Rye Bread

Is Rye Bread Healthy?

By: Paige Doyle, Certified Nutritionist and dietetics student.

Reviewed by Jinan Banna, PhD, RD 

What is Rye Bread? Is it Gluten-Free?

Rye bread originated in Northern Europe. Today, the majority of the world’s rye comes from Russia, Poland, China, Canada, and Denmark. Rye is heavier and darker than most other flours from the wheat family. This is why rye bread looks denser and darker than other breads you might find at the bakery. Rye is known for its bold flavor that is slightly on the sour side. Because rye is a cereal grain from the wheat family, it does contain gluten. Gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. If you have Celiac’s Disease or a gluten sensitivity, it is recommended to avoid these grains. Interestingly, rye bread made without other wheat flours contains less gluten than bread made from whole wheat or all-purpose flours. This means rye bread might be easier to digest than other gluten-containing breads. Examples of gluten-free bread flours include: almond, buckwheat, brown rice, and oat flours, to name a few. For more information on gluten and gluten-free bread recommendations, check out our blog on this topic. 

The Health Benefits of Rye Bread

Whole-grain rye bread has an impressive amount of dietary fiber, as well as the minerals selenium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc and iron. Rye bread is also rich in B vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and pantothenic acid. Take a look at the nutrition facts below for two large slices (100 grams) of rye bread. 

NutrientAmount% Daily Value
Niacin3.805 mg24%
Pantothenic Acid0.440 mg9%
Riboflavin0.335 mg26%
Thiamin0.434 mg36%
Copper0.186 mg21%
Iron2.83 mg16%
Manganese0.824 mg36%
Phosphorus 125.00 mg18%
Selenium30.9 mcg56%
Zinc1.14 mg10%
Fiber5.8 g21%

Compared with other whole grain breads, such as whole wheat bread, rye bread is higher in dietary fiber and B vitamins. A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that consumption of pure rye bread reduces hunger and increases feelings of fullness, which can help with weight management. This is likely due to the high fiber content of rye bread. Furthermore, research has shown that rye bread can be a healthier choice for diabetics than wheat bread; the beneficial effects of rye bread on insulin metabolism can help manage a diabetic’s blood sugar levels.

Rye Bread and Colon Cancer

Consuming rye bread and other fiber-rich foods may also lower one’s risk of colon cancer. A randomized crossover trial demonstrated that whole-grain rye bread significantly improved bowel function in healthy adults and might decrease the concentration of colon cancer risk markers. This is because rye bread contains insoluble fiber which adds water to stools, increasing intestinal transit time and improving fecal output. 

Rye Bread and Heart Disease

Another benefit of rye is its ability to lower one’s risk for heart disease. Consuming whole grain bread, such as rye bread, has been shown to reduce serum total and LDL cholesterol in men with elevated cholesterol. In one clinical study, men who followed a diet rich in whole-grain rye reduced their total cholesterol by 10% and LDL cholesterol by 12%. According to an article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, increased cholesterol levels are significantly associated with elevated heart disease risk. The major heart protective agent in rye bread is its dietary fiber; in particular, the soluble fiber content in rye reduces cholesterol concentrations in the blood. In one meta-analysis, consuming two and a half servings a day of whole grains was associated with a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease events. 

What is Sprouted Bread?

Sprouted bread is made from whole grains that have been sprouted. This means that the grains have germinated, which helps break down some of their starches. By sprouting the bread, phytic acid is removed. Removal of phytic acid from the grain allows nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, to be more easily absorbed in the digestive tract. Phytic acid is considered an anti-nutrient found in grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts that can decrease their nutritional quality. By sprouting or fermenting grains, you diminish the phytic acid content. According to registered dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio, some of the nutrition benefits of choosing sprouted bread instead of regular bread include higher amounts of dietary fiber, protein, B vitamins, and iron. Scientists credit this boost in nutrition to the bioactive compounds, such as antioxidants, found in sprouted grains.

Sprouted rye bread can be an excellent choice when looking for a bread with added nutritional benefits and increased nutrient absorbency. Brands that we like include Angelic Bakehouse and Manna Bread. For more healthy bread options, go to our blog on Healthy Bread

How do I sprout my own grains? 

You can buy sprouted grains and sprouted grain flours at the store. However, it is very easy (and a lot cheaper) to sprout your own grains at home. Food blogger Emily Han shares her tips for sprouting grains:

  1. Pick out which grains you would like to use. Some examples include millet, whole oats, rye berries, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, farro, and rice. You can also sprout beans before cooking, if you are using dry beans. 
  2. Rinse and drain the grains using a strainer.
  3. Soak the grains in filtered water for at least 12 hours. 
  4. Drain and rinse the grains again.
  5. Place the grains in a mason jar and cover with a sprouting lid and screen or a cheesecloth and rubber band. 
  6. Turn the jar upside down at an angle to allow for proper air circulation and drainage. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight.
  7. Rinse and drain the grains twice a day. 
  8. The grains should start to sprout in 1-5 days.
  9. Cover and refrigerate the sprouted grains. Use within a few days.

