The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How do they do it?

DavidEF's picture

How do they do it?

My brother lost a lot of weight a couple years ago, and is trying to maintain it, while also working on toning and strengthening. As such, he eats only low calorie foods. When he needs to get more calories in him to support his excercise routine, he will cram more low-calorie food down his throat, or else just skip it, rather than eat something a little richer. My opinion of what is healthy differs from his. I believe that the closer you can get to natural, the better it is for you, even if it does have more calories. Just because someone figured out how to remove all the fat and most of the calories from something, doesn't mean it's good for the body.

So, the other day, I was trying to explain to him what I've learned about long fermented bread having much better nutritional value than the commercially produced bread he buys. I told him it would be healthier, and offered to bake a sourdough loaf for him. He pointed to the calorie content label on his bread bag, and it claims to have 80 calories per two slices of bread! He said if I could make bread with that many calories or less, he'd try it. The bread he buys is whole grain, and claims to have 20% more fiber or something like that.

I told him I thought I could do it, but now that I've been doing the math, it seems impossible. The Whole White Wheat flour I bought has 100 calories per 30g of flour, and it doesn't claim to be bread flour. If I make a pan loaf, in a 8.5 x 4.5 pan, and get 16 slices out of it, I would need the loaf to total 640 calories. If I made a simple lean dough, and the flour was the only thing that contributed any calories, I could use 192g of flour. That is just over 40% of the amount of flour I normally use for that size pan. And I'm used to baking with white bread flour, so it's gonna be a real challenge to get anywhere near what he's asking for. So, what can I do? Is there a way to fill out the volume of the loaf without adding a significant amount of calories? I'm trying to do this with ingredients that come from the earth, not a laboratory. That may be the part that makes it impossible.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

I don't know the answer to your question, but I suspect if you were to actually weigh those two slices, they would weigh hardly anything. It is  just tricking the eye. You see two slices, eye makes you think you have eaten two slices. If you could compare calories weight for weight rather than slice for slice, there would probably not be that much difference. I guess it is also possible to incorporate fibre in the bought loaf that will bulk up, but add few or no calories and also of course lots of water and air! Personally, I would always rather eat less of something good, than a lot of something bad!

DavidEF's picture


I hadn't heard of wood fiber being added to bread, but I'm not surprised. After all, they add wood to grated parmesan cheese "to prevent caking" and still call it 100% parmesan cheese.


I understand what you're saying, and I suspect you're exactly right. A little bit of air and water can go a long way. But, the issue is that my brother wants to be able to make a sandwich with two slices of bread that together are the equivalent of less than one slice of real bread, by weight. Since it exists, he eats it. I've already told him there is little-to-no nutritional value in it, but that's not what matters to him. If there is something I could do to make my dough hold more air, I'd like to know about it. I've already considered using more water. That would be the easiest thing to add. But, I don't think I can get by with 200% hydration! Perhaps adding some extra fiber to it would help, because the fiber itself is low-to-no calories, plus it will help the dough to hold more water! I can't dilute the gluten too much, either, or it will not hold together. I need something else.

Bob S.'s picture
Bob S.

Try substituting 20% oat bran cereal for the wheat flour in your recipe. To maintain loaf volume, add 2.5% vital wheat gluten and increase absorption by 3% to 4%.

DavidEF's picture

Thanks Bob. I've never heard of oat bran cereal. I considered adding vital wheat gluten, but I'm not sure about it. Obviously, anything I add that has calories of its own will have to be subtracted from the already paltry amount of flour in the loaf, so I may have to add VWG just to make sure I even have a loaf at all when done, and not a brick!

Bob S.'s picture
Bob S.

Made a loaf of oat bran bread last night and it came out well. Next time I may cut down on the vital wheat gluten to 2.5% and soak the oat bran in part of the water for an hour or so (the oat bran and VWG made the loaf quite chewy, but still quite good!).


Oat Bran Bread (15 oz Flour Basis)
Baker's PercentIngredientsOuncesVolumeGrams
80%Bread Flour12 340
20%Oat Bran Cereal3 86
3.3%Dried Buttermilk1/22 Tb14
3.3%Shortening1/21 Tb 1/2 tsp14
3.3%Vital Wheat Gluten1/21 Tb 1-3/4 tsp14
0.19%Soy Lecithin0.0293/8 tsp0.8
0.8%Instant Yeast0.1201-1/8 tsp3.4
66.6%Water (variable)10 284
5%Honey3/41 Tb 2-1/4 tsp21
2%Table Salt0.3001-3/8 tsp8.5
 Total1 lb 12 oz 786
mrfrost's picture

But way over the goal, calorie wise.

