Is Bread Bad for You?
Is Bread Bad for Your Diet?
Although organizations such as the American Heart Association recommend pursuing a healthy lifestyle rather than using a diet to lose weight, a diet can help you shed a few pounds -- provided your doctor indicates it's safe to try. It's impossible to say whether eating bread will harm your diet, given the wide range of diet parameters, but this everyday food might not be as healthy as you think.
Watch for Calories and Cravings
If your diet requires you to eat a specific number of calories per day, one or more pieces of bread might put you at risk of exceeding your calorie guideline. Bread is often high in calories. One slice of white or wheat bread has between 70 and 80 calories, which means the bread in a sandwich can account for around 150 calories. White bread doesn't provide much nutritional value and can cause a rise and fall in your blood sugar that often leads to a craving for more food. This craving, in turn, can lead to overeating. If you do decide to include bread in your diet, choose whole-grain breads rich in fiber and stick to the recommended one-slice serving size.
Is Bread Bad For Your Health?
“The Whiter The Bread, The Sooner You’re Dead.”
It has been known for a long time that white bread and refined grains in general aren’t particularly nutritious.
Nutritionists and dietitians all around the world have encouraged us to eat whole grains instead.
But grains, especially gluten grains like wheat, have been under intense scrutiny in recent years.
Many respected health professionals now claim that bread and other sources of gluten grains are unnecessary at best and potentially harmful.
Bread is High in Carbs and Can Spike Blood Sugar Levels
Even whole grain bread usually isn’t made out of actual “whole” grains.
They are grains that have been pulverized into very fine flour. Even though this process reserves the nutrients, it causes these products to be digested rapidly.
The starches in bread get broken down quickly in the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream as glucose. This causes a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Even whole wheat bread spikes blood sugar faster than many candy bars (1).
When blood sugar goes up rapidly, it tends to go down just as quickly. When blood sugar goes down, we become hungry.
This is the blood sugar roller coaster that is familiar to people on high carb diets. Soon after eating, they become hungry again, which calls for another high-carb snack.
Elevated blood sugars can also cause glycation at the cellular level when the blood sugars react with proteins in the body. This is one of the components of ageing (2).
Studies on carb restricted diets (which eliminate/reduce starches and sugars) suggest that individuals who are diabetic or need to lose weight should avoid ALL grains (3, 4, 5).
Bottom Line: Most breads are made of pulverized wheat. They are easily digested and rapidly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which can lead to the notorious blood sugar “roller coaster” and stimulate overeating.
Bread Contains a Lot of Gluten
Wheat contains a large amount of a protein called gluten.
This protein has glue-like properties (hence the name gluten) responsible for dough’s viscoelastic properties.
Evidence is mounting that a significant percentage of the population is sensitive to gluten (6, 7, 8).
When we eat bread that contains gluten (wheat, spelt, rye and barley), the immune system in our digestive tract “attacks” the gluten proteins (9).
Controlled trials in people without celiac disease show that gluten damages the wall of the digestive tract, causing pain, bloating, stool inconsistency and tiredness (10, 11).
Gluten sensitivity is also associated with some cases of schizophrenia (12, 13) and cerebellar ataxia (14, 15) – both serious disorders of the brain.
Gluten is probably harmful for most people, not just those with diagnosed celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
The only way to really know if you’re gluten sensitive is to remove gluten from your diet for 30 days and then reintroduce it and see whether it affects you.
Bottom Line: Most breads are made of gluten grains. Gluten causes an immune response in the digestive tract of susceptible individuals. This can cause digestive issues, pain, bloating, tiredness and other symptoms.
Bread Contains Other Harmful Substances
Most commercial types of bread contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup, just like other processed foods.
Sugar causes many adverse effects and eating processed foods that contain it is likely to have detrimental effects on health.
Most grains also include the “anti nutrient” phytic acid.
Phytic acid is a molecule that strongly binds essential minerals like calcium, iron and zinc, preventing them from being absorbed (16).
Soaking grains before baking can degrade the phytic acid, which should improve the availability of minerals.
Bottom Line: Most breads contain sugar, which is extremely bad for you. They also contain “anti nutrients” that block the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron and zinc.
Bread is Low in Essential Nutrients
There is NO nutrient in bread that you can’t get from other foods in even greater amounts.
Even whole wheat bread isn’t as nutritious as you may think.
Not only is it low in nutrients compared to other real foods, it literally reduces the absorption of nutrients from other foods.
