Bread is Not Junk Food – Bread Vs. Roti

Bread is Not Junk Food – Bread Vs. Roti

Growing weary of friends and family, most especially my husband, claiming that bread is “junk food” and anything I make with bread (sandwiches for example) are “junk food”. Bread is a staple in many families in America, as well as other parts of the world. Whether it be sliced bread, bakery fresh bread, dinner rolls, whole wheat, or white bread. Knowing it’s definitely not junk food, I decided it’s high time to put this Indian myth to rest.

Before I begin, I’d like to highlight possible reasons why many Indians (and perhaps other large groups) remain delusional about bread.

  1. They see that bread is pre-made and pre-packaged, sold in almost every small convenience store. So they probably assume that, as with most pre-packaged food items, it can’t be good for you.
  2. They do not understand how bread is made. Junk food is lumped in with fast food, or “quick foods” as my husband calls it. Likely, they have never had fresh bread, they don’t know how bread is made, and they only know that they can buy it from the store and that it’s already ready to eat.
  3. They have been conditioned to think bread is bad for you, not as good as roti, or junk food. It’s not their fault, it’s what their parents taught them. Simply, they had no need to know how to make bread our way. Thus, they never knew better.

Bread VS. Roti (Chapati)

Bread vs Roti
These are the nutritional facts for bread, and nutritional facts for roti.

After a bit of research, it turns out, these numbers represent the average slice of bread and piece of roti. On the lower end of the spectrum, roti at best, equalled this specific brand of bread, in nutrition. Depending on the kind of bread, and size, the calories could differ. Same with roti. The sodium levels in roti really depend on whether or not the roti has any salt added to the dough.

bread vs roti
Roti on a hot tawa – Image by markheseltine via Flickr.com

I chose a brand of bread that is familiar to me, but if you want to compare a popular brand sold in India, Britannia’s whole wheat bread (per 1 slice) is still healthier than roti.

As the chart pictured above will tell you, calories per 1 roti (as well as calories from fat) far outweigh the calories per 1 pice of bread. Roti seems to have slightly more fat and sodium – again, depending on whether or not it’s made with oil and salt. Carbohydrates are nearly doubled in roti, and fiber is only one gram higher. This loaf of bread has a bit of calcium and iron as well. While there is no mention of the same in roti, I can’t say for certain whether or not it has any bonus vitamins or minerals.

Now picture this…

Fresh alu sabji (a spicy, sometimes saucy, Indian potato dish) is steaming hot, and waiting on the stove top.

If I were to stuff that between two pieces of slightly toasted bread (how I make sandwiches in India) my husband would call this junk food. Despite complaining about not feeling full, he would never consider eating two sandwiches. Even though he finds it to be delicious.

If I were, however, to pair this with 5 roti smothered with ghee (as my husband usually eats with a meal) this would be considered a filling meal.
(Ghee is clarified butter made from the milk of a cow or buffalo.)

Let’s look at this factually.

400 calorie (2 servings) Alu Sabji
120 calorie (2 slices) Whole Wheat Bread

Total: 520 calories (1040 calories, if you eat 2 sandwiches.)

OR

400 calorie (2 servings) Alu Sabji
600 calorie (5 pieces) Roti
325 calorie (2.5 servings) Ghee

Total: 1325 calories

Needless to say, bread is considerably healthier. But before I go on, I’d like to add that each person has their own specific needs, according to their body or their metabolism. One person may need more calories and carbs to feel full, and I suspect that is the case for my husband. In this case, it’s totally understandable that he would eat more roti. However, just because bread does not have as many calories as roti, does not mean it is junk.