108 calories/slice. Btw, using whole wheat flour is 103 cal/slice.

Pretty much proves the "brother's" point.

Don't know if that link can be read by anyone but me, but it analyzes the recipe. Wonder how the info compares to other similar sites(that analyze recipes).

Again, nice looking loaf though. Will keep the recipe on file.

dsadowsk's picture

From what you've told us it seems your brother is totally focused on counting -- calories, grams of fiber etc., at the expense of flavor and satisfaction. If he's immune to the charms of homemade bread (I assume he's tried yours) you're just knocking your head against a wall. Nor will it likely help to tell him that these unusual sources of fiber can be difficult to digest or even cause allergies (see the use of Lupine flour in European breads and pastas -- ).

If your brother does not share your food values you will not be able to compete against the styrofoam he's using for sandwiches. You might be better off making the most delicious bread you can and enjoying it in his presence without trying to sell him on it.

DoubleMerlin's picture

According to the USDA Nutrition database, Oat bran has ~70 Calories per 30g, which would be an improvement. So that's a good substitution for a bit of flour, as long as it's ground extra fine. Plus you could always focus on getting the bread super light, or just add your own powdered wood! (Cellulose. Gotta take issue here, cellulose from a tree is going to be very similar to cellulose from a potato. Trees just have a lot more of it.)

But I'm afraid I agree with dsadowsk. If a person doesn't even include the flavor of their food when deciding if they should eat it or not, they're a lost cause.

nicodvb's picture

proteins contribute very little to the caloric intake and not all of it is available because digesting proteins requires approximately 27% of the energy that they provide (to break down peptide bonds).

To keep the slices soft and light just add vital wheat gluten and knead very extensively. It will make a much stronger gluten that will trap much better the fermentation gases and counteract the breakdown due to bran and its enzymes.

The downside will be a chewey bread, possibly horrible;-). You would have to find the right amount of WWG to use. I'd start with 3%.

DavidEF's picture

So far it seems that adding bran for bulk and VWG for volume are probably going to get me closest to my goal. I do agree with dsadowsk about my brother's lack of proper food values. I don't want to stoop to the level of making Styrofoam just to get him to eat my "bread" because that would defeat the purpose, obviously. But, I want to see how close I can get, if for no other reason than to show him how far from "bread" that stuff really is. And I'm hoping to learn a few things along the way.


"Plus you could always focus on getting the bread super light..."

That's what I'm trying to do - got any ideas on how to get that done? I'm still new here. I've only been baking bread for a few months. I thought adding VWG might allow me to get more rise, because it would have more gluten to hold the carbon dioxide in. I haven't gotten to try that yet. I need to get some VWG. What else can be done to puff up the loaf?

Bob S.'s picture
Bob S.

Commercial bakers often include oxidants or flour treated with oxidants to boost volume. Some brands of vital wheat gluten and bread flour contain ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) which acts as an oxidant in bread dough. Another alternative is to use bromated flour, which contains the infamous chemical potassium bromate (KBrO3). Bromate is legal in the USA and Japan only, and is a suspected carcinogen. Personally, I avoid bromate like the plague, but ascorbic acid is acceptable (to me). If you use bread flour treated with ascorbic acid, be sure any vital wheat gluten you use does not also contain ascorbic acid, or over-oxidation may result.