- Calorie for calorie, whole grain breads contain a low amount of nutrients compared to real foods like vegetables.
- The phytic acid blocks absorption of minerals like iron, zinc and calcium (17).
- By damaging the intestinal lining, gluten decreases the absorption of all nutrients (18).
- Grains do not contain all the essential amino acids and are therefore poor sources of protein for humans (19).
Bottom Line: Most breads aren’t very nutritious and the proteins in them aren’t of much use. A damaged intestinal lining along with phytic acid reduces availability of nutrients. Wheat may also exacerbate vitamin d deficiency.
Whole Wheat Raises The Bad Cholesterol
In one study, 36 men were randomized into two groups.
They were instructed to eat either whole oat cereal or whole wheat cereal (23).
After 12 weeks, the researchers measured blood lipid levels in both groups.
The oat cereal decreased LDL cholesterol and small, dense LDL. Basically, whole oats significantly improved the blood lipid profile.
However, the whole wheat cereal increased total LDL cholesterol by 8% and small, dense LDL by 60%.
Small, dense LDL is the type of cholesterol that is strongly associated with heart disease (24, 25).
Bottom Line: Eating wheat may raise small, dense LDL cholesterol by 60%. This type of cholesterol is strongly associated with heart disease.
Whole Wheat is Better Than Refined Wheat
It is true that whole grain breads are better for you than breads made with refined grains. They contain more nutrients and fiber.
Bread made with soaked and sprouted grains may also be less bad for you than regular bread. Preparing it this way reduces the amount of phytic acid.
Ezekiel bread, for example, is made of sprouted grains. This probably makes it less unhealthy than other breads.
Gluten-free breads may also be healthier than those made with gluten grains like wheat.
The Truth About Bread
Everything you need to know about the mother of all carbs.
Do you have a love/hate relationship with bread? It's a staple of many people's diets, and also a top source of calories.
So which is it: Is bread OK to eat, or is the idea that bread is good for us half-baked? Here's what you should know.
"We go overboard on bread and other highly refined grains," says Heather Bauer, RD, co-author of Bread is the Devil: Win the Weight Loss Battle by Taking Control of Your Diet Demons. "When you're hungry, tired, or stressed, you tend to reach for bread products, not carrot sticks. Problem is, the more you eat bread, the more you want."
Bauer is specifically referring to white bread, crackers, pretzels, and other highly refined grains that have come to symbolize the struggle with weight control.
Eating whole grains, on the other hand, is a sound weight loss strategy.
In one study, people on a lower-calorie diet that included whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, lost more belly fat than those who ate only refined grains, such as white bread and white rice.
Whole grains provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined. But overdoing whole wheat bread can add pounds, too. So account for it in your daily calorie budget.
Bread and Type 2 Diabetes
Research shows that eating fewer starchy foods like bread, and less red meat, processed food, and sugar-sweetened beverages -- along with an increased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry -- decreases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
Eating any kind of carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. But carbs aren't all the same. Sugars and refined grains raise blood sugar quicker than complex carbohydrates, found in foods including beans and other vegetables.
"Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, and their ability to cause blood glucose level spikes is limited," says Hillary Wright, RD, director of nutrition counseling at the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.
That may be particularly important for people with type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, your body has problems controlling blood sugar.
Cutting back on refined grains, such as white bread, and eating more whole grains in their place are good moves. "Whole-grain bread has more fiber than refined, and fiber helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates consumed at the same meal or snack," Wright says.
Bread and Gluten Intolerance
"Bread has been getting a bad rap for a long time," says Shelley Case, RD, nutrition consultant and author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. "It's worse now because there's so much negative press about gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley."
Some people cannot tolerate gluten because they have celiac disease. Their immune system mistakes gluten as dangerous, triggering a reaction that attacks the body. For people with celiac disease, avoiding any source of gluten -- found in many products besides bread -- is an absolute must.
Celiac disease is getting diagnosed more often these days. Many other people without celiac disease link their stomach upset and fatigue to gluten. This is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is more common than celiac disease.
To find out if you have celiac disease, see your doctor. If you don't have celiac disease and want to give up gluten to see if it helps your tummy troubles, see a dietitian to help track your symptoms and make sure your gluten-free diet is healthy.
How Much Bread Is Too Much?
People on a 2,000-calorie eating plan need six servings a day (about 6 ounces) from the grain group. That includes all bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits. At least half of those should be whole grains
Keep portions in mind. A single bagel can pack 3 to 5 ounces of grain. That takes up much of your grain budget for the day, and if it wasn't a whole-grain bagel, it may be hard for you to meet healthy grain goals.
