Breads of all different kinds are very much established staples in the diets of many countries and cultures, and have been for thousands of years. But we’re sure you’ve been advised at some point to stop eating bread because of how unhealthy it can be for you. Despite its ever-enduring popularity, bread still gets a bad rap, but is that fair? Is bread bad for you?
What are the health benefits of bread?
The major health benefit of bread – aside from warming our hearts and souls – is that it can be an excellent source of wholegrains. Wholegrains provide us with dietary fibre and are associated with a range of health benefits. And we don’t refer to fibre as ‘nature’s boom’ for nothing! Dietary fibre passes through the stomach and intestines, remaining relatively undigested, performing several important functions along the way. It keeps bowels nice and regular, contributes to a healthy gut microbiome and helps to reduce the risk of chronic disease including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis and some cancers.
Wholegrains can also be a good source of micronutrients including B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium. Australian bread is also fortified with iodine in the form of iodised salt. Iodine is an important mineral, and much of the population is deficient in it. All bread in Australia (except organic and gluten-free breads) must be fortified with folate, which is particularly important for those trying to conceive and during pregnancy.
Lastly, bread can form the foundation of a healthy and balanced breakfast and lunch, especially when it’s paired with protein, colourful fruit and veggies and just enough healthy fat. It’s convenient, it’s affordable and can make a great sustainable addition to your diet.
When is bread bad for you?
It is important for us all to acknowledge that not all breads are created equal, and many won’t provide you with the benefits we discussed above. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean these breads are ‘bad’ for you, they just offer less nutritional benefits.
For example, white bread is made from flour that has been processed to remove a part of the grain that contains most of its nutrients. Therefore, white bread contains less fibre and fewer vitamins and minerals. It also has a higher GI, meaning we digest it more quickly and don’t get the nice sustained energy levels we get from wholegrain varieties.
The only time bread is ‘bad’ for you is if you are coeliac and consume gluten-contaning bread or if you have gluten or wheat intolerances.
Don’t forget that what you put between your slices of bread also counts. If you buy a healthy loaf and fill it with spreads and toppings that are high in calories and low in nutritional value, it’s easy for poor health and unwanted weight gain to become a reality very quickly.
How to buy a healthy bread
- Start by choosing a loaf that is whole grain, rye or spelt. Sourdough is also a great options to add to the mix. Remember, the browner and grainier the better.
- Once you have your loaf in hand, take a closer look to see if it contains visible grains and seeds. If it does, it gets another dietitian tick of approval.
- While you’re looking at the front of the packaging, look for that low-GI certification. This means that the carbohydrates used to make the bread are digested at a slower rate, keeping you fuller for longer and preventing blood sugar spikes.
- Flip the loaf over and take a look at the nutrition label. Make sure the fibre is at LEAST 3 g per serving.
- While you’re there, you can also double that the sodium included doesn’t exceed 400 mg per 100g. Note that bread will also be higher in salt, as salt is required for the rising process.
- If you have coeliac disease, move onto the ingredients list and make sure it doesn’t contain any wheat, rye, barley or oats, but does still contain other sources of wholegrains and fibre.
The best breads you can buy
- Wholemeal with grains
- Wholegrain/seeded sourdough