White bread just became more healthy
We all know that wholemeal bread is healthier for us than white bread, but this might not be the case forever.
Researchers led by Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre have applied some of the health benefits of wholemeal bread into the taste and texture of white bread. The discovery comes from identifying the wheat genes involved in controlling dietary fibre content in flour. Knowing these genes means we can include them in the wheat we grow to make healthier bread.
“We knew that the white flour made from one particular Chinese wheat variety, Yumai 34, was unusually high in fibre,but it’s not well suited for growing in the European climate,” said Dr Alison Lovegrove from Rothamsted Research. “Using conventional breeding techniques, we crossed this high fibre trait into several other varieties. This allowed us to narrow down where in its genome the genes for high fibre are.”
To put the new flour to the test, Dr Lovegrove enlisted the help of local chef Jez Beasely to prepare and review a loaf.
Fibre in our diet is essential for health and healthy ageing yet many of us don’t eat enough.
For people in Western European countries, 40% of their fibre intake comes from cereals, such as wheat or barley, and often a large part of this is in the bread we eat. Wholegrain fibre in particular has been shown to have a number of health benefits including:
- lowering blood pressure and serum cholesterol
- improving insulin sensitivity (reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes)
- reducing the incidence of certain types of cancer, notably bowel and breast cancers.
Yet despite these health benefits, many of us eat far less fibre than we perhaps should. The question is then, how can we encourage people to eat more dietary fibre to improve their health?
Why not just get everyone to eat brown bread?
The simple fact is that many people don’t want to.
In the UK, bread is an everyday part of our diet and around 80% of the population choose white bread. People often know the improved health benefits of wholemeal bread but they choose white bread for the taste and texture. If we could therefore improve the content of white bread, we’d improve the diets of many without forcing people to change their behaviour.
This discovery enables us to breed wheat that is healthier for people, without having to sacrifice all the parts that make us choose white bread. While the high fibre white bread isn’t quite as high in fibre as a wholemeal loaf, this new version contains around double the fibre of normal white bread.
Why couldn’t we do this before?
The key to improving any crop is to have a good idea of the traits you want and knowing what drives these in the plant’s genetics. The challenge is that we often don’t know what parts of the the plant’s DNA controls the way a plant grows and some traits like dietary cannot be selected by eye. This is particularly tricky in wheat where the genome is incredibly complex .
The researchers at Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre have discovered an area of the wheat genome that controls the dietary fibre in wheat flour. This allows them to make molecular markers to help breeders detect which wheat plants have these genes. From this, we can use traditional breeding approaches to bring these important traits into the wheat varieties farmers are growing in the field.
Dr Lovegrove said: “We hope to go on and identify further genes that increase fibre content, thereby providing plant breeders, millers and food producers with even more options.
The researcher paper explaining this in full can be found here.
Acknowledgement: We are grateful to Dr. Jacob Lage and colleagues at KWS UK Ltd for field trials and Mr. Mark Waples at Marks and Spencer Ltd both part of an Innovate UK programme that contributed to this work. 13TSB_N4L2CRD: High fibre wheat for healthier white bread. This study was a collaborative project with researchers from Rothamsted, the John Innes Centre and the University of Bristol in the UK – who are all part of the BBSRC funded Designing Future Wheat programme – along with colleagues in Hungary, France and Turkey.