Go with the whole grain. Choose breads that list "whole" grain as the first ingredient, such as whole wheat, white whole wheat, or whole oats. "Wheat bread" or "multi-grain" is not necessarily a whole-grain product.
Downsize. Trim portions and get more fiber with whole-grain English muffins, bagel thins, or sandwich thins. Also try 2-ounce sandwich and hamburger buns.
Don't shop by color. Many whole-grain breads are darker than white bread, but food manufacturers may add molasses and food coloring to give their refined bread products a darker hue. Always check the ingredient label.
Bulk up. Choose whole-grain bread products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Bread: is bread bad for you?
Bread has been a major staple of the human diet for thousands of years.
As early as the Roman Empire, bread was a common accompaniment to most meals. Bread, in its many forms, continues to be the most regularly consumed food in the world due to its convenience, portability, nutrition and taste.
There are many different types of bread, some much healthier than others. There are leavened and unleavened breads, whole grain or whole meal breads, sweet breads, corn breads, flatbreads, breads made with ancient grains, soda bread and many, many more.
Present-day packaged and pre-sliced white bread is made of highly processed simple carbohydrate, which is digested quickly without providing many nutrients or benefits to the body.
Bread is made mostly of carbohydrate. Despite their bad reputation in the dieting world, carbohydrates are our bodies preferred source of fuel.
The healthiest sources of carbohydrate - fruits, vegetables, beans and minimally processed grains - also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals.
Carbohydrate to your body is like fuel to a car. If there is no fuel, the car will not go very far. If there is high-quality fuel, the car will run more efficiently. Highly processed carbohydrate like white breads, refined pasta, cakes, donuts and candy bars are like cheap fuel - they are digested very quickly and may give you a quick surge of energy, but you are left feeling hungry, drained or craving more fuel soon after.
"Simple" carbohydrates (also known as refined carbohydrates) spike the blood sugar soon after eating and have no nutrient or fiber buffer to help keep us full or satiated. A high intake of simple carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and other lifestyle-related chronic conditions.
The best thing since sliced bread?
Almost a century ago, sliced white bread became a huge success, a popular household staple, and a cultural phenomenon. It was actually a sign of wealth if you could afford processed bread.
To make white bread or white flour, the grain must be processed to remove the bran and the germ portions, leaving only the endosperm.
In this process, the product gains a finer, lighter texture, and shelf life is extended, but in turn you lose most or all of the fiber, vitaminsand minerals. The remaining endosperm provides quick-digesting carbohydrate but little else.
When certain widespread nutrient deficiencies became evident, "enriched" flours were born. Manufacturers fortified the processed white flour with some of the missing nutrients using supplements like folate and other B-vitamins.
However, supplemental vitamins are not as good as the real thing. Our bodies cannot absorb or utilize nutrients as well as when they come from the real, unprocessed source.
How to find whole grains
When choosing store-bought bread, look for the word "whole" as the first word in the ingredient list. This ensures that all three parts of the grain are contained in the product. The definition of a whole grain, obtained from The Whole Grains Council, is as follows:1
"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."
Consuming 2-3 servings of whole grain foods per day can reduce the risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
As whole grain intake goes up, the risk for all five of these conditions goes down. That's a pretty big deal.
Beware of grain foods labeled:
- Wheat bread
- Organic flour
- Wheat germ
- Unbleached wheat flour
- 100% wheat.
None of these terms guarantees a whole grain product. As with a lot of packaged products, just because something looks or sounds healthy does not mean that it is. Skip the claims on the front of the label and go straight to the ingredient list.
We should all be aiming to consume 48 grams of whole grains per day (equivalent to 3 servings of 16 g of whole grains).
Despite all the great things whole grains can do for our bodies, Americans consume on average less than 1 serving of whole grains per day. Fewer than 5% of us get the recommended 48 g per day.
Choosing good bread
Unfortunately, making sure you buy bread with the word "whole" as the first ingredient still does not guarantee you are buying a healthy product. It is only the first step. Even whole grain breads can have upwards of 20 ingredients, most of which are hard to pronounce and do not bring the word "food" to mind when reading.
Look for bread with a short list of ingredients that you can pronounce and recognize. Buy freshly baked breads with minimal preservatives whenever possible and store the bread in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness.
