Are you a part of the modern army of dieters trying to eliminate bread from their diet? We get it – you believe bread will make you fat and you’re scared to death from indulging in carbs.
But believe it or not, such beliefs are based on some very powerful misconceptions and inaccuracies about the nutritional content of bread and the role it plays in the American diet. And if you’re looking to truly promote your general health and well-being, you might want to get rid of those.
There is no need for feeling guilty about your bread cravings anymore. In this article we’ll give you 9 reasons why bread should become a staple of your healthy diet!
Against the Grain: Why Bread Is Hugely Misunderstood
Bread, in all its various forms, is the most widely consumed food in the world and a diet staple in many different cultures. But in recent years, the humble loaf has been aggressively demonized by diet gurus and mainstream health magazines.
We’re guessing that if you had a penny for every time you head the phrase ‘You definitely need to cut out bread’ from your fitness-obsessed co-worker, your “fat-loss expert” friend or even the little critical voice in your head, you’d be fairly well-off. On the other hand, those people who still dare to eat bread tend to feel guilty about it, faced with the immense pressure to perceive bread as a big dietary no-no.
In general, this extremist view stems from nebulous fat-loss and clean-eating diet fads, mostly disseminated by Facebook “nutritionists” who think that reading a couple of “truth-revealing” articles on bad foods vs. good foods provides them with enough knowledge to advocate for the banning of certain food items from our diet.
Don’t get us wrong – a big part of the criticism of modern bread production is absolutely justified, but simply taking things to the ‘all bread is bad for you’ extreme is utterly moronic. Namely, bread has been around for so long that we feel like we know all there is to know about it and consider it a very simple food, when actually it’s one of the most misunderstood food products out there.
Contrary to popular belief, bread is not inherently fattening and it’s in fact a healthy way to access a wide variety of vital nutrients. When eaten in moderation (just like anything else!), it can be an important part of a nutrient-dense and well-balanced diet, even if fat loss is the ultimate goal. Bread can be a low-fat, low-sugar source of energy that provides a variety of vitamins and minerals and can help with satiety and appetite control, as long as you know what to look for – which means that in order to make the most out it, you need to learn a few facts about good ol’ bread.
#1. Bread Is a Very Complex Food
The first thing you need to understand is that the key properties of bread, such as nutritional value, glycemic index and prebiotics concentration, can vary significantly depending on the ingredients, the way it’s made, how it’s baked and even how it’s served.
For example, it’s normal for certain nutrients to be lost during the milling process of flour and the amount lost will depend on the amount of bran and germ removed. However, the key nutrients lost through milling, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins, must be restored to bread flour by law in most countries around the world, including the USA.
This is called “enriched flour”, which means the flour has specific nutrients returned to it. Enrichment is different from fortification, the latter being a process of introducing new nutrients to a food. On top of that, scientific studies have not found significant differences in the nutrient content of bred made using modern production methods, compared to more traditional ones.
Due to this, enriched flour and whole-grain flour have similar amounts of vitamins and minerals. The main reason why enriched flour doesn’t provide the same nutritional benefits of whole-grain flour is because whole-grain flour contains larger amounts of fiber (stored in the bran and germ which are partially removed in the process of making refined flour).
#2. Whole-Grain Bread Offers Amazing Health Benefits
Studies have repeatedly shown that whole-grain bread can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. According to one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who had three servings of whole grains in their daily diet had a much lower risk of coronary heart disease as a result of getting more fiber than those who predominantly ate products made of refined grains and those who steered clear from all types of grains.
As you already know, soluble dietary fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and improve blood glucose control. Furthermore, another study published in the same journal found that women who ate whole-grain foods had 49% less risk of weight gain, thanks to the satiety-inducing fiber content of whole-grain products. That being said, moderation is the key – we presume it’s unnecessary to explain how uncontrollably stuffing yourself with any type of food will result with weight gain.
To ensure you’re getting maximum benefits, when shopping for bread, make sure that for every 50 calories in a slice, there’s at least one gram of fiber.
#3. Bread Is Not as Addictive as You Think
Remember William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly? Yep, the one who tried to capitalize on America’s obesity epidemic by blaming it all on bread. Among other things, Davis claimed that bread made with modern wheat is loaded with gliadin, a supposedly addictive protein that pretty much turns people into uncontrollable bread-seeking zombies.
