Is bread healthy or a killer carb?

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The first thing many of us think to drop when we want to lose weight (or want to stop gaining it) is ‘carbs’ like bread. But is bread actually bad for you, or is the fear of the carb misguided? The benefits of bread may surprise you.

There are so many different bread options to choose from that it can be hard to separate out the healthy bread from the not so healthy bread. Read on to find out how to make sure you and your family choose healthy bread.

What is bread made of?

All breads are made of grains, such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa and corn. Grains are turned into bread by processing them. Different kinds of processing are used to produce different kinds of bread.

White Bread

That smooth white slice is made from a refined grain, in this case white flour, which means that the bran and germ layers have been removed from the grain. This removes most of the fibre, vitamins and minerals present in the grain, although these can be added back in during processing. What can’t be added back in are the phytochemicals such as phenolics and flavonoids, which are healthy antioxidants.

Wholemeal Bread

Wholemeal products are made of wholegrains, which are crushed to a finer texture. No more grains and seeds stuck in your teeth! Wholegrain and wholemeal breads are nutritionally similar, but wholegrain is a better choice according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Wholegrain Bread

All three layers of the grain remain in wholegrain products. Many of these important nutrients are contained in the outer layer, which are otherwise lost during processing. This means they generally contain more fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than refined grains. However, watch out for ‘multigrain’ bread – it may just be white flour bread with added grains. ‘Wholemeal wholegrain’ bread generally has the most fibre and nutrients as it uses wholemeal flour plus wholegrains.

What nutrients are in bread?

We often think of bread as a carb and thus a ‘bad’ food, but bread actually can contain significant nutritional value. The following nutrients can be found in bread, in varying quantities depending on bread type.

  • Fibre is important for cardiovascular and digestive health. It also helps you feel fuller for longer.
  • Protein is associated with bulking up muscle, but it’s absolutely vital for everyone. It’s used by the body to manufacture all kinds of chemicals necessary for body functions. It’s also a filling source of long-lasting energy.
  • Iron is necessary for red blood cells to bind oxygen to transport it around the body.
  • B vitamins (folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin) play a number of roles in the function of red blood cells, nerves, the heart, and the brain.
  • Vitamin E keeps the immune system, skin, and eyes healthy and performing well.
  • Zinc works with vitamin A to produce melanin, which protects the eye. Zinc is also important for the immune system and wound healing.
  • Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm and keep bones strong.
  • Phosphorus is a key ingredient in constructing and maintaining healthy bones, muscles, kidneys, and blood vessels.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines can help you figure out how much of each of the above nutrients you need to get from your diet.

Should I stop eating bread to lose weight?

While there’s no simple answer to the question of what to eat to lose weight, bread is generally not such a bad guy. Everyone is different, but a good dietary change to make is the type of bread you eat. This is where reading labels becomes super important.

The higher the fibre content of the bread, the longer it will take to digest and thus the longer you’ll feel full after eating. This helps fight the snack attack. Fibre also plays an important role in cardiovascular and digestive health. Whole grains are low in saturated fat and a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

That being said, cutting down on bread can be an easy way to cut down on carbs, as long as you replace it with something nutritious such as lots of high-fibre vegetables, particularly green leafy ones.

Does bread cause bloating?

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, it’s a myth that consumption of bread causes bloating and other gastrointestinal upsets. What can cause such symptoms is suddenly increasing fibre intake, which can be done through eating a lot of high-fibre bread. Regular exercise and lots of water can help prevent bloating and keep your digestive system happy. If you find yourself having regular adverse reactions to bread, you may want to see a doctor as you could have a different issue.

Is bread a healthy source of energy?

White and wholemeal breads have a high glycaemic index (GI), which means they release glucose into the bloodstream quite quickly. However, adding fat and protein slows down carbohydrate absorption. That means eating bread as part of a meal or with other foods (e.g. as a sandwich, or even with peanut butter), reduces the rate of glucose entering the bloodstream for longer-lasting energy.

Which type of bread is healthiest?

For the healthiest loaf, look for a wholemeal wholegrain loaf with a high fibre and protein content. Many breads have added vitamins and minerals for a nutritional boost. Avoid breads that are high in salt or sugar – both ingredients that can be snuck into bread to make it tastier, but far less healthy. Ignore the marketing and go straight to the nutrition label for the most accurate comparison between the benefits of different breads.

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