Many types of bread have added sugars or sugar substitutes. Avoid those with corn syrup or any ingredient ending in "-ose" listed at the beginning of the ingredient list. Ingredients lists are ordered by the amount of ingredient it contains, so if corn syrup or cane sugar is in the top 3 ingredients, you may want to put that bread back on the shelf.
To step it up a notch and get even healthier, look for bread made with sprouted grains. When a grain is sprouted, its nutrients become easier to digest and more available to the body for use.
Bread made with sprouted grains is often higher in protein, fiber, vitamin C, folate and other nutrients. Ezekiel bread is a type of bread made with only sprouted grains and no flour. Sprouted grain breads should also be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
Examples of whole grain, sprouted breads with minimal or no added sugars or preservatives:
As you can see, the answer to the question "is bread bad for you?" is not black and white. There are breads that certainly would not be considered healthful and contribute to weight gain, spikes in blood sugar and other adverse conditions, just as there are breads that are nourishing and can be part of a healthy, balanced diet when eaten in moderation. It is up to you to choose whether the bread you are consuming is the former or the latter.
1. Use your loaf
Bread has been a staple of the human diet since ancient times. Primitive people baked flat breads 12,000 years ago by mixing flour and water and baking them in the sun.
It’s the Egyptians who are thought to have discovered how to make risen bread with a starter made from wild yeast. Today, bread is sometimes demonised as a carbohydrate source that makes people fat, and is often the first thing thrown out by dieters. Some argue that industrial bread production means too many preservatives, additives and salt, making it unhealthy. But bread can be a good source of both carbohydrates and whole grains that are needed in a balanced diet.
Different breads have different properties. Instead of avoiding bread altogether, knowing what is in each slice and watching how much of it you eat each day is usually the healthier course.
2. What's in your bread?
Various types of flour are used in bread making. Wholemeal flour is made from whole wheat grains, while white flour is made only from the central part of the grain, the endosperm. Is one type of bread better than another?
Well, all bread is a great source of carbohydrates, the body's energy fuel. But the carbohydrates in wholemeal bread are digested more slowly than those in the more refined white bread, and so keep you going for longer.
Wholemeal bread usually also contains more fibre and nutrients like vitamin B, calcium and iron, which tend to be lost in the white flour refining process - although some of these ‘micronutrients’ must now by law be put back into white flour after milling.
Salt is needed to control yeast growth, make the dough more stretchy and enhance flavour.
And factory-baked loaves may contain additional ingredients such as sugar, oil, vinegar, preservatives and flour treatment agents; but you can leave these out if you bake your bread at home!
3. A tale of two loaves
When it comes to nutrition, which is better: homemade or shop-bought?
Nutritional values of home-baked bread vary considerably, according to baking temperatures, size of tin, and so on. Many home-baked breads may be similar in calories to average shop-bought loaves. This data is based on analysis at the time.
4. Which bread is best?
5. Who should avoid bread?
Counting your calorie intake is a good idea if you want to lose weight. But of course it’s not just carbohydrates that pile on calories: it’s more likely to be the fat we add to the carbs that does that. So simply cutting out carbohydrates, especially the less processed ones like wholemeal bread, may not be the healthiest way to diet.
Some people avoid bread because they have an intolerance for wheat itself, or to a protein found in wheat and some other grains called gluten. A smaller number of people are allergic to wheat.
Wheat intolerance can give rise to bloating, diarrhoea and other digestive problems, and requires blood tests and internal examinations for a diagnosis. Allergic reactions to wheat can come on very suddenly and so are easier to identify.
Around one in 100 people in the UK have the more serious coeliac disease, an auto-immune disease in which gluten damages the small intestine and impairs the body’s ability to absorb food.
But bread can still be on the menu if you are coeliac, intolerant or allergic – it just needs to be made with wheat-free or gluten-free flours, such as rice, corn, potato, or polenta.
If you think you may have a problem with bread you should talk to your family doctor. Unless you do have one of these conditions, there is no evidence that eating bread by itself can cause bloating or other digestive problems.
Is Any Bread Actually Healthy? A Must-Read Before You Buy Your Next Loaf
With low-carb, Paleo, and gluten-free diets on the rise, bread (and grains in general) has fallen out of favor. Even in France, the birthplace of the baguette, they’ve had to resort to a “Got Milk” style ad campaign to stop sales from crumbling. However, the loaf isn’t dead yet.
