International bread sampling proves dough can be good for us

Apr 4, 2016 by Carol Bareuther

Say the word ‘bread’ and a dichotomy of images comes to mind. On one hand, there’s fattening and supposedly unhealthy, and on the other delicious and comforting. The good news is that it’s possible to enjoy eating bread and gain needed nutrients too, such as dietary fiber. This is because there are a number of baked loaves from around the world that taste great and are good for you too. Here’s the skinny on a sampling of 10 of these international breads.

  1. Arepa. This round, flat, cornmeal-based bread is a staple in South American countries like Venezuela and Colombia. Baked and grilled are the healthiest versions, rather than fried. If made exclusively with cornmeal and no wheat flour, arepas are gluten-free. Similarly, traditional recipes (which produce a flat rather than fluffy arepa) made without milk and eggs are vegan. Customary fillings include black beans, chicken salad and avocado. However, you can stuff arepas with an endless variety of fillings much as is done with sandwiches in the United States. One piece (4 ounces) equals 160 calories.

    Whole wheat pita topped with spring mix, scrambled eggs and chopped tomato for breakfast. Photo by Carol Bareuther

    Whole wheat pita topped with spring mix, scrambled eggs and chopped tomato for breakfast. Photo by Carol Bareuther

  2. Bagel. An Eastern Europe native, bagels are famous for its resemblance to a doughnut. However, instead of a sweet batter that’s fried and sugar coated, bagels are savory, boiled and then baked. The healthiest are made of whole wheat and whole grain flours. Seeded tops (sesame or poppy, for example) add flavor and nutrients too. Size matters when it comes to calories. A 1-ounce mini bagel (2.5-inches in diameter) is 70 calories, a 3.7-ounce medium (3.5-inches in diameter) is 290 calories and a 4.6-ounce large (4.5-inches in diameter) is 360 calories. These calorie counts are before toppings!
  3. Chapati. This griddle-toasted bread made from whole wheat flour is an East Indian basic that’s eaten with curried dishes and lentil-based soups. Since they are made without oil, chapati is lower in fat than similar flatbreads such as naan and parathas, which are both cooked with oil, butter or ghee. One piece (about 2 ounces) equals 120 calories.
  4. Injera. Ethiopia is the home of this sourdough-risen flatbread. It’s customarily made from teff; a tiny round whole-grain the size of a poppy seed. Teff is a rich source of the minerals iron and calcium. Teff also is gluten-free. Vegetable-based stews and salads are customarily served on teff, where the juices in these foods flavor the bread. One piece (20-inches in diameter) equals 170 calories.
  5. Knäckebröd. This rye flour crispbread from Sweden is very cracker-like. Since many versions also contain whole-wheat flour, other whole grains like barley or spelt and seeds such as anise, sunflower and linseed, it’s fiber-rich. Knäckebröd is traditionally topped with pates, cold meats, smoked fish, cheeses, dips and/or fruit. One cracker equals 40 calories.
  6. Pita. A staple in the Middle East, whole-grain versions are becoming more popular today and contain more dietary fiber than the white flour form. This slightly leavened flat bread is famous for puffing up while baking thus leaving a center ideal for filling and eating like a sandwich. You can also layer pita bread with toppings to make an open-face sandwich. In the Middle East, pita is used most often for dipping. One pita (3-ounces) equals 230 calories.
  7. Roti. In the Caribbean, ‘roti’ means a wrap-style sandwich with a curried filling. It’s common to find roti shops on street corners. However, in its native India, roti strictly means an unleavened flatbread similar to chapati. There are several types of roti. One of the healthiest is dhal puri. This is where a cooked mixture of nutrient-dense ground yellow split peas (called dhal), cumin, garlic and pepper is incorporated and distributed throughout the roti dough for a spectacular flavor. Aloo puri is similar, however potato is substituted for the peas. One dhal puri equals 230 calories and one aloo puri equals 200 calories.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Contact her through