When lunchtime rolls around, many turn to cafe-made salad and protein wraps. Bundled up in their cling wrap coverings, they seem like healthier, lighter options than a sandwich – but are they?
Not always, says Melanie McGrice, accredited practising dietitian and author of the The Live Well Plan.
“Wraps aren’t necessarily healthier than sliced bread, but they do save you kilojoules because usually you need two slices of bread for a sandwich, whereas you only need one wrap – so you can consume half the kilojoules,” McGrice says.
“Wraps are also often lower in sodium, which is good, but also lower in fibre.”
Kilojoules are the key
While a standard wrap from a cafe is probably a smaller hit of kilojoules than two slices of thick-cut bread, it’s a different story when it comes to wraps purchased the supermarket.
For example, if you were to eat a “healthy style” wrap like Mission’s Wholegrain Wraps, you would consume 944 kilojoules (226 calories), comprising 33g of carbohydrates and 6.7g of fat.
To make a fair comparison, if you took a wholemeal bread loaf with roughly the same market positioning – like Helga’s Wholemeal Grain Bread – then two slices would set you back 884 kilojoules, comprising 37.8g of carbohydrates and just 2.4g of fat.
While this is an analysis of just two brands, overall, pre-packaged wraps are generally slightly higher in kilojoules and total fat than bread, but lower in carbohydrates overall.
Susie Burrell, accredited practising dietitian and founder of Shape Me, says some wraps contain a higher kilojoule content because of the flour used to make them.
“Sure, there are some lighter options in which a single wrap is equivalent to less than a slice of regular bread in terms of both carbohydrate content and calorie load, but these options are rarer,” says Burrell.
“They are much more likely to fall apart when you make a decent sandwich out of them and they cannot be guaranteed to taste as good as a hearty sandwich would.”
Wraps are more likely to be highly refined
Putting the calorie count aside, different foods have different effects on our energy levels – something to consider at lunchtime if you need your brain and body to keep firing until 5pm knockoff.
The way this is measured is using the glycaemic index (or GI rating). The higher a food’s rating, the higher the energy peak that you receive, but the shorter time it lasts. This is why high-GI sugary lollies give you an instant energy hit, followed by a crash.
Burrell argues that many commercial wraps may not leave you feeling clear-headed and focused well into the afternoon.
“Many of the commonly purchased wraps have a high GI [because] the nature of processing means that the flour used to make wraps is heavily refined,” says Burrell.
“This leaves a bread product that is digested quickly and results in a subsequent quick rise in blood glucose levels. Long term, this is a big issue for insulin levels and weight control.”
Weigh up quality and quantity
So now you’re stuck at the counter, still trying to figure out whether you should opt for a potentially smaller but also potentially more refined wrap, or simply bite the bullet and have a classic sandwich.
McGrice says that if the rest of your diet is fairly on-point, the choice is pretty much negligible – but the wrap may still come out slightly ahead.
“If you’re comparing a wrap to an open sandwich with only one slice of bread, then no, it doesn’t make any difference, but if your sandwiches have two slices of bread, then you may be saving kilojoules,” says McGrice.
“If you’re buying wraps at the supermarket, then compare the nutrition panels of a couple of brands and look for the one which has the highest amounts of fibre.”
For both McGrice and Burrell, the bottom line is that just because your favourite sandwich fillings come in a wrap, this doesn’t automatically make it a healthier option.
But provided you’re aware of what you’re eating, both low-cal wraps and slices of bread are excellent (and convenient ways) of eating a filling, nutritious lunch.