To combat the trend of falling bread consumption, commercial bread bakers have been looking to formulate and market a healthier bread. In that quest, they’re using bread buzzwords such as “stoneground,” “gluten-free,” and “whole wheat.”
Nearly everyone has heard the advice to choose whole-grain bread over white bread (for the health benefits of whole-grain flour), but there’s still much discussion about even whole-grain options . And the advantages of other types of bread are less clear-cut. WTF does “sprouted grain bread” even mean, and are the health benefits enough to justify the extra $2 per loaf?
Here are some common (and commonly misunderstood) bread buzzwords and what they really mean.
White vs. Whole-Wheat Bread
Time to flash back to biology class: Wheat, in its natural, fresh-off-the-plant form, contains three components: the germ, endosperm, and bran layer. The germ contains loads of vitamins and minerals, while the endosperm is packed with protein and carbohydrate. The bran layer (the rough stuff... think bran muffin) is full of fiber . Whole-grain flours are made by grinding up intact wheat kernels; white flours have to be “stripped” of all the good stuff before they get sent to the grinder. To make white flour, manufacturers remove the germ and bran (along with 80 percent of the fiber and most of the nutrients), then send the stripped grains through the mill. White flours usually get a dose of B vitamins, folic acid, and iron during processing; this fortification process replaces up some of the lost nutrient content, but the flour is still missing many healthy compounds such as antioxidants and phytonutrients .
The Whole-Wheat Hang-Up
Think you’re all set buying 100-percent whole-wheat bread? Not so fast. The FDA says that a grain-containing product labeled “100-percent whole-grain” must be made of germ, endosperm, and bran in proportions that equal those of intact grains. Food manufacturers exploit this loophole and often process grain as white flour, then add the germ and bran back in. Believe it or not, this still counts as “whole-grain” flour . The reconstituted whole-grain flour often has dough conditioners and flavorings added, and probably loses some nutrients through processing too.
These buzzwords recall a simpler era in bread baking, when windmills would grind grain using compression from stones. But today, like the term “natural,” the marketing buzzword “stone ground” is essentially meaningless.
When you read "stone ground" on bread, it just indicates that a grain has been passed through a stone mill at least once during the manufacturing process. So if the first step in making Wonder Bread were a quick trip of the wheat through a stone grinder, it could be considered made of stone-ground flour. The FDA doesn’t police this phrase, so food manufacturers are free to use this as they wish.
Sprouted wheat breads are the darling of the health food set. All sorts of health claims have been made about sprouted grains, including increased digestibility, higher protein content, and more enzyme activity. Are any of these claims legit?
Well, sprouting grains increases the activity of certain enzymes, which allows nutrients to be more available for digestion. It also lowers carbohydrate content, changes the amino acid profile, and raises protein content . Sprouting ups the content of some nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber too . Due to these differences, sprouted-grain breads are technically more nutritious than breads made using unsprouted flour. However, the differences are pretty small—eating sprouted-grain bread over plain ol' whole wheat won’t make much of a difference in a person’s nutritional intake.
Is Gluten-Free the Way to Be?
Several celebs have gone gaga for the gluten-free diet—including Lady Gaga herself—but following this dietary trend really isn’t necessary unless you have celiac disease . Although many report being sensitive to gluten, a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), scientific evidence isn’t up to speed on exactly why or how this occurs (or if it is even a real condition) . Claims of weight loss and increased energy from going gluten-free abound, but these effects are probably due to increased diet quality (think more fruits and veggies, fewer processed foods) rather than the elimination of the gluten protein.
The 411 on Gluten-Free Bread
For those without celiac disease, gluten-free breads may or may not be healthier. In general, a gluten-free diet is more likely to be low in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B and D, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber . Eating gluten-free—without paying close attention to the quality and nutrient content of foods—can raise the risk for developing obesity and/or metabolic syndrome . Many gluten-free bread products are prepared with corn or rice starch, both of which have a high glycemic index and low fiber content . And because gluten-free grains don’t always play nice in forming bread dough, manufacturers of gluten-free breads often mix in fats or oils to dough increase palatability (which also ups the calorie content!) and additives like starches and gums to improve texture .
However, there are a bunch of different flour options when it comes to GF baked goods. Some, such as oat flour and chickpea flour, have relatively good nutritional stats . Others, like tapioca flour, are pretty much pure starch. Recognizing consumer demand, food scientists are currently hard at work to develop tasty, delicious, and nutritious gluten-free breads using some of the more nutritious flours and novel preparation methods. In the meantime, if you’re eating gluten-free bread, be a label-reader—watch out for long ingredient lists, additives, and low fiber contents.
