In a new study, researchers found that a small addition during bread-making unlocks the potential of wholegrain bread, putting it on a par with other ‘superfoods’.
They found people who ate an improved bread saw the same short-term boost to their vascular function as gained from eating blueberries.
They added an enzyme commonly used by the drinks industry to the bread, raising levels of micronutrient ferulic acid by more than five times.
Similarly, circulatory-improving compounds are found in foods such as cocoa, green tea, and red wine, but the researchers hope improving everyday food such as bread, will benefit health more widely.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Reading and elsewhere.
While there is a growing recognition that foods like berries or green tea have a positive benefit for human health due to the presence of polyphenols, there are barriers for much of the population to consume amounts of these foods.
This study shows that there are ways that scientists can subtly change the characteristics of staple foods such as bread to increase the positive micronutrients found in them.
In the study, the team tested 19 healthy young men. They were randomly placed in groups, with one group receiving the enriched bread.
These participants showed higher levels of ferulic acid and a strong short-term boost in blood flow associated with heart health.
In order to account for differences between higher and lower fiber bread, two control groups were tested as well, with one group receiving white bread low in fiber, and one group receiving a higher fiber bread which had a non-active version of the enzyme.
The results showed that the free ferulic acid that was in the treated bread is most likely to have accounted for an increase in blood flow.
The team says all wholegrain and high fiber bread contain similar contents of phenolic compounds to those present in blueberries and other superfoods, but the chemicals are tightly bound to fiber in the bread—meaning people don’t typically get the health benefits from consuming them unless eaten regularly over the long term.
This may be one of the reasons why researchers see greater benefits from regular wholegrain consumption, as these compounds are slowly released in the gut.
The team says processing with an enzyme to release the ferulic acid prior to bread making had changed that, effectively unlocking the goodness of the whole grain and making it immediately available.
The effect on blood flow seen in the study is really clear and show that with a small addition, bread can be as good as blueberries for health.
The enzyme used is already accepted for food use and used by commercial brewers as part of a mixture of enzymes that break down the fiber during malting—so the hope is bakers could adopt the additional ingredient soon.
One author of the study is Jeremy Spencer, Professor of Molecular Nutrition at the University of Reading.
The study is published in Clinical Nutrition.
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