He also stated that the amylopectin in wheat is different (in a very bad way) from the one found in other carb-rich foods like potatoes, and eating it too often will inevitably give you type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, nutritional science has easily debunked this outrageous claims.
Here’s the truth: gliadins are actually present in all grain lines and it has been found that certain ancient grains contained a lot more gliadin than modern ones. Furthermore, the human gut can’t absorb the opioid protein portion of gliadin. As for amylopectin, the type or amount found in wheat doesn’t differ in any significant way from that found in any other carb-rich food. Period.
#4. The good side of white bread
On the surface, there aren’t many good things to say about white bread – it’s had the fiber stripped away from it and can therefore shoot insulin levels through the roof when consumed by itself. However, a study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has shown that white bread can significantly boost the growth of the friendly gut bacteria called lactobacillus that helps protect our guts from digestive disorders.
Of course, when given the choice between white bread and whole-grain bread, a health-conscious individual will almost always opt for the second one, and that’s great. But just in case you start feeling guilt after enjoying a culinary delicacy made with refined flour, know that your meal wasn’t a complete waste of your gastric acid – at least you’ve enhanced the beneficial work of your gut bacteria.
#5. Know Your Bread!
For starters, there is a big difference between ‘wheat bread’ and ‘whole-wheat bread’. Hoping to jump on the fad dieting bandwagon, some manufacturers have begun using the ‘wheat bread’ title to make white bread sound a bit more appealing to health-conscious consumers. ‘Wheat bread’ merely means the product is made of refined white flour, i.e. flour that has been stripped of its fibrous bran and nutrient-abundant germ.
That’s not to say that some of these products won’t offer some other nutritional benefits, but those will certainly differ from the health benefits of whole-wheat bread. ‘Whole-wheat bread’, on the other hand, means that the bran, the germ, and the endosperm of the wheat kernel have all been left intact, so this is the healthier choice you’re looking for.
So how is ‘whole-wheat’ different from ‘whole-grain’? Whole-wheat bread is only one type of whole-grain bread. Breads labeled as ‘whole-grain’ usually include other grains besides wheat, such as barley, oats and rice, which provide additional nutritional value to the product. However, keep in mind that unless the loaf bears the 100% stamp, you can’t be sure that all of its grain ingredients are whole.
Then we have ‘white whole-wheat bread’, which is made from an albino wheat grain and thereby has lighter taste and paler color than traditional whole-wheat bread varieties. This makes white whole-wheat bread equal to whole-wheat bread in terms of nutritional value, so it’s a great choice for anyone who loves the taste of white bread but also wants the nutrients and fiber found in whole-wheat bread.
Finally, there’s the ‘multi-grain bread’, which sounds like a great healthy choice, but unfortunately this label doesn’t guarantee that the product is free of refined grains – it only means that it contains more than one type of grain. Various grains in multi-grain breads are often processed to remove their bran and germ, so you need to check the ingredient list to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want.
#6. Don’t Worry About Bread’s High Glycemic Index
The glycemic index of any food item (the number indicating the food’s effect on your blood glucose) applies only to the case when that food is eaten by itself. So unless you have the habit of eating plain bread, the high glycemic index of some breads shouldn’t scare you. When eaten together with anything else, be it peanut butter, meat, vegetables or cheese, will dramatically slow the speed at which the bread is digested, so its GI doesn’t really matter in the end.
Also, if you want to lower the GI of your bread even further, just put in the freezer and toast it whenever you want to make a sandwich – the freezing and toasting alters the molecular structure in a way that reduces the GI.
#7. How to Choose the Healthiest Bread? Keep It SIMPLE
As we mentioned earlier, any bread made with 100% whole grains, whether it is whole wheat or whole grain, is the most nutritious option. But there’s another thing you should pay attention to when choosing the healthiest type of bread: the list of additives.
On the most basic level, it takes only four ingredients to make bread: flour, yeast, water and salt. Ok, sugar might get a pass because it feeds the yeast and helps the bread rise, but its amount should be kept very low. When manufacturers want to improve the flavor of their bread, as well extend its shelf life, they throw in a variety of extra ingredients called additives into the dough which are not necessarily good for your health.
