Is bread healthy or something you should quit? Something I’m hearing from a lot of people at the moment is their struggle with bread. “I just love bread – I can’t give it up!” or “Bread is my downfall, if I just stopped eating it I could lose weight”. Here’s the simple solution to that problem.
Don’t give it up! There is no need to cut bread from your diet.
Crunchy peanut butter spread thickly on toasted wholegrain bread would have to be one of my most favourite things to eat. It tastes amazing and makes me feel good! Sure I could cut this out and replace it with baked kumara or another type of carbohydrate, but in reality what would this achieve? Would I live 10 years longer? Will I be healthier? Probably not.
Remember it’s not one food that makes or breaks a healthy diet. It’s the overall pattern that matters. I will continue to eat my peanut butter on toast, not every day, but as a part of a varied diet that contains plenty of other nutrient rich foods. I was thinking about it today, and I haven’t eaten bread for two days, and not because I’m trying to avoid it, but just because I mix things up. I had toast for breakfast on Monday, and a quinoa salad for lunch. On Tuesday I had oats with chia seeds, yoghurt and berries and a salad + fruit for lunch. On Wednesday I ate cereal with Greek yoghurt and raspberries and for lunch I had a yummy vegetarian frittata when I out for lunch with friends. These were all delicious and I didn’t miss bread, because I don’t place bans on foods, I aim to eat a variety of foods, and if I want bread I’ll have it.
A good quality bread will provide dietary fibre, magnesium and B vitamins. Some also provide calcium, omega 3 fats and iron, depending on what grains and seeds are present. There are of course other foods that provide these, and in higher amounts, but a quality bread can still be a part of a healthy diet. There is almost always a food that can be healthier than another. Kale is highly nutritious, it contains more nutrients than a lettuce, but does that mean we shouldn’t eat lettuce.
For me I think it’s important to take a look at the bigger picture and balance what you love with your nutritional requirements. And the good news is, if you love bread, you can most definitely include it in a healthy diet. Bread has been a part of many healthy diets in different forms. Take the blue zone countries, where populations live long healthy lives with low rates of chronic disease. In Loma Linda, California, they consume whole wheat bread, in Ikaria Greece they eat whole grain sourdough bread and in Sardinia, Italy they also consume wholegrain bread. They’re not unhealthy or overweight. They’re just the opposite.
Bread isn’t the problem. It’s the overall diet quality that counts. Sure if you eat fluffy white bread at most meals, don’t eat enough vegetables and lots of highly processed foods then it’s not a healthy diet. In the blue zone areas, they’re eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes and other wholefoods, as well as bread. There is little prepackaged, processed foods. Is bread healthy? The answer is yes, it can be a part of a healthy diet.
If you love bread, then by all means eat it, but eat it within the context of a whole foods, healthy diet.
Here’s some tips for including bread in your life:
Banning foods only makes them more desirable
Rather than banning bread, enjoy it as a part of a overall healthy diet. For many, banning foods they love leads to cravings, over eating and guilt. Now that’s what IS NOT part of a healthy eating cycle.
Get some carbohydrate balance
Oats, quinoa, brown rice, chickpeas, blackbeans, kidney beans, corn, potato, parsnip, kumara, fruit… There are others but these are all sources of healthy carbohydrates, each providing it’s own unique combination of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. It’s fine to eat bread, but get a variety of carbohydrates in your diet.
Choose a healthy bread
Choose grainy, seeded breads over white. If you love white, keep it as a treat. White bread digests rapidly into sugars, effectively acting like sugar within the body. It also provides very little nutritional value compared to wholegrain. Wholemeal / wheatmeal bread will also do this. Although it contains some fibre, because it’s all ground up, it digests quickly.
Breads to go for are dense, grainy/seedy breads. Vogel’s and Burgen are a couple of my favourites and look for ones that have plenty of seeds and grains.
Sometimes in the weekend I like to go for a sour dough from the bakery. Sour dough bread is made via lactic acid fermentation and this preparation changes the acidity of the bread. This slows down it’s digestion making it low GI. Beware that some ‘sourdough’ loaves aren’t authentic sour dough. It should be quite chewy and taste a little acidic (it has a little tang to it).
Good nutrition is about variety, balance of nutrients and also a balance of pleasure and nutritional value. So if bread is your thing, then don’t worry. Include bread and focus on something that matters more – for example eating plenty of vegetables or including sources of omega 3 fats.
What about gluten? Some believe gluten to be quite the health demon, responsible for gut disorders, Alzheimers disease, diabetes, and every other health condition under the sun. I’m not convinced at the moment. If you have celiac disease, then gluten definitely needs to be eliminated from your diet. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, it’s more likely FODMAPs that are causing you issues rather than gluten. Some may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but some researchers believe that it’s not the gluten, it’s also FODMAPS causing issues – the jury is still out. This article takes a good look at the topic. It’s recommended to get tested for celiac disease before cutting gluten out of your diet if you believe it’s causing you health issues, so head along to your GP. You also need to be consuming gluten containing foods for a few weeks before your blood test for it to give accurate results. If you feel better without bread and other gluten containing products, and you’ve had appropriate testing for celiac disease, then by all means feel free to take them out. Just be sure to replace it with healthy alternatives.
So is bread healthy – yes it sure can be.