In India, the consumption of packaged, sliced bread is a fairly new phenomenon and finding which bread is the healthiest is no easy feat.  Our people of the past grabbed their carb-quota by consuming more traditional breads like paranthas, chapattis, double-roti, khamiri roti and the popular Portuguese pav - all of which were either prepared by the khansama/cook at home or at the local community baker who delivered freshly-baked breads at your doorstep at least two times a day.

Now, with globalisation and westernisation and a whole other list of fancy names, sliced bread is a ubiquitous item that can be found in every Indian home. As a college student residing miles away from home, I am no more privy to hot toast for breakfast and instead, am offered a rather terrifyingly large loaf of wonderful-smelling 'Harvest Gold White Bread.' Just like any millennial, I hope to be health-conscious and listen to my mother, so I set off to find which bread is the healthiest, one that doesn't burn a hole in my pocket, unlike the bakery bread. 

To my surprise, I found that there were three so-called-healthy varieties of breads available - Brown, Whole Wheat and Atta. Now at home, I never gave it any thought, but after some painstaking research from a pool limited information, the only way to understand which bread is the healthiest is to break it down to the basic components of these manufactured loaves.

For my little experiment, I chose to go with the fairly popular Mrs Bector's English Oven brand that is available in most stores. Here is what I found:

Atta and Maida: What is the Difference?

It is a known fact that flour is essentially made up of ground grains of wheat. A wheat grain is made up of three parts - bran (which is packed with fibre), the endosperm (largest part of the seed which contains mainly starch) and the germ (nutrient-rich embryo of the seed). Atta and maida are distinguished by the components of the wheat seed that they contain. Just remember, a wise consumer knows that Maida = Wheat Flour/White Flour and Atta = Whole Wheat Flour.

Maida/White Flour is made up of only the endosperm part of the grain, during processing of this flour, the germ and bran are removed which essentially eliminates many of the grain's nutrients and fibre content. In addition, maida is often bleached using chemical whitening agents, which helps improve shelf life.

Atta/Whole Wheat Flour is made up of the bran, endosperm and the germ of the grain, giving it a slightly darker colour and contains essential nutrients. It is often stone milled to preserve the germ and bran, which decreases its shelf life, making it more expensive to manufacture and consume.

Using this nutritional information, let's find out which bread is the healthiest:

1. English Oven Brown Bread

Karan Kapoor

What most of us fail to do is read the food labels and here, it is this step that is all-revealing. A loaf of this brand's brown bread is composed of 95% Maida (White Flour) and only 5% Atta (Whole Wheat Flour). The rest of the ingredients are all additives and preservatives, providing only 2.33g of dietary fibre. This brings us to the point that today, Brown Bread is an artificially-coloured  imposter of its healthier cousin - whole wheat bread. This is usually done by using a colouring agent which is actually caramelised or burnt sugar. After all, how could this loaf boast of an intensive chocolate-y brown when all it contains is a token sprinkling of 5% atta?

2. English Oven Atta Bread

Well, well, well, Atta Bread is basically another name for the brand's Brown Bread. An increasingly trendy marketing gimmick, Atta Bread's ingredients are exactly the same as the brown bread ie they have the exact same ingredient label. The name of this loaf is horribly misleading, promising consumers of nutrient-rich atta/whole wheat bread, while in reality, this loaf is basically all white flour, made of 95% maida.

3. English Oven Whole Wheat Bread

This loaf of bread contains 80% Maida (White Flour) and 20% (Whole Wheat Flour), with the rest of the ingredients being additives and preservatives. Although this is a step-up providing 23.5% of dietary fibre (only 0.2% more than its counterparts above), it still proves to be a grossly misleading marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, we buy from a market that employs the practice of misleading product labelling and makes us think we are buying healthy stuff when we are not.

Which is Tastier?

I have to say, given that all the three are mass-produced using the same components in relatively similar amounts, they really all taste much the same to me. No doubt, the maida (white flour) in them makes for a tasty, moist and long-lasting loaf.

Which Bread is the Healthiest?

By a very, very slim margin, the Whole Wheat Bread takes the prize, providing 2.35g of dietary fibre and containing 20% of atta (whole wheat flour). Our advice, stay off the manufactured stuff and work out a food budget to buy loaves of truly nutritious, freshly baked bread at your local bakery.