Grains and Breads
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Grains and Breads

Bread, and Its Importance in Nutrition and Health

Prof. Dr. Ayşe Baysal * 
Uz. Dyt. Nuriye Över *

(Foundation for the Study and Promotion of Turkish Culinary and Folk Culture Press, No: 14, pp. 40- 49, Ankara, 1994)

A Brief History of Bread

Bread is a food made by mixing and kneading grain flours such as wheat, rye, barley, millet and corn and cooking. As their proteins have different structures, corn and millet flours can be made into bread only when mixed with wheat, rye and barley flours. We have information that simple, tandır-like ovens were used twenty-five centuries B.C. to prepare bread and other foods. The condition of teeth in Egyptian mummies indicates that these people chewed thick-crusted bread made of whole wheat flours. We know that barley bread was a very important staple for the Sumerians. It is not known for sure whether bread was first made in Egypt or in Mesopotamia. The remains of bread ovens have been found in Çatalhöyük, one of the first human settlements in Southeast Anatolia (1, 2).

It is said that leavening was discovered when a woman found a piece of dough she had forgotten and added it to her dough (3).When a piece of dough is left in a cool place within a cloth, it rises. This is called “sourdough” and is still used in our rural areas in the making of bread and çörek.

The flavor of bread was improved continually by the addition of natural ingredients like olive oil, milk, almonds and spices. The Greeks, who learned baking from the Egyptians and the Israelites, began making breads similar to those of the East. After keeping their “cooked wheat” system a secret for many years, finally taught the Greeks to make bread in 600 B.C. With the addition of brewer’s yeast, which was known to both the Greeks and Romans since very ancient times, a softer and more flavorful bread was obtained. It took a long time for any new developments appeared in the making of bread. At last, in the 19th century, the yeast which fed on wheat was discovered and came into use (3). During the second half of the 20th century, modern techniques began to appear and bread baking became automated. Thus on one hand the bread sector quickly became an industry. In the United States in particular, automation continually developed and other countries followed suit. At the same time, more attention was paid to the details of the bread’s flavor, and with this, many different varieties began to be offered for sale. In our own country, this change began approximately ten years ago, and in our big cities such as Ankara, Eskişehir, Izmir, Bursa, Antalya and especially Istanbul, many different kinds of bread came into production. Today we’ve seen a steady increase in automated enterprises using modern techniques to produce bread.

The introduction of loaves in different weights has become an important factor in the prevention of waste of bread. Two-member families or people living alone can now buy bread in a size they can easily use, and such production has reduced the amount of bread thrown away, which was sometimes in the tons. Companies with their own dining halls have also begun more and more to use small loaves of bread, in the attempt to curb the waste of bread.

The Importance of Bread in Nutrition

Thought of the world over as a food blessed by God, bread is the most important energy source for the world’s population. In Turkish culture, bread is holy. Concerning bread that has fallen to the ground, there is a saying, “If you step on bread, you’ll turn to stone.” Bread that falls to the ground is kissed, touched to the head, and put in a place for later feeding to the animals. Although the amount of bread consumed in different countries varies according to their level of development and socioeconomic structure, bread still supplies a large part of people’s energy each day.

Bread is the Turks’ fundamental staple. Daily bread consumption changes according to individual characteristics and habits, life and work styles and diets. Those who engage in much physical labor consume more bread than those who engage in little physical labor. Women, who have lower energy requirements than men, consume less bread. In the summer months in particular, those working in agriculture and construction generally have one or two meals of bread and fruit, bread and vegetables, or bread and cheese rather than cooked foods. In the same way, those who are unable to cook eat one or two meals of bread with other foods such as cheese, olives, halvah, meat products or eggs. In our modern age we can call this “sandwich nutrition.” The fast food system is very dependent on bread. And while the consumption of simmered dishes [in Turkish, literally “water dishes,” stew-type dishes that make up a large part of Turkish cooking] brings increased bread consumption, the presence of other types of dishes as well as pilaf, past, börek and sweets on the menu decreased bread consumption. Generally, adult males who engage in little  hard physical labor and have access to various food groups eat 150-300 gr of bread per day with women eating 100-150 gr; while those engaged in manual labor eat several times these amounts.

According to region and groups, daily bread consumption in Turkey ranges from 100-800 gr per day. According to national nutritional data, the average individual consumes 402 gr of bread daily. In 1984, this number was 360 gr per person. Bread consumption in families of low socioeconomic status in villages and small towns is higher than those in cities with a higher socioeconomic level.