DavidEF's picture


My flour does not have vitamin C in it (or anything but wheat), but the VWG I just bought does. I tried baking a loaf with just these ingredients:

156g King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour - 100 calories per 30g

162g purified water

60g Sourdough starter made from the same flour and water above - 100% hydration

6g Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat gluten - 40 calories per 12g

6g iodized white table salt

I thought that the 100% hydration should be okay because the flour absorbs a lot of the water, and makes a wet dough, not nearly as slack as a batter, and almost able to be kneaded, although easier to stretch-and-fold. I figured the extra water would give the dough more initial volume. Also, the addition of the VWG makes the dough hold together even better, and it doesn't tear easily when S&F's are performed. Maybe the water is a bit high, though, and it may be better to lower it some. My smallest loaf pan is 8.5 X 4.5 X 2.5 and I usually use 700g of dough at 60 - 65 percent hydration in that pan. This dough is at 100% and I still only get about 390g total. My bread in this pan usually gets up to 4" or more in height. With this dough, I'm only getting about one and a half inches height. So far, a 40-calorie sandwich slice is still far from a reality. The store I bought the VWG from didn't have wheat bran, but I still want to try that. What else can I do? Do I need to lower hydration? Should I add even more VWG? When I get a chance, I will upload a picture of the loaf I made.

Bob S.'s picture
Bob S.

I would stick with the 60-65% hydration you were using. If your aim is less calories per slice, then the best way is to get more air into the finished loaf. This is achieved by creating a dough that is elastic, extensible, and plastic. It's all about gas retention!

The method that I used to create the loaf pictured on this thread is a remixed straight dough. Here it is in a nutshell: Mix all ingredients except for the sugar and salt in a stand mixer on low speed until the ingredients are uniformly mixed. Remove the dough hook and round the dough into a ball. Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 2.5 hours. After fermentation, the salt and sugar are added and the dough is remixed until it is smooth and extensible. After a short rest (no more than ten minutes) the dough is moulded and panned.

No stretching, punching, or folding is performed. This is the best way I have found to get maximum volume when using a stand mixer.

dosco's picture

100% hydration will work but you have to make sure to do enough stretching and folding to get good gluten development. Did your dough windowpane? If you take a look at the 'Jason's Cocodrillo Ciabatta" recipe (or videos on YouTube) you will see that this particular recipe get "violently" mixed in a Kitchen Aid for a long time at high mixing speed. If you take a look at the Weekend Baker's website for their Tartine recipe, there are many many stretching and folding "events" ... more so than in other recipes or websites.

Also, you may want to add some instant yeast to the final dough. MiniOven has suggested that to me and others, and I recently read the same in Reinhart's BBA book.

DavidEF's picture

So, I need to knead more, and possibly add bakers' yeast (I had thought of that one, but I didn't know if it would help) and maybe lower the hydration a bit. The dough does seem to hold together well at 100% hydration, but it may do a little better at 75% to 85% hydration. I'm almost certain that 65% hydration would be too low for this dough, since I'm using whole wheat flour, and adding VWG to it as well. I think I'll try lowering the hydration just a little, maybe to 90%, and kneading more, then I can lower it even more the next time if needed. Adding the bakers' yeast will probably be (one of) my last resort(s). I'm hoping to learn a lot about breadmaking in all of this process, and if I can manage to pull it off without bakers' yeast, it will be a better learning experience for me in the long run.

MostlySD's picture

Hi David,

I am faced with a rather similar quandary as you are with your brother. Someone in my household needs to lower his caloric intake, as well as working on reducing his cholesterol & triglycerides levels, which may not be case with your brother although those things are related one way or another.

I found some helpful insights in these two articles:

You need to keep in mind also that the use of sourdough in bread making does reduce the glycemic index of the flours we are using, something commercial yeast does not do. I don't know whether that is taken into account in the specifications of the caloric values of commercial bread.

You might also look into the use of low glycemic grains like amaranth & quinoa. I have not used those in bread making as yet, but have been using them for pancakes, made with buttermilk, said to be better than regular milk for low calorie diet.

Bob S.'s picture
Bob S.

Quinoa may be good in pancakes, but it can be a disaster if used in anything but tiny amounts in bread. I once used 20% quinoa flour in a bread formula and the result was so sticky and unmanageable that it had to be trashed.


MostlySD's picture

When I started to use oats in my sourdough bread, I used 20% of the total flour content (including flours in the starter). I ended up feeding the loaf to the visiting squirrels & birds. I brought it down to 15%. Still the loaf was dense although edible. I am now at 10%, which produces a good loaf. I am now working on lightening it a bit more. Once that is done, I shall gradually increase the oat bran % until I reach an optimum level that I can live with. My goal is to have a sourdough loaf with the maximum amount of oat bran in it that is enjoyable to eat. Now, once that is done, I shall certainly experiment with Quinoa. Thanks for the heads-up on that one.