Who doesn’t love bread? It makes a wonderful addition to just about ANY meal! Butter it and toast it in the oven, and you can serve it with pasta. Toast it with cheddar, and you have America’s favorite grilled cheese sandwich. Cut it into cubes and bake it with butter, and you have croutons for soup and salad. Eat it as is with cheese, ham, steak, or turkey, and you’ve got a sandwich made for the gods. Truly, bread is amazing.
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Not too bad, right? Not only is bread fairly low in calories, but you’ll find that it’s also rich in fiber and protein. This makes it a decent food for your digestive system, and it will add to your daily protein intake.
On the flip side, bread is usually made from refined flour (even “whole wheat bread”!), so it’s not the best source of complex carbohydrates. It will usually be absorbed into your body faster than other high-fiber foods, meaning a few slices of bread can raise your blood sugar levels a bit too much. Many people recommend cutting bread from your diet for just this reason!
Even “whole wheat bread” may not be as good as you think. Yes, it does contain the same ratio of bran to germ to endosperm as whole grains, but the germ and bran have usually been added into the white flour–a process known as “enriching”. It’s not the same as if the whole grain was simply ground and turned into bread. Buying 100% Whole Wheat Bread doesn’t get around the fact that the flour has been refined and fortified.
Even worse, you’ll find there are a lot of “healthy breads” that are utterly misleading. Bread made from “stone ground flour” isn’t necessarily healthy–to be able to use that label, the bread must have passed through a stone mill at least once. “Sprouted wheat” breads may have a slightly higher fiber and antioxidant content, but it’s not much healthier than any other type of whole wheat bread. Even “fermented” or “yeasted” breads have little more nutritional value than regular bread. Gluten-free bread is great for those who cannot eat gluten, but it doesn’t make the bread any healthier.
So, the real question is this: should you be eating bread, even if the bread is whole wheat? The answer is yes and no…
Yes: Bread is a good source of carbohydrates, and it can give you a quick energy boost. Bread makes an ideal pre-workout snack, and it’s quick and easy to prepare. You can slap together a sandwich and head out the door to your workout in a matter of minutes. For those leading busy lives, bread can be a godsend.
No: Despite what food manufacturers want you to think, bread is not the best of the best. Yes, the fiber in whole grain bread does help to slow down absorption rate, but you’re still consuming refined flour that has been enriched. Low calorie content or no, there is far less nutritional value to a slice of bread than you’d expect. If you’re really trying to watch what you eat, it may be a good idea to cut bread along with pasta, rice, and flour. Stick with the truly healthy whole grains–like barley, millet, brown rice, and quinoa–and try to avoid the high-carb, low-nutrient foods like bread. Whole wheat or not, it’s not the best option!