How Bread is Made Vs. How Roti is Made

Bread

Ingredients:

  • Boiling water
  • Active Dry Yeast (powder)
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil (any vegetable oil/fat)
  • Sugar
  • And sometimes uses Eggs

Roti

Ingredients:

  • Water (hot, warm, or cold)
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Salt
  • Oil (any vegetable oil)

The Process

Bread:

  • Hot water is mixed with yeast and sugar, and stirred. Whole wheat flour is incorporated into the mix, and set aside to allow the yeast to rise. The dough will double in size, after about 30 minutes of resting. Afterwards, salt, oil, and a little more flour are added.
  • The dough is stirred until firm, and then kneaded. Flour is added as needed, during the kneading process. The kneading is complete when the dough is no longer sticky.
  • The dough is set aside and covered, to double in size again.
  • Baking pans are oiled, the oven is pre-heated, and the dough is shaped into the baking pans.
  • The dough is set aside to rise again, for about 40 minutes, this time in the bread pan.
  • The bread is then baked at about 350 °F, for about 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • When removed from the oven, the bread is set aside to cool for about 10-15 minutes, and either served immediately, or stored for later. Bread is either sliced all at once, or as needed.
  • Bread is good for several days at room temperature, or 7-10 days in the refrigerator.

Roti:

  • Whole wheat flour is mixed with oil and salt in a bowl.
  • Room temperature water is mixed into the flour, slowly, forming the dough.
  • When the mixture becomes firm, and is no longer sticky, the dough is kneaded.
  • The kneaded dough is set aside, along with a small pyramid of flour to “dust” the roti with.
  • The tawa (a flat, cast iron pan with no sides) is heated on the flame of the stove.
  • 1.5 to 2-inch sized balls are pulled from the dough as needed, and rolled between the palms until slightly disc-shaped, and smooth – no cracks.
  • The disc-shaped ball is gently dropped in the flour (also known as dusting), before set on the counter top and shaped into a circle with the rolling pin.
  • As the dough shapes into a circle, it may require additional dusting to keep from sticking.
  • When the dough is rolled into a circle, not too thin and not too thick, the roti is placed on the hot tawa.
  • The roti is cooked until bubbles start to form on the surface, or until the bottom side has small golden-brown spots.
  • The roti is then flipped, cooking for half the time on the other side.
  • When circles appear on the other side, the tawa is removed from the flame, and the roti is cooked over the flame on each side, as it puffs up.
  • The roti is then placed in a cloth, or container to keep it fresh and warm.
  • The process of pulling dough, shaping, and cooking the roti is repeated until the dough is gone.
  • Roti (as suggested by my mother-in-law and husband) should only be made fresh. If you wish to save leftover roti, save it in an air-tight container, wrapped in cloth, for no more than 12 hours.

As you can see, each process is difficult in its own way. Please note, there are several methods to making both roti and bread. Read more about home made whole wheat bread here.

In Conclusion

Bread is good for you, and has far less calories than roti. Roti is good for you too, definitely a sturdy staple. Each taste best when they are cooked fresh. However, just because you can buy them pre-made, it does not mean they are “junk food”. Yes – even roti can be bought pre-made and pre-packaged. And so can tortillas (Mexican/Spanish flatbread), pita bread (Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flatbread), and any kind of bread you can imagine.

bakery bread nepal
Fresh bread and pastries in a bakery in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal. 

It’s always a good idea to check the ingredients of pre-packaged foods, and be sure to purchase the most natural product, preferably without preservatives. (Vinegar is an ingredient sometimes used as a preservative in bread, and that is okay.)

bread roti puri
An Indian bread fried in oil, known as Puri. Image by Ahmed Mahin Fayaz via Flickr.com

And of course, there are many variations of breads. The least popular being white bread – made with maida, or white flour. You can read about the differences between white and wheat bread here.

Hopefully this will help a few people understand that bread really isn’t junk food, and it’s really not that bad. Even pre-packaged bread was mixed and cooked all the same, and as long as it’s used before expiration, it’s perfectly good.

As always, if you have anything to add, please comment! If you found this article helpful, please pass it on.

Featured image of fresh Sourdough Bread by jeffreyw via Flickr.com.

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22 thoughts on “Bread is Not Junk Food – Bread Vs. Roti

  1. India never had a tradition of baking like Europe. The Muslims of central Asia brought the practice of tandoors or earthen ovens. They bake all kinds of breads. that is perhaps why baking remained with a specific community.

