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Is bread bad for you?

Nutrition, gluten, carbs, and healthy choices

Despite its widespread popularity, bread is often characterized as unhealthy, harmful, and fattening. This article explores the impact of bread on health.

Is it healthy?
Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Is bread bad for you? Nutrition facts & more
Last updated on October 7, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 15, 2023.

The type of bread determines its nutritional value. For instance, whole-wheat and Ezekiel bread are more nutritious than white or sourdough variants, which have a higher carbohydrate content.

Bread has been a foundational food in numerous cultures worldwide for thousands of years.

Usually crafted from a mixture of flour and water, a vast array of bread types are available, from sourdough to sweet bread, soda bread, and beyond.

Though it’s a widely consumed food, bread often faces criticism for being unhealthy, detrimental, and leading to weight gain.

This article delves into the health implications of consuming bread, shedding light on its benefits and drawbacks.

Bread is low in essential nutrients

Compared to other foods like fruits and vegetables, bread is relatively low in essential nutrients.

It is rather high in calories and carbs but low in protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, the nutrient profile can vary widely across different types of bread.

For example, whole-wheat bread may boast more fiber, while sprouted grains are richer in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.

Here is how one slice of several kinds of bread compares in nutritional content:

White bread

Whole-wheat bread

Sourdough bread

Summary: Bread is high in calories and carbs but low in protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, the specific nutrient profile depends on the type of bread.

Bread contains gluten

Wheat products like bread contain gluten, a specific type of protein that helps dough rise and gives it an elastic texture.

Though most people digest gluten easily, some cannot tolerate it.

For example, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the lining of your small intestine and impairs nutrient absorption.

Some people may also have a sensitivity to gluten, which can cause issues like bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

21 common signs of gluten intolerance
Suggested read: 21 common signs of gluten intolerance

For these individuals, wheat bread should be avoided altogether to prevent adverse side effects.

That said, gluten-free breads — typically made from tapioca, brown rice, or potato flour instead of wheat flour — are also available.

Summary: Bread contains gluten, which can cause adverse side effects for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Bread is high in carbs

Bread is high in carbs — a single slice of white bread packs an average of 13 grams.

Your body breaks down carbs into glucose, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels.

Some research suggests that eating foods with a high glycemic index — a measure of how quickly foods increase blood sugar levels — can increase hunger and a greater risk of overeating.

One study in 571 adults even linked the consumption of high glycemic index foods to increased body weight.

High-carb diets may also be associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that increase heart disease risk.

However, certain varieties, such as whole-grain bread, are also high in fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream to help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Studies indicate that upping your fiber intake may lower your risk of coronary heart disease, feed your beneficial gut bacteria and increase stool frequency to promote regularity.

Summary: Bread’s high carb content can increase blood sugar and hunger while possibly promoting a higher body weight and an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Bread may contain antinutrients

Grains typically harbor antinutrients, compounds that block your body from taking in certain minerals.

In particular, grains are high in phytic acid, which binds to iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium and prevents their absorption.

Although high-fiber, whole-grain bread may have a richer nutrient profile than lower-fiber, refined grains like white bread, it’s also more likely to be higher in antinutrients.

Antinutrients should be of little concern for most people following a well-rounded, healthy diet.

However, antinutrients can contribute to serious nutritional deficiencies for vegans, vegetarians, and those who base their diets around grains and legumes.

Soaking and sprouting grains before baking is an easy and effective way to reduce antinutrient content and enhance nutrient absorption.

Summary: Grains contain antinutrients like phytic acid, which can block the absorption of minerals, such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.

Bread may be enriched with vitamins and minerals

Bread is generally low in essential nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, some types are enriched with extra micronutrients to boost their nutritional value and prevent deficiencies.

Some common compounds added to bread include iron, riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin.

Though the US does not currently mandate fortifying food products like bread, many manufacturers choose to enrich their products with these critical vitamins and minerals.

The 7 healthiest types of bread to add to your diet
Suggested read: The 7 healthiest types of bread to add to your diet

Other countries, including Canada, have strict rules and regulations that require adding certain nutrients to many types of flour.

While each serving of enriched bread supplies only a small amount of the micronutrients you require, it can help you meet your needs when paired with an otherwise healthy diet.

Summary: Bread is often enriched with essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin.

Whole grains provide several health benefits

Whole-grain consumption is tied to several impressive health benefits.

In fact, eating whole grains may lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even colorectal cancer.

Remember that bread is made from grains that have been pulverized to form smaller particles. This process speeds up your digestion and diminishes many of the potential health benefits.

For this reason, the benefits of whole grains like oats, buckwheat, and barley may not apply to certain types of bread or other refined grains.

However, whole-wheat bread is higher in fiber, protein, and micronutrients like selenium and manganese than white bread, making it a better choice if you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health.

Certain types of whole-grain bread may also be made from less-processed grains, which are digested more slowly and may carry more health benefits.

Summary: Whole-grain consumption may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and colorectal cancer — though these benefits may not apply to certain types of bread.

Healthiest bread varieties

Making intelligent choices about which types of bread you eat can optimize your diet and sidestep the adverse side effects associated with unhealthy bread.

For starters, whole-wheat bread is a better option than white bread because it provides more fiber and protein, both of which slow the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream to keep blood sugar steady.

Whole-wheat bread is also richer in several vital nutrients, such as manganese and selenium.

Selecting bread made from sprouted grains — such as Ezekiel bread — is another excellent option to maximize the nutritional benefits of your bread.

Ezekiel bread
Suggested read: Ezekiel bread

Sprouting is a process that involves repeatedly soaking and rinsing grains over a period of several days to enhance the digestibility and nutritional value of the final product.

Studies show that sprouted bread contains more fiber, folate, vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene but fewer antinutrients.

Summary: Whole-wheat bread is higher in fiber, protein, and several nutrients. Sprouted bread is also lower in antinutrients and rich in fiber, folate, vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.

Summary

Bread is high in carbs, low in micronutrients, and its gluten and antinutrient contents may cause issues for some people.

Still, it’s often enriched with extra nutrients, and whole-grain or sprouted varieties may bestow several health benefits.

In moderation, bread can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet.

However, it’s best to pick healthier options like whole-wheat or sprouted bread and pair them with a balanced diet to maximize health benefits.

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