Based on both national and local research, the average consumption of bread is 400 gr per day. Thus approximately 45% of individual caloric energy and 47% of the 68 gr of protein consumed daily comes from bread.

Bread’s Nutritional Value

The raw material of bread is wheat flour. All the nutritional elements found in wheat flour are present in bread as well. However the vitamins and minerals for a sufficient and balanced diet are found mainly in the germ of the wheat (the embryo) and the bran. Thus the nutritional value of flour changes according to how refined it is. In addition, leavening brings about an increase in certain vitamins, increasing the benefit of the minerals to the body.

Table 1 shows the vitamins and minerals in bread (with the exception of vitamins A and C), along with their energy and protein content, and their percentages of the daily requirements. The vitamin and mineral content of whole wheat bread is much higher than that of white bread. At the same time, the amount of indigestible fiber in bread made from unrefined flour is high. However the energy values of whole wheat and rye breads are lower than that of white bread (7).

Bread Type
Water Gr.
Protein Gr.


Calcium Mg.
Iron Mg.
Vit B1 Mg.
Vit B2 Mg.
Niacin Mg.
White Bread

(1/3 rye 2/3 wheat)

Whole Wheat Bread
Percentage of adult daily requirements met (average for men and women)
13- 14
10- 12
3- 9
4- 16
9- 21
4- 10
5- 9

Human beings cannot practically meet their energy requirements with bread alone; they can only be met when bread is eaten together with other foods. For example when 100 gr of bread is eaten together with an egg and some fresh vegetables, fruit and milk or yogurt, the protein level is raised and the A and O vitamins, absent in bread, and calcium requirements are met. The net protein value of the combination of bread and egg is 8%, and the protein/energy ratio is 11-13%. This is sufficient to meet the needs of growing children.

As we see here, bread is not “empty calories” like sugar and sweet foods, and it is not correct to say that bread is fattening. As we see in Table 1, while 100 gr of bread supplies 243-276 calories, the same amount of sweets made from the combination of flour, oil and sugar contain 400-600 calories. Obesity is more commonly seen in those who are sedate, and who consume sweet foods, sweets made of flour/oil/sugar, oily baked goods, fried foods, fatty meats and alcohol. For this reason there is no need to limit bread, and especially whole wheat bread, on diets.



1 Tannahil, R. Food in History, Paladin, Great Britain, 1975
2 Aras, R. Uygarlığın Adımları (Belgesel Film), 1989
3 Barut, M. Ekmeğin Öyküsü, Pasta, Yiyecek ve içecek Dergisi. 5: (2) 52, 1986
4 Baysal, A. Beslenme Kültürümü,. Kültür Bakanlıği/ 1230 Yayımlar Dairesi Başkanlığı Başvuru Kitapları Dizisi/16, 1993.
5 Türkiye’de Beslenme, Ulusal Beslenme, Sağlık ve Gıda Tüketimi Araştırma Raporu. Tarım ve Köyişleri Bakanlığı, 1987.
6 Gıda ve Beslenme, Ulusal Beslenme ve Gıda Tüketimi Araştırma Raporu, Tarım ve Köyişleri Bakanlığı 1987.
7 Besinlerin Bileşimleri. Türkiye Diyetisyenler Derneği Yayını 3.Baskı Ankara, 1991
8 Baysal, A. Beslenme, Hacettepe Üniversitesi Yayınları AJ6İ, 1990.
9 Criss, W.E., Baysal, A. Kanserden Korunmak için Beslenme Rehberi, Türkiye Diyetisyenler Derneği Yayını: 5, 1992
10 Doğanay, E. Yulaf Ezmesinin Diabetik Hastalarda Karı Şekeri ve Lipitlerine Etkisi, Yayınlanmamış Bilim Uzmanhığı Tezi, Hacettepe Üniversitesi 1993
11 Mercanhıgil, S.M. Şişmanlık Kolon Hastalıkları ve Posa, Şişmanlık Çeşitli Hastalıklarla Etkileşimi ve Diyet Tedavisinde Bilimsel Uygulamalar. Türkiye Diyetisyenler Derneği Yayın 1/4 1993
12 NRC. Diet and Health: Imphications for reducing chronic disease risk, National Academy Press. Washıngton, D.C. 1989.

* Hacettepe University, Nutrition and Dietetic Dept.


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