    Then came the British who intoduced bread and rum cake. We associate rum cakes with Christmas. again a very community specific food.

    Most people in rural india ate coarse cereals like millet and they still do. big rotis eaten with a huge onion and green chillies. The onion is broken with the fist. These are more nutritious than rotis made with refined flour. t

    the fact is anything which gets made fast is junk food to us. We associate food with care and when it is made fast it kind of goes against the philosophy. that is why there is certain bias against bread. people eat sandwiches only when they are in hurry.
    its a mentality.

    there is that fulfilling feeling which Indians crave. what applies to bread also applies to all non Indian food. again a mentality.

    then ofcourse I read that there are certain issues with what is being sold as whole grain bread.

    no offence meant just a few observations.

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    1. Well I guess if you compare the process of making fresh whole wheat bread and fresh roti, they are both quite difficult. Lots of love and care are poured into anything home made. Anything pre-packaged is a bit risky, though.

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  2. I’ve heard this kind of thing a lot. There seems to be this idea that all western food is junk and all western people eat are junk foods. I assume this comes from that most of the western food that is readily available in India is fast food/junk food. Not to say that we never eat junk but frankly I eat way more fatty oily fried foods in India than I ever did in Canada.
    My own mother never deep fried a thing in her life lol. Of course she’s a fairly extreme example, she makes her own bread, has nothing to drink in the house but milk and water or occasionally juice but never soda and makes pretty much everything from scratch (pancake mix, pasta sauce, you name it)
    I’ve cured my own family of this “western food is junk” idea by cooking in front of them. Now they love baked snacks instead of fried 😉

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    1. Yes, I hear that all the time here in Chechnya too. People tell me that I need to stop eating fast food, even though I never eat fast food. But they have ingrained into their thinking that people do not cook in the West and when we do, it is still junk.

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  3. An oven is an almost an impossible dream. I make do with a toaster oven. Does the trick but all my baked items are “fun sized”
    It’s all about exposure. Most people haven’t seen what we cook at home. After seeing me cook my mil now tells everyone all about how I don’t use readymade ingredients and I must have “so much patience” to make things that take so long (her rajma chawla 20 mins vs my vegetarian chilli 2.5 hours) I’m totally her new showpiece (j/k) of course this means I have to make all sorts of new things for everyone. This becomes a bit of an exercise in creativity converting non-veg to veg but is lots of fun!
    My mil is now completely in love with my roasted red pepper sauce pasta and my sil is a convert to real coffee from that powdered crap. 🙂

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  4. I got an Oven its Electric. Its by Morphy Richards 52 Litres.I bought it from Big Bazaar its a great little oven. I baked both white & whole wheat bread for my ILs & they couldn’t believe the difference. Indians only know shop bread which is nothing compared to home made bread from scratch!!

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    1. I don’t have space in my place our kitchen is the smallest room in the house 😦 but of we decide to move I’ll keep that in mind 🙂
      For packaged stuff I find the bread from reliance market to be fairly good if I’m in need of a bread fix. Big bazaar if they have an in store bakery is ok too. I can’t handle the regular stuff the corner shops sells. Cardboard slices

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  5. Indians compare roti to the bread sold in the market. No store brought bread is 100% whole wheat irrespective of the labels. Its hardly close to 25%. Since Indians dont bake their own bread, its always store vrpight

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  6. Indians compare roti to the bread sold in the market. No store brought bread is 100% whole wheat inspite of what the the labels say. (whole wheat bread would turn out heavy and dense unlike the store sold for example Britannia ones that are just brown in colour but as light as the maida bread… Its hardly close to 25%. All purpose flour (generally bread recipes from around the world call for all purpose flour) is not the same as whole wheat flour (roti flour).
    Since Indians dont bake their own bread, for us, its almost always store bought fake brown bread vs homemade whole wheat roti…. Although, just because rotis are healthy Indians consuming too many of them, making each meal carbohydrates laden is indeed a huge problem …

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  7. Well, as an Aussie of Indian descent, I completely understand the peculiar situation you find yourself in. The bickering of married life can be the fun and bane of the married life at the same time, and I must laud you for not mentioning the cultural ignorance that generally informs such discussions.