Antioxidants prevent spoiling, dough conditioners help create desired texture, while sweeteners are used to retain moisture and enhance flavor. Some of these additives can be quite harmful to human health, but since the FDA does not require testing of new additives before allowing them for use in food, you have to learn to recognize them by yourself.
For example, azodicarbonamide, a type of dough conditioner, is also the chemical used to make yoga mats and according to many studies, has been linked to higher incidence of tumors. Potassium bromate, an oxidizing agent used to strengthen the dough and improve volume, has also been repeatedly found to host carcinogenic properties.
Also, many breads contain trans fats, dangerous fats formed during the process of partial hydrogenation which helps make bread and other food products more resistant to spoilage. You can spot them as “partially hydrogenated oil” on labels. And the list can go on forever. Therefore, the general rule is: the fewer the ingredients, the better. Stay informed and read the labels.
#8. Skip the Gluten-Free Bread
A gluten-free label is absolutely no guarantee of health – in fact, gluten-free bread varieties are often higher in sugar and packed with nasty additives. The gluten found in bread gives its shape and spongy texture, so in the absence of gluten manufacturers use additives such as corn starch and xanthan gum to create the desired texture. Additionally, they tend to put extra sugar or fat to improve the flavor, because gluten-free bread usually tastes like sand!
Unless you have celiac disease and can’t tolerate any amount of gluten, there’s really no reason to choose gluten-free breads and baked goods. There is zero scientific proof that gluten-free diets are healthier than gluten-inclusive diets, so it’s pretty certain that the whole non-gluten dieting trend is just another useless fad. And even if you’re gluten intolerant, opt for more nutritious and healthier bread varieties made with wholefood alternatives such as buckwheat, quinoa, flax, chia or rice flour.
#9. And Now, the Best of the BEST
You probably don’t know that besides tasting pretty good, oat bread contains twice the protein of whole-wheat bread and it digests even slower. Rye bread, on the other hand, has been shown as incredibly satiating and ideal for improving insulin sensitivity. And if you’re a vegan/vegetarian or simply want to increase your intake of omega-3s, opt for flaxseed bread – adding flaxseed to whole wheat bread creates a very tasty product that’s also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.
Not edgy enough for you? Then we encourage you to really step outside of the box and try the bread that will change your life – sourdough bread, a kind of the doughy version of sauerkraut and it’s made with strong, active culture of wild yeast. Wild yeasts work a little more slowly than commercial yeast, so the process of making sourdough bread usually takes a day or even multiple days to complete.
However, this long development time helps bring out more complex and nuanced flavors in the finished product, which greatly overshadow those of your average wheat bread. The mixture is left to ferment and turn all sour and gassy, while a little bit of the unused dough is saved to make leavening for the next batch. The distinctive sour flavor of sourdough bread comes from two kinds of gut friendly bacteria – lactobacillus and acetobacillus, which grow alongside the wild yeast in the sourdough culture and help ferment the sugars in the dough.
The result? An incredibly complex and nutritious bread that’s abundant with vitamins B1, B6, B12 and E, selenium, manganese, calcium, protein, fatty acids, zinc and iron, among others! Also, the gluten this bread contains has been broken down by the bacteria into its constituent amino acids. Many studies have even found that sourdough bread can help heal the gut in those newly diagnosed with celiac disease.
Yet, what’s best about sourdough bread is that it contains nominal levels of phytic acid. In fact, its long fermentation process reduces the amount of phytic acid up to 90%. In regular types of wheat bread, phytic acid molecules bind with calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc and thereby make these nutrients unavailable to us. But since the sourdough bacteria pre-digests the flour, these micronutrients are released and your gut is able to absorb almost all of them.
Obviously, sourdough bread is wonderfully satiating and takes longer to digest, so it can help regulate blood sugar levels and ward off diabetes; while the acetic, propionic and lactic acids produced by the bacteria contribute to improving glucose metabolism even further.
When adequately prepared, this healthiest-of-them-all bread also brings a rather unique mix of sweet, earthy and yeasty flavors with just a touch of sour. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, check out this great sourdough bread recipe.
Don’t worry, not even the best home bakers can get it right from the first try, but if there’s one baking skill that’s truly worth learning for the sake of your overall health and wellness – this is it!