Sourdough vs Sprouted Bread

Similar to sprouting grains is sourdough fermentation, in which yeast and bacteria are fermented over a long period of time and then used to bake bread. Sourdough fermentation improves the nutritional value of bread. A lot of the phytic acid is removed in the process of fermentation, which allows for better nutrient absorption. Different types of flours can be used when making sourdough bread; therefore, the nutrient content will vary based on the grains used. If you enjoy the taste of sourdough, be sure to try this Sourdough Rye Bread Recipe. To learn more, read our blog about the health benefits of sourdough bread

What to Look for When Buying Rye Bread

To ensure you are getting the most nutrients out of your rye bread, be sure to look at the ingredient list. Remember, the ingredients on a nutrition label are listed in descending order with the first one being in the highest concentration by weight. Choose a rye bread that lists whole rye or rye berries on the label. Unbleached wheat flour is a common ingredient in rye bread because it helps the bread rise more.

Unfortunately, this is a highly refined flour that contains less fiber, protein, and vitamins than rye flour. Make sure rye is listed first under ingredients, instead of white flour. Kelly Springer, MD, RD, CDN, explains that white flour doesn’t include the most nutritious components of the grain – the bran and the germ. Overconsumption of white flours can contribute to type 2 diabetes and obesity, says Springer. Other ingredients to watch out for on the nutrition label include high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. 

Rye bread comes in several different varieties, including light, dark, marbled, and pumpernickel. The color of the bread depends on if the flour or grain is used. Although the color and taste of  the different types of rye bread may vary, the nutrient content is similar throughout the different varieties. Light rye bread is made from white rye flour. Dark rye bread is made from whole rye grains. Marbled rye bread is a mixture of light and dark rye dough rolled together. Pumpernickel is made using coarsely ground whole rye grains. Sometimes, to get a darker bread product, bakers will use cocoa powder or molasses to achieve the color. You will find this listed in the ingredient list. 

Caloric Content of Rye Bread vs. Other Breads

When comparing rye bread to other breads on the market, calorie content is another thing to consider. One slice of Mestemacher’s rye bread contains approximately 120 calories, 1 gram of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. On the other hand, one slice of whole wheat bread contains around 116 calories, 2 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of protein.

The rye bread here might contain slightly more calories than the whole wheat bread, but it is important to note that a slice of the rye bread is much denser than a slice of wheat bread. If you are looking for a bread that will keep you fuller for longer (from the fiber and protein content), the rye bread is clearly the better choice than the whole wheat bread. However, some whole grain breads are more nutritionally dense than others. When looking at the calorie content of sprouted multi-grain bread, Food For Life’s 7 Sprouted Grains Bread contains 80 calories per slice, with less than 1 gram of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. For an overall comparison of these 3 different types of bread, look at the table below.

1 Slice of Mestemacher’s Rye Bread (72 grams)1 Slice of Pepperidge Farm’s Whole Wheat Bread (43 grams)1 Slice of Food For Life’s 7 Sprouted Grains Bread (34 grams)
82 calories 116 calories80 calories
1 gram of total fat2 grams of total fat0.5 grams of total fat
25 grams of carbohydrates20 grams of carbohydrates15 grams of carbohydrates
6 grams of fiber3 grams of fiber3 grams of fiber
6 grams of protein 0 grams of protein4 grams of protein

Is Rye Bread Vegan?

A lot of commercially sold breads at the grocery store contain dairy and/or eggs as binders. The only way to know for sure if your bread is vegan-friendly is to read the ingredient list. However, unlike many other breads, traditional rye bread recipes are vegan. The main ingredients in rye bread are yeast, water, rye flour, cracked rye seeds and regular flour. Sourdough bread is another traditionally-made vegan option. We really like this vegan-friendly Overnight Rye Bread recipe from Alexandra at Occasionally Eggs. Even non-bakers can enjoy baking this bread! 

The Bottom Line

Rye bread can be a healthier bread choice compared to other breads on the market. Rye is rich in fiber, B vitamins, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc and iron. However, make sure to read the nutrition label and check that your rye bread lists  rye berries or whole rye as the first ingredient instead of enriched wheat flour. As with most foods, if you can make it yourself using unrefined flours and oils, the end product will be healthier (and probably taste better too!). While rye does contain gluten, it is lower in gluten content than wheat flour. For an even more nutrient-dense rye bread, choose a sprouted or sourdough version. Try a slice of rye bread the next time you are at the bakery and enjoy its deep, earthy flavor.

Have questions? Comments? I would love to hear what you think below!

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