No. Bread itself does not make you fat. To identify the cause of your weight gain, it’s important to look at your diet as a whole. In moderation, whole grain, whole wheat, or multi grain bread can be a healthy part of your diet. To understand why certain types of bread can contribute to your weight gain, we’ll discuss the ingredients that can make bread unhealthy and lifestyle tips to eat bread in moderation. We’ll also discuss why what was once the base of the old-school food pyramid has been seen in a different light thanks to the rise of gluten sensitivities and intolerances.
Bread: From Hero to Villain
In the past decade or so, our society has really done a 180 on bread. What was once the base of the old-school food pyramid has now been cast as an edible villain—the supposed reason you can’t lose weight, the sole cause of your belly fat, and somehow the root of all your problems. But ALL bread is not terrible, nor will it sabotage your weight loss.
Dr. Shelley Case, RD and author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, admits the hype that all bread is bad for you is overblown. “Bread has been getting a bad rap for a long time,” Case says on WebMD, where she shares her thoughts on the actual nutritional value of bread. While some people truly do have Celiac disease—meaning they cannot eat gluten— the National Institute of Health states that it’s less than one percent of the population. More people outside of that percentage may be sensitive to gluten, meaning they have a harder time digesting it. But nearly 29 percent of Americans are opting for a gluten free lifestyle—a big jump from the amount of people that may medically need to.
We are all bio-individuals, and what works for one person’s diet won’t necessarily work for the next person. But when it comes to bread—perhaps gluten’s biggest mascot—we thought we’d clear up some misinformation and give you the real scoop on different types and their nutritional value. Here’s what you should look for if you want to have your bread work with your diet, not against it.
Whole Wheat Vs. Whole Grain Vs. Multigrain: What’s The Difference?
You may already know that white bread is overly processed: think Wonder Bread, or any other variety that comes with a lot of artificial ingredients and things you can’t pronounce (oh, and quite a bit of sugar). But when you pick up a loaf of Whole Wheat bread, you’re probably good, right? Unfortunately, not always.
What it means: Time for a quick science lesson! In its natural state, wheat is made up of three parts: the germ, the bran layer, and the endosperm. The germ contains vitamins and minerals, the bran layer contains fiber, and the endosperm has protein and carbohydrates. White bread is made by “stripping” the germ and bran from the wheat (eliminating the good stuff!) and then processing the stripped grains in the mill. Whole wheat bread SHOULD be made by grinding wheat kernels as they are—fully intact. However, some manufacturers have found a way around this and process the grain as white flour and then add the germ and bran back in, calling it “whole wheat.”
The problem is that this re-made whole grain flour is overly processed with added flavorings and dough conditioners, making it lose the nutritional value of whole wheat in the first place. So what do you do? Check the label on the back of the bread for the ingredients: it should say “100% whole wheat.” And if you’re looking at a package of “Whole Wheat” bread that has added coloring or chemicals you can’t pronounce as ingredients, drop that loaf!
We recommend: Whole Foods 100% Whole Wheat Bread
What it means: Whole grain bread means that it is made up of any whole grain kernel as opposed to just wheat; this could mean flax, oats, barley, spelt, or other grains but it could also include wheat. Because of this, whole gain bread usually contains a good amount of fiber—something that can help you feel fuller longer.
We recommend: Eureka Bread
What it means: Sprouted grain takes it to another level by actually sprouting the grains present in the bread to unlock the nutrients. Grains naturally contain a protective coating around them to allow them to undergo the harshness of nature and grow into plants. However, when humans ingest these grains and seeds, we want to receive the whole nutritional benefit, thus the need for sprouting. Sprouting removes this barrier and makes the digestion process easier and therefore more nutritious.
We recommend: Ezekial Sprouted Whole Grain Bread, made with organic sprouted wheat, barley, millet, and other fiber-rich and nutrient-dense ingredients.
Related: Is Sprouted Bread Really Worth It?
What it means: The term “multigrain” simply means that the loaf of bread you’re looking at contains more than one grain (flax, oats, barley, rice). It doesn’t, however, mean that the bread has necessarily been left unprocessed, and it still could contain artificial flavors or added sugars.
We recommend: Skip the multigrain and choose a whole grain, whole wheat, or sprouted option.
Ingredients That Should Not Be In Your Bread
You may be wondering—what are these unacceptable ingredients we keep speaking of? Well here they are. Bread can be a normal part of your healthy diet, but it’s all about picking the right kind of bread that actually contains the healthful parts (fiber, vitamins, minerals) without throwing in a bunch of chemicals or additives. Whether you want to lose weight or just become healthier and stay that way, these are things to AVOID in your bread:
- Sugar: As a general rule, bread doesn’t need to contain added sugar! However, many brands do contain added sugar. So be sure to check your nutrition label to see how much added sugar there is. There’s a big difference between bread that has 2g of sugar and bread that has 10. Whether you want to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle, you want to limit your intake of added sugars.
- Potassium Bromate: Stay away from this food additive that’s made to help hold bread together but is a potential carcinogen. That’s why it’s banned in many countries such as China—and the entire European Union.
- Partially hydrogenated oil: This trans fat can raise cholesterol and promote heart disease, and it really isn’t necessary to make a loaf of bread.
- Monoglycerides and Diglycerides: These lengthy-worded friends are also trans fats which are sometimes used to extend the shelf life of a product, but don’t be fooled—they’re not heart-healthy.
- High fructose corn syrup: Just another form of sugar.
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): This hard-to-pronounce additive is what the National Institute has dubbed a “reasonably-anticipated human carcinogen.”
- Enriched Wheat Flour: “Enriched” flour of any kind means that the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals have been extracted in order to maximize shelf life.
So: Can Bread Be Part of A Healthy Diet?
The short answer: yes. If you don’t suffer from Celiac’s disease or a gluten sensitivity, you do not need to eliminate bread to have a healthy diet. As you’ve discovered, though, the most important thing is reading the ingredient list. Manufacturers can label something as “natural” or “whole wheat” but that doesn’t mean that added sugar, chemicals, or food dyes aren’t present—ingredients that are not only harmful for your waistline, but for your health.
If you opt for whole grain, whole wheat, or sprouted bread that’s free from harmful additives like the ones listed above, you’ll get a solid source of fiber—which helps you feel fuller longer—protein, and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in every slice.
How To Enjoy Bread Guilt-Free
They key to enjoying bread in a healthy way is about knowing what’s in it. That’s one of the problems with eating out; not only do they often serve sandwiches on huge, thick slices but you rarely have the opportunity to see its ingredient list. We don’t suggest ditching bread altogether, or becoming so obsessed with nutritional content that you can never enjoy a meal out without fretting over what type of bread is involved. But if you truly want to enjoy bread, it’s just smart to pay attention to what type it is and the ingredients it contains. If you follow our tips for choosing nutritious bread that’s made of real ingredients, it can certainly be a healthy (and enjoyable!) part of your diet.