By Gatonye Gathura
Kenyans scrambling for brown bread on assumptions, it is healthier than white, are chasing the wrong loaf, say food experts.
“We have confirmed much of the brown bread sold in Nairobi does not meet the recommended fibre content levels to claim any health benefits,” says Dr George Ooko Abong’ a senior lecturer at the department of food science at the University of Nairobi.
Up to 61 per cent of brown bread sampled from Nairobi’s major supermarkets, Dr Abong’ said did not meet the required minimum fibre content to make it healthier.
Real brown bread
However, he said although bakers might not claim any health benefits they may be cashing on consumer assumptions that all brown bread is rich in fibre and hence healthier. “Our study shows this is not the case,” he said in an interview.
“For a healthier and real brown bread, go for that labeled ‘wholemeal,’ with fibre content at 0.6 per cent or thereabouts. Anything else may just be colour,” he said.
Dr Abong’ with Prof Michael W. Okoth of UoN and Abdirizack Aftin Hussein, of Kenya Bureau of Standards and an MSc student during the study, had sampled 15 brands of white and brown bread collected from 14 major supermarkets in Nairobi County.
The samples were tested for fibre, moisture, carbohydrate, protein and impurities at the Kenya Bureau of Standards laboratories.
“Significantly 60.7 per cent, of brown bread had crude fibre content less than stipulated in the East African Community standards,” says the study appearing in the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutritional and Development.
The standards recommend a minimum of 0.6 per cent of fibre content in brown bread and 0.3 per cent in white bread. Some of the tested brown bread had less fibre content than white loaves.
“It is true much of the brown bread that health-conscious Kenyans are rushing for is misleading,” says Nduta Wambura, a nutrition consultant working in Nairobi.
“It is simply the same white bread with brown colouring; mainly caramel to give the loaves the colour consumers are looking for,” said Wambura. Caramel is “burnt sugar” used for colouring and flavouring, to give food that extra brown appearance.
“But you can’t tell the fakes by just looking while some labels are also falsified to indicate high fibre content,” said Wambura.
However, the problem with your breakfast bread, Dr Abong’ says does not end with the colouring, with most of the loaves, found to be highly contaminated with impurities.
“More than half, 58.9 per cent of the loaves of bread had impurity levels that exceeded the regulatory limits in East Africa,” says the study.
Ideally, Dr Abong’ says bread should not have any impurities such as sand, soil, stones, pieces of plastics, metal or such others. Their presence in ready-to-eat bread he says indicates poor handling of flour.
“Most of the bread in our study had a high composition of inorganic matter, implying a high contamination with impurities.”
The team says these findings point to poor surveillance of bread sold in Nairobi by the relevant regulatory authorities.
They have called for more market surveillance to ensure bakers and retailers are meeting the required quality and marketing ethical standards