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Bread has been a staple food around the world for thousands of years. People continue to consume it because of its convenience, portability, nutrition, and taste.
There are many different types of bread, which people make in different ways, using a variety of ingredients. Examples include whole-grain bread, sweetened bread, cornbread, leavened and unleavened bread, flatbread, sourdough, sprouted grain bread, soda bread, and many more.
Some types of bread are more nutritious than others, but how do people make a healthful choice?
This article looks at some aspects of bread that may make one type of bread more or less healthful than another.
Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient in bread. Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel.
People make packaged and presliced white bread from a highly processed, simple carbohydrate. It is quick and easy to digest but has little nutritional value.
Foods made from highly processed grains cause blood sugar to spike soon after eating. Frequent blood sugar spikes can eventually contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Processed carbs also lack fiber. As a result, a person will not feel full after eating them. They will crave more food again soon after, especially when the blood sugar drops.
When manufacturers process foods, it often results in the loss of nutrients. The producers often add vitamins and minerals to white bread to replace these missing nutrients. However, they cannot replace the fiber, which is essential for digestive and cardiovascular health.
The whole grains in wholemeal bread have many benefits. They can boost overall health and help reduce the risk of obesity and various other complications and diseases.
The Whole Grains Council define whole foods as follows:
“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed. This definition means that 100% of the original kernel — all of the bran, germ, and endosperm — must be present to qualify as a whole grain.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) note that whole grains are a good source of:
The AHA recommend consuming at least 25 grams (g) of fiber a day for a person on a 2,000-calorie a day diet. At least half of the grains a person consumes should be whole grains.
Fiber can reduce the risk of:
Whole grains also provide protein.
How to know if they are whole grains
When choosing store bought bread, the word “whole” should be the first word in the ingredient list. The word “whole” ensures that all three parts of the grain — the bran, the germ, and the endosperm — are present in the product.
The following labels do not guarantee a whole-grain product:
- wheat bread
- organic flour
- wheat germ
- unbleached wheat flour
- 100% wheat
The ingredient list will give a better idea of what the product contains.
Whole-grain bread is available in grocery stores and online.
To make white bread or white flour, manufacturers process the grain to remove the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm.
Products made with refined flour have a finer, lighter texture and usually have a longer shelf life.
However, processing removes most or all of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The remaining endosperm provides quick, easily digestible carbohydrates but little else.
This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, so manufacturers now produce “enriched” flours.
They add back some of the missing nutrients to the processed white flour, using supplements, such as folic acid and other B vitamins.
However, supplemental vitamins are not as good as vitamins that come naturally from food sources. Usually, the human body can better absorb and process nutrients from unprocessed sources.
The highly processed flour and additives in white, packaged bread can make it unhealthful. Consuming too much white bread can contribute to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
However, buying bread with the word “whole” as the first ingredient still does not guarantee a healthful product. It is only the first step.
Even whole-grain bread can contain 20 or more ingredients, including preservatives and added salt and sugars. Not all of these contribute to good health.
Preservatives may help bread stay fresh for longer, but people can store fresh bread that contains fewer preservatives in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness.
Many types of bread contain added sugars or sugar substitutes. People should avoid those with corn syrup or any that contain ingredients ending in “-ose” listed at the beginning of the ingredient list because these are all sugars. Examples include sucrose, glucose, and fructose.
Manufacturers typically order an ingredients list according to the weight of ingredients in the product. Ingredients that appear near the top of the list will be present in relatively high proportions.
Good bread choices
Bread made with sprouted grains is a good option. When a grain is sprouted, its nutrients become easier to digest and more available to the body for use. It can be a better source of protein, fiber, vitamin C, folate, and other nutrients.
Ezekiel bread is a type of high fiber bread made with only sprouted grains and no flour. People should keep sprouted grain bread in the refrigerator or freezer.
Learn more here about Ezekiel bread and other foods that can help people with diabetes.
Some people should avoid bread because of an allergy or intolerance.
In recent years, the gluten free diet has become popular.
A person with celiac disease has a severe autoimmune reaction to gluten that causes intestinal damage, so eating gluten can be very dangerous.
However, many people can tolerate gluten, and they do not need to avoid it.
Scientists have shown that avoiding gluten can cause people to stop eating foods that may be healthful for them, such as whole grains.
A 2017 study found that consuming gluten does not increase the risk of heart disease, but avoiding whole grains in order to eliminate it may increase the risk.
People who need to avoid gluten can find gluten free bread in many grocery stores or purchase it online.
Is it a good idea to go gluten free if you don’t have celiac disease? Learn more here.
What about a wheat allergy?
Some people have a sensitivity or allergy to wheat but not to gluten.
People who have a wheat allergy should not eat bread containing wheat flour, but they can choose those made from rye or other types of flour.
Some people are not allergic to wheat, but they have a wheat intolerance.
When a person with a wheat intolerance consumes wheat, they might feel bloated and uncomfortable. Eating wheat bread is not dangerous for people with a wheat intolerance, but choosing rye or other types of bread can reduce discomfort.
If a person with an allergy consumes a product they are allergic to, this can, in some cases, lead to anaphylactic shock. Symptoms include a rash, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Anyone who experiences these symptoms needs immediate medical attention, as anaphylaxis can be life threatening.
Do you know how to recognize anaphylaxis and what to do if it happens? Find out here.
Consuming wholemeal bread in moderation should not cause weight gain, but it will provide the necessary energy for the body.
However, a person who wishes to manage their weight or lose weight should consider the following points:
Taking in more calories than the body needs for energy will lead to weight gain.
If bread becomes a default meal or snack, it can crowd out more healthful foods.
White bread sandwiches that contain processed meat, butter, and mayonnaise can add many unnecessary calories by increasing fat and carbohydrate intake.
Whole-grain bread can be a healthful option for people who wish to lose weight, but it depends on how they include bread in the diet.
A healthful option might be:
- a homemade sandwich that contains grilled chicken and salad
- one piece of whole-grain bread with a healthful, homemade, vegetable soup
Can I eat bread if I have diabetes? Find out here.
There are many types of bread, and some are more healthful than others.
Try making bread at home. This way, you will know exactly what you are eating. Some people may choose to invest in a bread making machine.
Overall, whole-grain bread is a healthful product, as long as a person consumes it in moderation and does not have an allergy or an intolerance.