• "...In Denmark, rye bread is not just a nutritional staple or another wholegrain bread option. It’s a strong part of our history and culinary identity." (Supplied: Danish Whole Grain Partnership )Source: Supplied: Danish Whole Grain Partnership
The Danes have long had a love affair with rye bread and wholegrain sandwiches. That was until popular low carb diets threatened the relationship. Here's how Denmark managed to bring back the rye sandwich.
By
Rikke Iben Neess, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

1 Feb 2021 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2021 - 1:06 PM

I live in Sorø, Denmark: a small city about 85 kilometres from the capital, Copenhagen. Here, in Denmark, rye bread is not just a nutritional staple or another wholegrain bread option. It’s a strong part of our history and culinary identity. 

We’ve been making and eating rye bread for over 1,000 years, with the tradition being passed down from generation-to-generation. 

I grew up living in a small city, eating a diet that was rich in rye bread and wholegrains. My lunchbox, in my school and university days, always contained rye bread. I’d usually have an open sandwich – smørrebrød – with salami and cheese, or apple or banana.

Smørrebrød, made using rye bread, is a national dish. It’s an easy and cheap thing to make – I believe it’s the fifth most popular thing for Danes to eat at dinner. 

But in recent years, from the 1990s to 2000s, fad low carb diets that advocate reducing or eliminating the consumption of bread really took off in Denmark. The nation’s love affair with rye bread was at risk.

We’ve been making and eating rye bread for over 1,000 years, with the tradition being passed down from generation-to-generation. 

Although a study conducted at the time showed that [tradesmen] and those with a short level of education were still eating rye bread at work sites, rye bread consumption was decreasing two per cent each year for the past decade.

The result was that the Danish people reduced their intake of wholegrain products. This was a nutritional and national concern, as we consider wholegrain consumption (specifically wholegrain bread consumption) as being essential for the necessary intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre. 

Smørrebrød: The choose-your-own-adventure sandwich
Despite the etiquette and rules attached to these Danish open sandwiches, there's a smørrebrød for everyone's taste.
 

Restoring trust in wholegrain breads

It was on the burning platform of low carb, high-fat diets that we established the Danish Whole Grain Partnership (DWGP) in 2009. 

The DWGP is a collaboration between government, health non-profit organisations and organisations representing the food industry, food producers and retailers. It aimed to help Denmark return to a positive bread culture, and to encourage Danes to eat wholegrain foods and carbohydrates again without fear.

In a market with a lot of “health experts” (obviously not all of them are) saying inaccurate things about the nutritional value of wholegrain bread, consumers were getting confused. So the partners worked hard to communicate the facts, based on evidence, demonstrating how eating a diet rich in wholegrains – rye bread included – can prevent certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes.  

Bread producers and millers in Denmark worked continuously to maintain the bread culture in Denmark.

The partnership also created a wholegrain logo for food products to indicate that an item has a high content of wholegrains and a low content of fat, sugar and salt. We also learned that the best way to get people to eat more wholegrains was to encourage them to add a bit to the products they already eat. For example, adding more wholegrain flour to their baking or switching from white pasta to wholegrain pasta.  

DGWP had a great effect on the eating habits of the Danes. Our research shows that 64 per cent of the Danish population now knows the DWGP wholegrain logo and 80 per cent of them also say that look for the logo when shopping for food.  

Around 13 years ago, the Danish population only ate an average of 36 grams of whole grains per day. Today, we eat on average 82 grams of whole grains per day. That’s more than the recommended amount of 75 grams of whole grains per day.

I really hope my children will continue to eat rye bread for many years to come and pass the tradition on to their children.

The future of rye bread

Low carb diets don’t just exist in Denmark. They are popular in many western countries, including Australia. So I think it’s important that everyone, works to ‘bring back the sandwich’ and continue to eat the wholegrain bread that’s popular in their culture.

If parents in Australia introduce rye bread – or another form of wholegrain bread – to their children by eating it themselves, then that would be a great start.  

Children can also help to prepare their rye bread sandwiches at home. It’s important we tell children to do as we do and lead by example. If your child sees you enjoy eating wholegrain bread, then there is a high chance they will taste it and enjoy it too. 

When I consider my children today and the future of Denmark, I feel confident that there is a great interest in wholegrain foods, especially rye bread.  

The first thing they ask in the morning is ‘what are we going to have for dinner?’ They love to make their own open sandwiches, loaded with toppings of eggs and salmon, or ham and cheese. They eat this often alongside fruit and vegetables.

I really hope my children will continue to eat rye bread for many years to come and pass the tradition on to their children. After all, they are the future.

Bring Back the Sandwich 2021 is a campaign run by Australia’s Grain and Legumes Nutrition Council. For more information, visit them online. 

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