How long has bread been in existence?

People have eaten bread, often referred to as “the staff of life”, for over 9000 years. In fact bread features significantly in the great religious writings, e.g. 492 times in original versions of the Bible. It has stood the test of time, in spite of recent anti-bread campaigns, such as low carbohydrate and the Atkins diet. The Wheat Foods Council in the USA has made the following statement: “Without grains your favourite foods just aren’t the same – and neither is your health”. And Nelson Mandela at his inauguration stated: “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all”.

How important is bread in the lives of South Africans?

If we start from a nutritional point of view, bread plays a very important role in the nation’s diet. Although the average consumption is 3 slices (100g) of bread per day, bread is our second most important staple foodstuff after maize meal. Therefore, in many households where bread can be considered the staple food, the daily consumption will be much higher, especially where other staples are not consumed. The Law of Engel reads: “The poorer a family, the greater the proportion of total expenditure devoted to the provision of food”. In South Africa the percentage of household expenditure on food in the LSM 4 group is about 31%.

The baking industry produced 2.278 billion loaves of bread in the period October 2017 to September 2018. White bread comprised 49.06% and brown and whole wheat bread 50.78% of total production with other speciality bread making up the balance. Per capita consumption in South Africa was 25.8kg (2017) which is considerably less than in Europe where consumption is approximately 59kg per person. 700 gram loaves comprise 73.2% of bread baked in South Africa, however there is a growing trend towards 600 grams brought about largely by economic factors. The nutrient content of standard South African bread is given in Table 1 below.


Average nutrient content of South African bread (per 100g edible portion)

Nutrient White bread Brown bread
Energy (kJ) 1007 960
Protein (g) 8,0 8,3
Glycemic carbohydrates (g) 48,0 43,4
Total fat (g) 1,5 1,7
Dietary fibre (g) 2,8 5,3
Sodium (mg) <400 <400
Trans fatty acids (%) <0,05 <0,05
Fortified * Yes Yes

Note: Currently the sodium content in bread must not be greater than 400 mg per 100 grams. And effective June 2019 the sodium content must be further reduced to a maximum of 380 mg per 100 grams of bread.

[Source: SA Chamber of Baking]

* Regulations were promulgated a few years ago, which require the mandatory fortification of bread with the following nutrients:

Vitamins – Vitamin A; Thiamine (Vitamin B1); Riboflavin (Vitamin B2); Niacin (Vitamin B3); Folic acid and Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6).p> Minerals – Iron and Zinc

An improved blend of the above fortificants is to be legislated and introduced during 2019.

[Also refer to the FACS Information Leaflet “Food Fortification”]

Another important aspect of bread, which is often overlooked, is the effect it has on our economy. Bread has created many diverse work opportunities. Just think of agricultural scientists, farmers and their staff, grain storage operators, grain traders, wheat distributors, millers, bakers and secondary industries (e.g. equipment and packaging). A sophisticated infrastructure has been developed around bread, such as wheat and flour storage, mills, bakeries and logistics.

Are there government regulations under which bread is controlled?

Mandatory fortification of bread has already been mentioned. Furthermore, only bread with a minimum mass of 400g and an integral multiple of 100g above 400g shall be sold; provided that bread in quantities other than 400g, 800g, 1.2 kg and 1.6kg shall be wrapped and bear a statement of the net mass, and provided further that no free sample shall be offered for sale as an integral part of any wrapped bread.

What are the general misconceptions about bread?

Many negative perceptions exist about bread and these are invariably based on emotions and NOT FACTS.

  • Too high in carbohydrate (empty calories)
  • Low and inferior quality protein
  • Fattening
  • High GI which promotes diabetes (refer to the FACS Information Leaflet “The Glycaemic Index which gives a balanced, scientific review of GI)
  • White bread is too refined, too low in fibre
  • Promotes celiac disease*
  • Should not be eaten by people with certain blood groups
  • Bread is not “natural”, it is processed

* A group of consumers is wheat and gluten intolerant. Where gluten and/or wheat intolerance has been diagnosed, these consumers should avoid consuming any wheaten products or products containing wheat as an ingredient (check the labels!).

What is the positive side of bread?

  • An important and valuable stable food
  • Ready-to-eat thus saves on fuel costs
  • Moderate source of energy (10 kJ per gram). The moisture content reduces the energy density of bread and the fat content is very low
  • Fortified with six vitamins and two minerals, helping prevent physical, organic and mental diseases and lifts borderline cases to safe intake levels
  • When leaving the bakery, bread is safe because it is processed at relatively high temperatures
  • Bread is an excellent complimentary food and can be consumed with a variety of other foods to improve nutritional value
  • The cholesterol levels in bread are negligible.

Why is bread a good complimentary food?

Although bread is an excellent staple food, a diet consisting of bread alone, will soon result in one or more nutrient deficiencies. No food, not even milk, can be considered to be a “total nutritional food” and that is why a diet should consist of a variety of foods. Table 2 shows how the nutritional value of bread is increased when consumed with a few common foods.


Bread in combination with other products

Product Mass (g) Energy (kJ) Carboh (g) Protein (g) Fat (g) Fibre (g)
Bread, white 150 1500 75 11.3 1.7 3.9
Bread, brown 150 1440 63 12.5 3.0 9.5
Cheese 35 522 1 8.4 8.4
Cheese +Brown bread 185 1962 64 20.9 11.4 9.5
[%RDA 16 37 30]
Pilchards 30 168 6 2
Pilchards + Brown bread 180 1608 64 18.5 5 9.5
[% RDA 13 33 30]
Boiled egg 40 255 0.5 5 4
Egg + Brown bread 190 1695 63 17.5 7 9.5
[% RDA 15 33 30]
Polony 50 660 1 6 14
Polony + Brown bread 200 2100 64 18.5 17 9.5
[% RDA 17 33 30]

[Note: A standard slice of bread is generally considered by industry to be 12mm thick with a mass of 33g. The 150g bread mass depicted in the table thus constitutes 4-5 slices]

Table 2 clearly shows that bread can form part of a balanced diet, especially for populations with limited food choices. Consumer education on the benefits of bread and how it can form part of the daily diet should be encouraged.

 The FACS position

Any food, eaten in excessive amounts can contribute to weight gain. Therefore bread should be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced eating plan. Choose fortified bread, preferably the brown or whole wheat variety and combine it with other nutritious foods to create a balanced meal, e.g. dairy products, cold meats, fish, eggs and peanut butter.

Many fad diets come and go, such as the so-called Banting diet, which does not promote a balanced diet, an essential element of which is a moderate intake of carbohydrates. Regulation R.146 relating to the labelling of foodstuffs is currently under review. This legislation will improve the quality of information contained on food product labels. Consumers are encouraged to read and understand labels found on bread packaging.


FACS would like to express its thanks to the SA Chamber of Baking for its cooperation.

Prepared for FACS by GPe (2019)