, Muir JG. FODMAPs: food composition, defining cutoff values and international application. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017;32:53-61. doi:10.1111/jgh.13698.