“Fermented Breads” and ”Yeasted Breads”
Old-School Bread Baking
Baking yeast bread is one of those intimidating kitchen projects that seems like you’d need a full weekend to accomplish (although it’s totally doable to DIY, as well as cheaper, healthier, and not as time-consuming as you’d expect). At its most basic, making yeast bread involves mixing together flour, water, commercial yeast, and salt, letting the mixture rise, and baking the risen dough. During the rising period, the yeast gobbles up some carbohydrates in the flour and digest them via fermentation. The end products are alcohol and carbon dioxide—which add flavor and volume to the dough.
Sourdough bread making involves similar steps, but the process starts with a “sourdough starter” or “sponge,” which is a mixture of live yeast, lactic-acid producing bacteria, flour, and water. Bacteria and wild yeast from the environment settle on the starter and start to ferment away, producing a mini-ecosystem packed with flavor-making potential. Both yeast and bacteria increase the acidity of the dough, which fends off harmful bacteria and gives sourdough its characteristic tangy taste.
The Health Factors
OK, now that we have Breadmaking 101 out of the way, let’s talk about the health benefits of yeasted bread. Some claim that sourdough bread made with a wild yeast starter is healthier and easier to digest than your standard loaf. While the wild yeast primarily contribute to the complexity of the flavor present in sourdough (and some would say its overall deliciousness), the long fermentation time required and acidity of the dough are what really contribute to its health benefits . This process makes the nutrients in wheat flour more available for digestion and the simple sugars less available, which may help with blood sugar control, particularly for people with diabetes . (Although portion control is still key for blood sugar issues.) Sourdough fermentation may also help make wheat bread easier for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to digest . One study found that sourdough bread made with a long fermentation time produced fewer symptoms (such as bloating and gas) than conventionally made bread .
But Is It “Probiotic”?
Kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and... bread? Some claim that sourdough bread is a probiotic food since it is made with a fermented dough containing tons of gut-friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus, we’re looking at you!). While the baking process kills off the bacteria, which may reduce its probiotic properties, there’s some evidence suggesting that even dead probiotic bacteria still have some health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties . But don’t swap out your yogurt for toast just yet; the scientific evidence on the health benefits of live probiotics is much stronger .
Additives and Shelf Stabilizers: Words to Avoid
While it’s best to avoid the usual culprits when it comes to additives (hydrogenated oils, food dyes, and high-fructose corn syrup, to name some common not-so-healthy ingredients in highly processed foods), there are a few bread-specific additives to watch out for.
The first is the so-called “yoga mat” chemical of the infamous Subway bread controversy. Also used to improve the stretchiness of rubber products like flip-flops and yoga mats, this chemical—azodicarbonamide, abbreviated as ADA or ADC—is added to some commercial bread products as a bleaching agent and flour-improver. When heated, ADA forms two icky byproducts, one that’s known to cause cancer and one that might cause cancer.
Another problematic item on the ingredient list is potassium bromate, a chemical added to fluff up bread and give it a tender texture, which has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may hurt kidney function in humans . It’s banned pretty much everywhere except in the U.S. and Japan.
Less scary-sounding but definitely unhealthy, added sugars such as dextrose appear in certain commercial breads. Dextrose contributes to the nice, toasty-brown color of baked loaves (and to Americans’ waistlines). Other names for sugar include sucrose or "evaporated cane juice." There’s no need to completely eliminate added sugars, but limiting them is a good idea.
While commercial food producers splash all sorts of health-related claims on packaging, a lot of the front-of-package labeling is just to entice consumers. For your healthiest bread options, look for whole-grain breads with short ingredient lists (not too much longer than flour, water, yeast, and salt). Bonus points for buying from artisan bakers or making your own.
Fermented breads, a.k.a. sourdough made with a long fermentation time, could reduce blood sugar spikes or icky abdominal symptoms in some people. (Although keep in mind, portion control still key if you're trying to lose weight or have blood sugar issues.) And sprouted-grain breads may offer some nutritional advantages above and beyond the basic whole-grain loaf, but eating sprouted bread isn’t likely to lead to significant improvements in health (though you’ll get hippie street cred). As far as gluten concerns go, if you have celiac disease (or suspect other sensitivities), look for gluten-free bread made from beneficial ingredients like chickpea or oat flour. But if you’re a-OK with gluten, there’s no reason to break up with everyone's favorite comforting carb.