Many health-conscious people have heard a lot of bad things about bread lately.
This has led to a growing worry about its true nutritional value.
Fitness enthusiasts, in particular, have been known to completely remove bread from their lives.
But is it really necessary?
Why does bread get a bad rap, and is there any truth to it?
When we look closer, there seems to be 3 major reasons why bread has gotten a bad reputation in recent years:
- Unhealthy, high-calorie food combos.
- Misinformation about carbohydrates.
- The great gluten scare.
Let’s break them down one by one.
1. High-Calorie Food Combos
Bread is often looked upon as being fattening.
And you can easily understand why:
Overweight people are rarely seen without some sort of bread in, or close to, their mouths.
Hamburgers, pizzas, all kinds of sandwiches — could grains really be the main cause of the current obesity epidemic?
Several modern diet-gurus seem to think so.
And some of them have amassed a decent following of people — people who shun bread and/or grains completely because of their advice.
What many of these anti-grain folks often overlook, however, is what bread is typically eaten WITH.
Just think about it:
The truth is that most people who get fat eating bread are combining it with a generous serving of:
- Various fatty meats
- Sugary spreads
- Other high-calorie foods.
Consider the following numbers:
With one standard slice of a typical whole wheat bread you get about 70 calories.
Now, let’s say you spread some sugar-free blueberry jam on it — around 20 calories.
That’s only 90 in total — even less than a medium-sized banana!
But wait a minute…
Let’s say you skip the blueberry jam, and instead choose to add 4 slices of bacon to your bread — 43 calories each, 172 in total.
Your slice of bread just went from 90 calories to around 242.
Now, suppose you add a few tablespoons of mayo to that (94 kcal each).
Just like that, you’ve more or less got a whole dinner’s worth of calories with a single slice of bread!
Will eating that regularly fatten you up over time?
Still, as you can see, it’s not really the bread that’s responsible.
Unless you’re stuffing your face with entire loaves every day, it’s what you put ON the bread that decides if you gain weight or not.
2. Misinformation About Carbohydrates
Another major reason for the bad image of bread is the great carb hysteria.
“Carbs make you fat!”, they say with great conviction.
And since bread mostly contains carbs, bread must be a fattening food, right?
Well, not exactly.
‘Low-carbers’ are big proponents of the idea that insulin is the main cause of obesity (the so-called carbohydrate-insulin model, or CIM). (1)
They say that, since carbs raise your blood sugar, which in turn spikes your insulin levels, this leads to both increased fat storage and hunger.
This increased hunger then (supposedly) makes people eat more carb-heavy foods.
According to the low-carb folks, this vicious cycle is what makes people fat — not necessarily a caloric surplus.
Looking At The Data
However, when we examine the evidence, it is clear that carbohydrates are NOT the great boogeyman they’re made out to be.
Certain studies show us that simply restricting carbs will not produce weight loss by itself. (2)
In the end, shedding fat has less to do with macronutrient partitioning, and more to do with what eating habits works best for each individual.
Some people find it easy to lose or maintain weight with many high-fiber foods, and may choose to include a lot of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Others prefer to be satiated by fatty foods, and choose to lower or near-eliminate their carbohydrate intake.
If the energy expenditure more or less evens out every day, you will maintain your weight.
And if you burn more calories than you consume, the result will always be weight loss.
The Twinkie Diet
An extreme example of this principle in action is the infamous ‘Twinkie diet’ experiment. (3)
Mark Haub, a university of Kansas professor of human nutrition, decided to perform a test on himself to prove the calorie-deniers wrong.
For 10 weeks, Haub consumed a Twinkie every 3 hours of every day.
He also consumed a bunch of other junk food, such as Oreos, Doritos and cupcakes.
To keep himself from completely going under, he made sure to get at least some nutrients in the form of multivitamin pills, protein shakes, and the odd serving of vegetables.
During the 10 weeks of following the absurd diet plan, Haub kept track of his energy expenditure — staying at around an 800-calorie deficit every day.
After 10-weeks on the Twinkie diet, Haub went from weighing 207 pounds to 174.
Additionally, he saw an improvement in various health markers associated with obesity, such as cholesterol and overall bodyfat.
So, the bottom line is this:
If you want to eat bread, do it!
As long as your total calories stay more or less consistent, you will not gain any weight from it.
However, unless you want to pop multivitamin pills every day, like Dr. Haub, make sure that your bread is of the healthy variety.
Sure, “calories in vs calories out” determines whether you maintain, lose, or gain weight.
However, if you want to be healthy (which is much more important in the long run), micronutrients matter as well.
In other words, skip the white bread and choose whole grain whenever you can.
3. The Great Gluten Scare
The third reason many people are afraid of bread is the great gluten scare.
And boy, oh boy, is it a big, tangled, mess.
With so much misinformation being spread around for so long, it’s easy to see why the average person would be confused about gluten.
These are found in a number of grains, and is what gives dough its elastic and adhesive properties.
The Truth About Gluten
The reality of gluten is that only around 1% of the general population are allergic to it.
This allergy is known as celiac disease. (4)
Additionally, there is believed to be about 5% who are sensitive to the proteins — experiencing symptoms like itchiness and bloating when consuming them.
However, as opposed to celiac disease, the exact nature of this group’s condition (or conditions) is still up for debate among nutrition researchers.
If you don’t fall into one of these groups, there are really no good reasons for going all-out gluten-free.
On the other hand, there are good reasons not to.
Whole grains contain an impressive list of nutrients that are essential for optimal health, such as:
- B vitamins
On top of that, gluten-free alternatives tend to be higher in both processed sugars and fat. (7)
Did you know that tons of food products other than bread contain gluten?
Here are just some of the items which include the infamous proteins:
- Salad dressings
- Soy sauce
- Root beer
- Veggie burgers
- Dairy-free creams
- Seasoning- and spice mixes
- French fries
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to watch out for every day…
Don’t worry, though:
If you don’t have celiac disease or a confirmed sensitivity, there is simply no reason to treat it like a poison.
That’s A Rap!
Now you know the 3 major reasons for why bread gets a bad rap.
When we examine the facts, it’s mind-boggling how bread could get such a horrible reputation among certain diet circles.
But then again, claiming that a staple food is actually really bad for us has always been a surefire way to gain attention and book sales.
The final word about bread, however, is this:
As long as you:
- Stay away from bacon-and-mayo sandwiches (and similar combos)
- Choose whole-grain over refined
- Keep your total calories in check
- Don’t have celiac disease or other allergies
You can eat your bread with a clear conscience.
So, relax and have yourself a sandwich from time to time — it really won’t kill you!