    Now coming to the content of your article, which is quite informed, I do want to add a few things which might help shed some more light on to the entire story of ‘bread v roti’ conflict.

    As you’ve mentioned, it is not just the ingredients that make up the two products that determine their dietary value, but also the toppings and side dishes that go along with the two which might impact on their nutritional values. But there is one thing that is often missed in the discussion, and that is the nature of the contents. Let me explain it.

    Normally the wheat used for making bread (even wholemeal or multi-grain) has more roughage removed from it in processing than what is normally used for rotis, which should explain why there is that slight difference in the fibre content of the two. Now that might look an insignificant aspect right now, but it will become very important in the light of what I am going to explain below.

    Now much of what I am going to say would not make a difference to an ordinary person with a regular fitness regime, for both bread and roti are as good as the other for such an individual. But if you are very particular about your diet, like I am because I am trying to improve my muscular definition for aesthetic reasons, then it becomes important as to what form of nutrients I am consuming from different sources.

    If we were to use the same amount of wheat to make bread and roti (and I make my roti without any ghee, which is basically saturated fat, or oil and salt, and I don’t use anything else on top except my highly low fat curry and no fat youghurt as side dishes), the roti would turn out to be better and there is a good reason why.

    Human body is not designed to digest and assimilate the carbohydrates found in wheat efficiently. We normally end up using only about 60% (or less, please check on some good site) of the carbohydrates that make up wheat. So when you eat roti, your body does not assimilate all the carbohydrate content in it. But now consider the case of bread. Why does the yeast make the bread rise? Because it produces Carbon dioxide when it digests the carbohydrates present in wheat. But this also alters the nature of carbohydrates present in the bread made from wheat. And these carbohydrates are much easily digested and assimilated by human bodies, which is why bread is light.

    Now, let us bring the fibre back into the picture. Not only are we getting more carbohydrate content from bread, but thanks to the minor difference in fibre content of the two products, a person is likely to consume less grain as roti, than as bread. And this is the reason why bread is considered less healthier than roti. Although, as we have both already pointed out, there’s a lot more that goes into making a food unhealthy, and moreover as I mentioned, I am talking about when a person is really harping on the quality and content of the nutrients they are consuming. For normal purposes, bread is as good as roti, and better in case you need quick carbs.

    Hope that helps everyone reading the above article understand a bit better as to why bread is much maligned.

    Fatal Urge Carefree Kiss “Amanpreet Singh Rai”

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    1. I am a doctor. When I ask my Indian heart patients about their diets, the most serious cases, are always amongst the roti addicts (anything more than 2 a day is bad for you IF YOU DON’T FORGO THE GHEE). The non-Indian patients who eat bread are in fact slightly better off, mostly because they have more protein and less saturated fat in their diets.

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  8. My roti is not made with ghee/oil or salt. Just whole wheat. So I don’t see how bread can be healthier than my roti. Bread is of course tastier but more time and fuel consuming too. Roti wins in this case also.
    Cow ghee is far more healthier than any other oil – cold pressed olive oil excepted, but you can’t use that while making bread because high heat in the oven will disintegrate cold pressed olive oil. Cow ghee can withstand high temperatures without disintegration.

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  9. You have serious misunderstandings and are wrong. Roti is literally whole wheat flour and water. Salt and oil are additional things people choose to add, not my problem. Just whole wheat and water rolled and cooked on a flame can no where be unhealthier than bread. Roti has been the staple diet in this ancient country for THOUSANDS upon thousands of years, whereas the obese people in western countries eat bread which is full of starch, and starch causes unhealthy fat gain. Not sure how you’re saying that bread is healthier than roti when it is so full of starch.

    Indians, don’t trust this foreign nonsense – India is the most ancient country in the world and well-equipped with food knowledge and all the knowledge of all sciences in the universe. Roti is healthier than bread.

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