Is Bread Your Enemy?

Half of bread
If you’re a bread lover, chances are you have a love/hate relationship with this kitchen staple. We curse bread, rolls, and bagels for disrupting our health, but they are among the top calorie sources in our diets.

Bread supplies our bodies with 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.

So is bread a foe or a friend? Here’s what you should know.

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Bread and the Weight Loss Struggle

If you love bread and you’re overweight, your bread habit could be part of your weight control problem.

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.

White bread, crackers, pretzels, and other highly refined grains tend to be on the no-no list, but luckily, 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.

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.

How Much Bread Is Too Much?

It’s possible to eat a healthy diet without bread, as long as you substitute foods such as beans, brown rice and other whole grains, fruit, and vegetables for the nutrients bread provides.

If there’s no reason why you should go without bread, you should know how it fits into a balanced diet.

People on a 2,000-calorie eating plan need six servings a day (about 6 ounces) from the grain group, which includes all grains, including those used to make bread, plain rolls, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits. At least half of your grains should be whole grains, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Keep portions in mind. For instance, a single bagel can pack 3-5 ounces of grains. That takes up much of your grain budget for the day, and if it wasn’t a whole-grain bagel, it may be hard for you to meet healthy grain goals.

Nutrition experts agree: When you’re eating bread, it’s best to make it whole-grain bread, and to limit the amount.