The Scandinavian staple (it's a must on the Nordic diet!) is slowly but surely making a comeback amongst the wellness set. Hell, if Pippa Middleton swears by rye bread for her morning slice, then it must be good for you, right? We asked two health pros all our pressing rye-related questions to get to the bottom of this.
So first, what is rye?
“Rye is a grain of a common weed that initially grew hidden in fields of wheat,” says Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age. “It evolved to mimic wheat to avoid detection and be resown with similar looking wheat seeds by early farmers.” Thanks to its high tolerance for growing in cold climates, it wasn’t long before rye became a cereal crop in its own right.
“Rye is heavier and darker than most other flours, so it produces a heavier, dense, dark bread with hints of mushroom and earthy green flavors,” says Shira Sussi MS, RD, CDN, founder of Shira Sussi Nutrition. So if you're into pumpernickel, you'll probably like rye. “Some 100-percent rye breads take on a thick, sticky, consistency, which is because it has less gluten than all-purpose or whole wheat flour and absorbs eight times its weight in water. ”
What are the benefits of eating rye bread?
“Rye is a great source of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, and antioxidants,” says Sussi. This is pretty on-par with the benefits of other whole grain breads.
However, one of the main selling points of rye bread is that it's naturally high in fiber. (One slice of rye bread itself has about two grams of fiber, which is not too shabby for a bread.) “Its high-fiber content makes it a heart-healthy grain good for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol," Sussi says. “Its slow transit time [in your digestive system] and ability to be only partially digested is beneficial for gut health."
The fiber content will also keep you fuller for longer, which can be beneficial for healthy weight management. This is again similar to the benefits of other high-fiber foods like oats, chia seeds, and black beans.
Does rye bread have gluten?
If you’re looking for a gluten-free bread alternative, rye bread is definitely not the answer, Dr. Gundry says. Like wheat, rye contains gluten (albeit smaller amounts, says Sussi), which can wreak havoc on your digestive system if you suffer from things like Celiac disease.
However, unlike wheat bread, Dr. Gundry says, rye doesn’t have wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which is a small lectin that is responsible for wheat's inflammatory and anti-insulin properties. So if you don't have Celiac or a non-Celiac gluten intolerance but have decided to cut back on your gluten intake, rye bread could be a good alternative to try.
What should I look for when buying rye bread?
Just because rye's dark color makes it look like a whole grain loaf means that it always is whole grain. “To ensure you’re getting whole grain rye, look for whole rye or rye berries on the label,” Sussi says. “Many rye breads today are blends of light, medium, or dark rye flour blended with a higher protein flour, like wheat, for better rising.” Both Dr. Gundry and Sussi also recommend opting for rye sourdough whenever possible over regular rye. The fermentation process will help break down the gluten and may have more antioxidant properties.
The TL;DR version: If you eat bread, rye bread is pretty good for you. Just opt for whole rye wherever possible to be sure you're getting the maximum nutritional benefits. That's not a crumby verdict, IMO.
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