Healthy Bread: Is There Such a Thing?

Poor bread. It’s gotten a bad rap. Typically high in calories, carbs, sodium, and sugar, this tasty treat has been vilified by nutrition experts. But there’s got to be a healthy bread that can satisfy our cravings... right?

healthy bread

We hear the conventional wisdom all the time: Avoid bread. But if you stick to certain types of healthy bread, you can keep it in your eating plan.

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Freshly baked bread is pretty irresistible. The tantalizing smell, warm center, and crunchy crust can satisfy even the most serious of hunger pangs. Lately, though, the paleo patrol and gluten police have turned bread into a four-letter word. They talk about bread’s bad qualities (carbohydrates, calories, sugar, and salt, for instance) and ignore the good (fiber, vitamins, and essential nutrients). Thankfully for those of us who can’t imagine life without a panini, healthy bread is a thing—and it tastes delicious.

The best news: As long as we don’t overindulge, eating bread doesn’t have to be taboo.

Is Too Much Bread a Bad Thing?

Remember when your momma told you, “Too much of anything is bad for you”? Turns out her advice applies to bread as well as alcohol. In addition to being chock-full of calories, which will help you pack on unwanted pounds, bread often contains added sugar and salt, which can up your risk of illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Many types of bread, especially overly refined white breads, contain high amounts of bad cholesterol and carbohydrates. They’re also high on the glycemic index, which means they can spike your blood sugar and lead you to crave and eat more.

WHY BREAD IS SO ADDICTIVE

While many debate the reason for bread’s must-eat quality, registered dietitian Lauren Minchen believes it’s due to the “taste and texture combined with the fact that simple carbs boost the production of serotonin in the brain makes for an irresistible experience.”

That said, the whole grains you’ll find in healthy bread have been proven to fight fat, especially the kind that collects around your middle (we feel you, muffin top). A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating whole grains as part of a weight-loss program can reduce both belly fat and other types of fat while reducing a person’s risk of heart disease.

The take-home: Whole-grain healthy bread is a better option than white bread for weight loss and heart health. But it’s still high in calories, so be sure to eat it in moderation. “A couple of slices of high-quality whole-grain bread—for example, Ezekiel bread—is perfectly okay as part of a nourishing diet,” says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, a New York-based Registered Dietitian.

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What Is the Healthiest Bread You Can Eat?

Healthy bread should be high in fiber, low in sodium, and bursting with nutrients. You want your bread to be as natural and whole as possible, Minchen says. “In general, you want to look for a sprouted whole-grain bread, like Ezekiel or Alvarado St. Bakery brands.”

While it’s true that whole grains are healthier than refined, it’s important to choose the right type of healthy bread to ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your proverbial buck. More on that later.

Which Bread Is Best for Weight Loss?

This depends on your ultimate weight-loss goal and overall health. If you’re aiming to shed pounds, your best bet is to reduce your consumption of bread and therefore your caloric intake.

As you’ve likely learned, the average person should aim to consume no more than 2,000 calories daily for a woman and 2,500 for a man. Bread contains anywhere from about 50 to over 100 calories per serving (yummy, cheesy, garlic and croissant-style brands could tip the scales with more than 230 calories).

How to Choose Healthy Bread

The first step to choosing healthy bread is to pay close attention to the label. Here’s what to watch out for:

HEALTHIEST WAY TO EAT BREAD?

healthy bread olive oil

Best with bread: extra-virgin olive oil, which can help slow digestion.

Do you slather your bread in Nutella, drizzle it with olive oil, or spread it with PB and J? Turns out adding a topping is a good thing. And your best bet for optimal health is to switch things up.

“Variety is actually good here,” says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, a New York-based Registered Dietitian. “Grass-fed butter or extra virgin olive oil can all help slow down our digestion of bread, possibly helping to better control our blood sugar than if we just ate bread alone.”

A healthy protein (e.g., almond butter) can help slow your carb digestion and keep you feeling full and energetic.

1. Less is more in terms of ingredients
“Look for ingredients that you recognize and can pronounce,” recommends Minchen. “There should be very few, if any, ingredients in a healthy bread that you can’t pronounce or recognize.”

2. Choose whole grains
Whole grains in healthy bread contain the entire grain (bran, germ, and endosperm), which means their nutrients haven’t been removed by processing. They are low in fat and free from cholesterol, meaning they’re heart-healthy. Whole grains also boast between 10 and 15 percent protein and lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—all of which can reduce your risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. If the first ingredient is “wheat flour,” “enriched bleached flour,” or “unbleached enriched flour,” you’re not going to get the whole grains you’re after. Aim for a healthy bread that contains “100 percent whole wheat” or “100 percent whole grain.”

3. Watch the sodium
An average slice of bread can contain close to 200 mg of sodium; according to the American Heart Association, your recommended daily limit should ideally be 1,500 mg, and not more than 2,300 mg. Say you eat three slices a day (one for breakfast and two in a sandwich, for instance)—that’s 600 mg of sodium right there.

4. Say “yes” to fiber
The more fiber the better, say nutritionists (and intestines) everywhere. Your recommended daily intake of fiber is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women under 50, or 30 grams and 21 grams, respectively, for those who are older. While an average slice of white bread contains 0.29 g, a whole wheat option contains about 1.93 g, making it a much healthier choice. Some companies make specific high fiber bread options which contain about 4 g per slice. Check the label and choose the healthy bread that best fits your needs.

5. Be conscious of serving size
As with most labels, you need to pay close attention to the serving sizes associated with healthy bread. The 4 g of fiber you got excited about could be contained within three slices instead of one.

Is Whole Wheat Bread Healthier Than White Bread?

This debate has been around for a while and the consensus seems to be yes. As mentioned earlier, whole wheat bread contains more vitamins, minerals and fiber than its white cousin, which is beneficial for your overall health.

As Minchen explains, whole wheat bread’s “fiber and greater nutrient content does deliver more nutrition than white bread, but whole wheat bread can still spike your blood sugar (just like white bread can). Portion is key, even if it’s whole grain. Follow the serving size on the label.”

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