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By TODAY Food Editor
updated 3/14/2007 2:39:11 PM ET 2007-03-14T18:39:11

Over the past few months, I’ve received many of your e-mails asking about one of the newest categories in the supermarket — refrigerated breads. No, we are not talking about the refrigerated dough in a cylinder our grandmothers used to use when they were a bit lazy or wanted to spark up a dinner party. We are talking about ready-to-eat full loaves of sliced (most of the time) breads. These are the premier health food breads.

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In most cases, they are made with whole grains, hemp, barley, or oats, sprouts (the lively shoots of various seeds), little or no sodium, and little or no sugars. Some are flourless, while others don’t contain yeast. These are usually high in protein and the heart-friendly omega oils (3, 6, and 9) and nearly all are organic. But they also contain no preservatives, which is why they’re only available in refrigerated areas.

Bread contains lots of complex carbohydrates that are an important source of energy for the body. If the loaf contains whole grains, it’s a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. (Soluble fiber decreases cholesterol levels and helps prevent heart disease, while insoluble fiber helps to maintain the digestive system and may help to prevent breast and colon cancer.) Unbleached or unbromated flour make for tastier bread. (Bromate, however, has been found to be a potentially cancer-causing agent and is banned in many countries, although not in the United States.)

But beware, these breads require special handling! Follow the package instructions carefully. Some loaves must be kept in the fridge, while others can be stored in a cool, dark place (a breadbox, bread drawer) or even in the freezer. If it’s kept in the sun, the heat will make the loaf sweat, creating condensation and eventually mold. So do not leave bread on counters that are in direct sun light or near the stove.

If you freeze your bread, take a slice out two hours before using it. Thawing bread in the microwave tends to make it soggy. To prevent the bread from drying out in the oven as you reheat it, cover the bread in a small very damp towel in a 400º-degree oven. For a loaf, reheat for 20 to 30 minutes and for a baguette, reheat for 10 to 15 minutes. Moisten the towel, if it begins to dry out. If you want a crispy crust, pull the towel off for the last five minutes.

For more food and health information as well as recipes, check out Phil’s Web site at www.supermarketguru.com

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at SuperMarketGuru.com.

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