Many people have a love/hate relationship with bread. We curse bread, rolls, and bagels for playing havoc with our health, but they are among the top calorie sources in our diets.
Bread supplies carbohydrates and fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals that many people don't get enough of, including iron and folic acid. Yet some experts blame this nutritious food for excess weight and other health issues, while others say that idea is half-baked.
What's real, and what's hype? Here's what you should know about bread.
If you love bread and you're overweight, your bread habit could be part of your weight control problem.
"We go overboard on bread and other highly refined grains," says Heather Bauer, RD, co-author of Bread is the Devil: Win the Weight Loss Battle by Taking Control of Your Diet Demons. "When you're hungry, tired, or stressed, you tend to reach for bread products, not carrot sticks. Problem is, the more you eat bread, the more you want."
Though Bauer's book is sure to generate bad buzz for bread, she says the title refers to white bread, crackers, pretzels, and other highly refined grains that have come to symbolize the struggle with weight control.
That's encouraging, because research shows that eating whole grains (which include some bread products) is a sound weight loss strategy.
In one study, people on a lower-calorie diet that included whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, lost more belly fat than those who ate only refined grains, such as white bread and white rice.
Nutrition experts prefer whole grains because they provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined. But overdoing whole wheat bread can add pounds, so account for it in your daily calorie allowance.
Bread and Type 2 Diabetes
Some research links bread to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, which is marked by abnormally high levels of blood sugar that eventually result in damaged blood vessels and organs.
Eating any kind of carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels, triggering the release of insulin. Sugars and refined grains raise blood sugar quicker than complex carbohydrates, found in foods including vegetables and legumes.
"Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, and their ability to cause blood glucose level spikes is limited," says Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, director of nutrition counseling at the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and author of The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
That may be particularly important for people with type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, cells resist insulin, leading to elevated sugar in the blood and high insulin levels. The constant demand on the cells that make insulin can damage them, and the body may eventually stop making insulin.
Scientific research suggests that cutting back on refined grains, such as white bread, and eating more whole grains in their place reduces insulin resistance and may help to prevent type 2 diabetes. "Whole-grain bread has more fiber than refined, and fiber helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates consumed at the same meal or snack," Wright tells WebMD.