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On the Table

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Trade wimpy bread for a robust loaf

By Suzanne Havala Hobbs
Correspondent

PARIS Europeans have strong opinions about bread. That bread is similarly distinctive and robust.

I hear it from my colleagues in France and elsewhere in Europe. And I see it for myself on store shelves.

Bread here is not your wimpy white fluff, the kind so easily mashed into a spongy ball in a toddler’s fist. Good European bread is gritty and coarse-grained with a crust to match.

It lives up to the whole grain ideal that our U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocate.

Whole grains are minimally processed so that they retain their outer bran layer and inside germ. Breads made with whole grains are rich sources of dietary fiber, beneficial phytochemicals such as phytoestrogens, antioxidants, lignans and phenolic compounds.

They’re also rich in B vitamins and minerals, including manganese, selenium and iron.

You’re supposed to get at least three servings of whole grains every day. Most of us only get about half of one serving daily.

That’s surprising, considering how easy it is to get what you need.

One serving is one slice of bread or about a half-cup of whole grain cereal. So a sandwich made with the good stuff would immediately deliver two of your prescribed servings.

Get the other from a small but hearty bowl of muesli or oatmeal in the morning, two other European standards.

The preference among Europeans for whole grain breads and cereals reflects a longstanding tradition of food choices that favor fewer processed ingredients and more that are close to their natural state. Where bread is concerned, I’ve also observed elements of a food culture of moderation, too.

In French supermarkets, for example, the square, sliced sandwich bread that we buy in American supermarkets is sold in half-loaves.

Food costs more here, and kitchens have less storage space. There are fewer cupboards and pantries, minimal counter space and much smaller refrigerators.

So people buy less, keep less on hand, and they buy fresh foods more often. They eat less and waste less, too.

My half-loaves of bread have yet to spoil or dry out before I could use them.

Why do Europeans love old-style bread so much? It tastes better, and it stands for quality.

It happens to be better for your health, too. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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