Why salt is essential for baking bread.
Bread can be a key source of whole grain, plant protein and gut friendly fibre, but, the humble loaf is often criticised for its salt content. Bread can contribute to our daily sodium intake however, unlike most snacks foods where salt is added to enhance flavour, when it comes to baking bread, salt plays a very important and functional role.
The low down on sodium
Sodium is a mineral found in most foods as sodium chloride, more commonly known as ‘salt’. While sodium plays an essential role in a number of processes within the body, excessive intake is directly linked with high blood pressure2 – a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease which is Australia’s leading cause of death3.
The role of salt in bread making
Bread is a staple grain food in many cultures and contains salt, which is added during the manufacturing process alongside the other essential ingredients to bread making – flour, water and yeast. In addition to providing flavour, salt plays a pivotal role in baking bread in the following ways:
- Salt in bread is not only used for taste but, also strengthens the gluten matrix. As a result, the dough is able to efficiently hold carbon dioxide that forms during the fermentation process, resulting in a light, airy loaf of bread.
- If there is not enough salt in bread, the dough becomes slack, sticky and weak which results in poor volume and irregular shape. This creates major processing issues and a poor-quality final product 4,5
- Salt is a well-known preservative which aids in delaying mould and yeast growth on the surface of bread during its shelf-life.
- Salt facilitates the development of a golden-brown crust colour, which not only looks appealing but, also tends to improve taste. In the absence of salt, the crust remains very pale.
- Since 2009, the salt used in Australian bread is iodised – the only exception is in organic bread. This is an important public health initiative for the whole population, preventing issues such as iodine deficiency.
How much salt is in bread?
Based on the latest GLNC audit data, a loaf of bread contains on average 419mg of sodium per 100g. One slice of bread (white & wholemeal) typically contains 164mg of sodium (average serve size 38g)(GLNC audit data).
Over recent years, many bread manufacturers have begun to gradually reduce the amount of salt in their products, allowing consumers to slowly adjust to the change in taste. These gradual changes are helping to reduce the amount of salt Australians eat.
Table 1: Average sodium content of bread products (n= number of products within the sample)
|English Muffins (n = 11)||309|
|Fruit Bread (n = 36)||310|
|Bagels (n = 16)||378|
|Brioche (n = 24)||413|
|Loaf breads (n = 346)||419|
|Rolls (n = 128)||442|
|Flatbreads (n = 196)||506|
|Crumpets (n = 8)||572|
Not all grain foods are equal
Rather than cut core foods from the diet to reduce salt intake, GLNC encourages Aussies to reduce their intake by limiting discretionary foods. Core grain foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice and other together contribute 18% of Australian’s daily salt intake6. In comparison, discretionary grain food choices such as salty snacks, bars, pastries and biscuits contribute 25% of our daily salt intake. This shows that discretionary, rather than core grain food choices, make the greatest contribution towards daily salt intakes.
Focus on eating more wholegrain foods
The evidence supports consumption of core grain foods (mostly whole grain and/or high fibre) as they provide essential nutrition and reduce our risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease 7-9.
Wholemeal breads are a key source of whole grain intake in Australia. Just two slices of wholemeal/whole grain bread can provide 2-3 serves of whole grain, with evidence suggesting we need 3 serves daily to reduce risk of chronic disease. High consumption of whole grain bread is linked to lower levels of circulating inflammatory markers10 as well as reduced risk of all-cause mortality11
In addition to contributing to your daily whole grain target, two slices of bread also provide valuable sources of energy-rich carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – all important for good health and wellbeing.
Iodine to support a child’s growth
Iodine is an essential trace mineral needed for certain stages of foetal (neurological) development during pregnancy and early childhood. With the exception of organic bread, all breads contain iodised salt. This mandatory fortification came into force in 2009 to address mild iodine deficiency in the population. Inclusion of iodised salt in bread has led to increases of iodine in the food supply and improvements in the intake of women of child-bearing age and young children12.
The bottom line
While bread can be a contributor to daily salt intake, it is an essential ingredient to ensure the breads we enjoy continue to look and taste like bread. Rather than cutting out core foods such as bread to reduce salt levels, limiting the consumption of discretionary foods like salty snacks, bars, pastries and biscuits can be a more impactful way to reduce our intake. Other tips to try can include choosing lower sodium or no added salt options in the supermarket where you can and, avoiding adding salt to foods when cooking or at the table. Opt for adding herbs and spices here instead.
As a leading source of dietary fibre, whole grain, protein, thiamin, niacin and folic acid in our diets, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the goodness of bread!
- NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Sodium. Availabe online: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/sodium (accessed on February 2021).
- Bochund M, M.-V.P., Burnier M, Paccaud F. Dietary Salt Intake and Cardiovascular Disease: Summarizing the Evidence. Public Health Reviews 2012, 33(2):530-52.
- AIHW. Leading Causes of Death. Availabe online: http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/leading-causes-of-death/ (accessed on 2 February 2021).
- Avramenko, N.A.; Tyler, R.T.; Scanlon, M.G.; Hucl, P.; Nickerson, M.T. The chemistry of bread making: The role of salt to ensure optimal functionality of its constituents. Food Reviews International 2016, 10.1080/87559129.2016.1261296, 1-22, doi:10.1080/87559129.2016.1261296.
- Taylor, C.; Doyle, M.; Webb, D. “The Safety of Sodium Reduction in the Food Supply: A Cross-Discipline Balancing Act”—Workshop Proceedings. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 2017, 10.1080/10408398.2016.1276431, 0-0, doi:10.1080/10408398.2016.1276431.
- ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Availabe online: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Key%20Findings~1 (accessed on February 2021).
- NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines: Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. Availabe online: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55 (accessed on January).
- McRae, M.P. Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med 2017, 16, 10-18, doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.008.
- Aune, D.; Keum, N.; Giovannucci, E.; Fadnes, L.T.; Boffetta, P.; Greenwood, D.C.; Tonstad, S.; Vatten, L.J.; Riboli, E.; Norat, T. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. British Medical Journal 2016, 353, i2716 DOI: 2710.1136/bmj.i2716, doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716.
- Montonen, J.; Boeing, H.; Fritsche, A.; Schleicher, E.; Joost, H.-G.; Schulze, M.; Steffen, A.; Pischon, T. Consumption of red meat and whole-grain bread in relation to biomarkers of obesity, inflammation, glucose metabolism and oxidative stress. European Journal of Nutrition 2013, 52, 337-345, doi:10.1007/s00394-012-0340-6.
- Johnsen, N.F.; Frederiksen, K.; Christensen, J.; Skeie, G.; Lund, E.; Landberg, R.; Johansson, I.; Nilsson, L.M.; Halkjær, J.; Olsen, A., et al. Whole-grain products and whole-grain types are associated with lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the Scandinavian HELGA cohort. British Journal of Nutrition 2015, FirstView, 1-16, doi:doi:10.1017/S0007114515001701.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2016. Monitoring the health impacts of mandatory folic acid and iodine fortification,. Availabe online: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/food-nutrition/monitoring-health-impacts-of-mandatory-folic-acid/contents/table-of-contents (accessed on February 2021).