Bread - Healthy or Not?

Filed under: Nutrition: Health

With the re-emergence of low-carb and no-carb diets in the past decade, bread has become the Voldemort of the food world. We've heard that the Food That Shall Not Be Named makes you fat. It's nutritionally bankrupt. It gives you type 2 diabetes. But is any of this true? Read on to find out whether bread is really the villain it's been made out to be.

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Bread - Safe or Scary?
Is bread wholesome and good for you...or just full of carbs and needless calories? Read on to find out the facts on your favorite loaf.
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Bread - Safe or Scary?

    White Bread

    White bread is made with refined wheat flour, which means almost all the nutrients and fiber have been stripped away from the grain. Because of the lack of fiber, white bread is digested very quickly, leading to a fast rise in blood sugar. As blood sugar levels rise, our bodies release more insulin, the hormone that signals cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage. Over time, heavy demand on our insulin-making cells wears them out, and insulin production slows or stops. This can eventually cause type 2 diabetes. In addition, elevated insulin levels leads to greater fat storage in our bodies. Bonus: A couple hours after eating refined carbs like white bread we experience a steep drop in blood sugar, and so can feel fatigued and/or voraciously hungry.

    Verdict: White bread should not be your everyday sandwich bread.

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    Whole Grain Bread

    Whole grains are a good source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber, and, depending on the grain, even protein. As whole wheat and whole grain flours are made from the intact grains, we digest whole grain breads more slowly and feel full longer, and don't experience a blood-sugar freakout.

    Verdict: Best choice.

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    Breads "Made With Whole Grain"

    When the USDA began recommending we eat more whole grains in 2005, the number of food products claiming to be "made with whole grains" more than doubled. Bread "made with whole grain" pretty much always means it contains some whole grain--and a lot of white flour.

    Verdict: Not as healthy as 100 percent whole grain bread, but if you're struggling with the move from white to whole wheat, these are good transition breads.

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    Bagels

    Bagels are in a category all their own. Why? Because they're large. Very large. So large that one bagel equals five slices of bread, or two and a half English muffins. You're looking at 400-500 calories for one of these chewy dough balls, and that's before you've even begun spreading on a few hundred more via cream cheese or butter. And if it's a white flour bagel, you'll likely need a nap soon after eating it due to the inevitable blood sugar crash.


    Verdict: Think of bagels as an occasional brunch treat. If you're eating them every day for breakfast, try swapping in some whole grain toast, oatmeal, eggs -- basically anything other than sugary cereals, donuts, pastries, or muffins -- a few days a week.

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Jennifer Schonborn is a holistic nutrition counselor based in New York.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.