Q: Rye bread is highlighted as part of the new Nordic diet that is supposedly so healthy. Is rye bread a whole grain?
A: Just as with wheat bread, the nutritional quality of grain – rye bread depends on the type of flour used to make it. Dark rye bread, such as pumpernickel, is often a whole-grain product, but light rye breads frequently contain mostly refined flour. Scandinavian-style rye flatbread crackers are often whole grain. Check the list of ingredients and look for the words “whole rye” to top the list, since that is the primary ingredient. You don’t need to restrict yourself exclusively to whole grains, but they do provide much more nutritionally than refined grains. With all their extra fiber, vitamins B-6 and E, magnesium, zinc, and protective plant compounds (phytochemicals), it’s smart to choose whole grains for most of your grain products.
Whole grains vary in nutrient and phytochemical content; each has something to offer. All whole grains are high in fiber and help reduce risk for colorectal cancer. Whole-grain rye tends to be especially high in lignans, which some studies suggest might play a role in reducing breast cancer risk. Like other whole grains, rye contains natural compounds, including phenolic acids, alkylresorcinols and others, that limited studies suggest could affect cell signaling, gene expression and antioxidant defenses to reduce cancer risk. Since much of this research has been in isolated cells and animals, we need more studies. Meanwhile, don’t misinterpret the latest interest in rye as suggesting you give up on whole wheat and other whole grains. Let it be a reminder of the potential benefits of making a variety of whole grains part of your daily eating habits.
Learn more about whole grains: AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer