As a nutritionist, I get asked a lot of questions. But one question which is super frequent is: is bread bad for you?
When it comes to the human body we have many different functions. When asking is bread bad, is it bad for what?
Usually people are refering to health and weight.
Then on top of that, what sort of bread are we talking about? There are thousands of bread all over the world.
When it comes to all the different types of bread, your health, composition and performance, the answer is no, bread is not bad.
What is bread?
I thought to help people see that bread isn’t bad, I’d explain what bread is.
We know that bread is made from flour. But how does this flour come to be?
The flour is made from wheat. The wheat is planted during the summer and harvested during the autumn.
When the wheat is collected, the grains are extracted, which is used to make the flour.
Grains come in 3 parts, which is where different types of bread differ.
The 3 parts are:
These are all perfectly edible substances, which are perfectly safe.
Bran is the hard outer shell on a piece of grain.
With wholemeal bread, this would be ground into the flour. When it comes to white bread this is removed before the grain is then processed into flour.
What is interesting is how nutritious Bran is. Bran contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
Bran is rich in fibre, on average there’s 47g of fibre in 100g of bran. It’s also rich in phytic acid and other vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B and E. (1)
This means if you buy wholemeal bread, you’re more likely to get a good amount of fibre in your diet. People in the UK do not eat enough fibre each day.
The recommendation is to eat around 30g a day. The average person is getting 18g per day. (2)
The endosperm is the bulk of your bread. It’s what white flour consists of. (3)
Though it’s not rich in vitamins and minerals, it doesn’t make it bad. It just means it contains calories and has little nutritional value. Despite this, flour can still be part of a healthy balanced diet.
Due to the low amount of nutrients, flour is now fortified with certain nutrients. This prevents people from becoming deficient. (4)
This is another part that is removed when making white flour. The wheatgerm is the smallest part of the grain. Though it’s small it packs a mighty punch.
Wheatgerm is rich in B vitamins, omega 3’s and 6’s. It also has the added benefit of packing a small iron punch. (3)
Why do people think bread is bad for you?
The reason people think bread is bad is due to its association with obesity and poor health.
Evidence does show those who eat more bread tend to be heavier and have poorer health.
But before we go blaming bread, let’s take a few steps back.
Why is bread causing this? That’s the thing, it’s not just bread.
When a lot of people eat bread, it’s served with chips, Mcdonalds, a big greasy breakfast or with sugar fillings such as jam and Nutella.
When people cut out bread, they tend to cut these other foods out too and feel better.
These foods are high in calories, salt and saturated fat. Thus when they are not in your diet, their health improves.
But if you were to eat whole wheat bread or even white bread with nutritious foods, you’d see a difference.
For instance in the Mediterranean, in countries such as France, Spain and Italy. Their diets are known for being very nutritious.
Yet they all eat plenty of bread.
What makes them different is what they eat with it and how they eat it.
We are more likely to eat bread with lashings of butter, bacon and sausages. Whereas they eat their bread with lean cuts of meat, olives, olive oil and vegetables.
Why people think bread leads to weight gain?
I’ve explained the main reason people think bread is bad, is due to the foods associated with it.
But another reason is due to it being a carbohydrate. A lot of people still believe carbs are the devil and they lead to weight gain. This is despite the fact carbs only have 4 calories per gram, whereas fat has 9.
A reason people think carbs cause weight gain is because of the increase in blood sugar that comes from eating them.
This makes sense to some extent. You eat carbohydrates, they get broken down into their simplest sugar components, then this gets circulated in the blood.
Insulin levels then rise, this is to take the sugar from the blood and store it in the liver and muscles.
Yet there is this theory that elevated insulin leads to weight gain. As it’s believed that insulin shuttles calories straight into the fat tissue. So the more insulin you have (eating carbs), the more of those calories that go to fat. It’s also thought this raises hunger and the amount of activity someone does too (4)
But what’s interesting is that the evidence from real-life studies doesn’t show this.
What the evidence does show is that when people eat the same number of calories and protein, fat loss is exactly the same, irrespective of whether you eat low carb or a high carb diet.
This also goes to show that the total number of calories is the most important factor, not carbohydrates.
Another reason people think bread and carbs leads to weight gain is glycogen.
When you eat carbs, your body storws glycogen. This is stored carbohydrates in the liver and muscle. The average person has around 600g of glyocgen stored up.
When you stop eating carbs you lose that glyocgen.
Yet withj that glyocgen comes water. For every gram of glycogen you have 3 grams of water. This would mean on average youd lose 2400g of water and glycogen if you quit eating carbs.
This is around 5.3lbs. That’s another reason why people think carbs and bread make you fat. It’s not fat or weight you gain or lose. It’s just stored carbs and water.
Now we’ve established that bread is not inherently bad for you. Let’s look at why it’s not wise to still just completely cut it out.
A lot of fitness people or keto proponents will say you need to cut out bread. Though this may seem harmless, this could be an issue for some.
You see, in the western world, bread tends to be fortified. Something I mentioned earlier.
The British Nutrition foundation sums this up very well. I will outline what is said in my words.
In the UK by law, they add various vitamins and minerals into foods, such as white flour. This is to help those who may be deficient, not become deficient. For instance, flour is fortified with calcium, iron, thiamin and niacin.
Let’s say you follow a standard western diet and eat plenty of bread. That may be one of your only sources of nutrients. If you were to cut that out, there’s a chance you may not get enough calcium, iron, thiamin and niacin.
This is why it’s important to make your diet inclusive and not exclusive.
What does this mean?
Instead of first looking to cut out foods, look at what you could eat more.
Do you only eat a couple of fruits and veg a day? Try eating a few more. Do you have lots of white bread? Could you try swapping some of that for brown? Do you think you could add more legumes to your diet?
How to make sure the bread you buy isnt bad
Though there is no good or bad bread, some bread will be more nutritious than others.
The golden rule is to make sure it has more fibre. 2.5g of fibre per slice is a good amount to look for.
According to the British Dietetic Association, people in the UK don’t eat enough fibre. We are recommended to have at least 30g per day. But the average person is eating 18g per day. (6)
While white bread usually has around 1g of fibre per slice, the whole will have at least 2.5g.
Thus if you’re making a sandwich, you’ll be getting 5g from wholemeal compared to 2g from white.
For instance, something simple like beans on toast can have 13g of fibre, when using wholemeal bread.
This alone will get you nearly half of your day’s amount of fibre.
How bread can help with weight loss
It’s generally thought, that eating bread is bad as it can lead to weight gain.
The thing is eating one food does not make you gain fat. It’s far more complicating than that.
What leads to people gaining fat is eating more calories than they burn over a period of time.
As I mentioned earlier bread usually gets part of the blame because of the foods people eat it with.
Yet a slice of bread tends to have 100 calories. So on average, you’re likely to eat 200 calories of bread in a meal.
Considering the average man burns 2500 a day and woman 2000. It’s crazy to say that bread is a big culprit behind why there is a high rate of obesity.
In fact, there’s a couple of studies, which show the opposite. These studies show that eating bread can help with weight loss.
In 2011 a study was done on 122 overweight and obese women. They were both put on a weight loss diet for 4 months. (7)
One group (61 women) followed a low-calorie diet with no bread. The other groups (also 61 women) followed a low-calorie diet, which included bread.
At the end of the study the women that ate bread daily, lost more weight. They also had fewer dropouts.
What this study shows that eating bread is not bad for you and does not cause weight gain. If anything it can help with weight loss in a calorie-controlled diet.
In fact, the evidence does suggest a flexible inclusive diet is better for weight loss and diet adherence compared to a rigid diet. (8)
Other nutritional benefits of bread
I brifly touched on the fact that bread is fortified. I thought id explain some of the benefits which comes from the compnents opf bread.
I’ve written about fibre in more depth. Anyway ive mentioned it a lot, in this article. It’s quite abundant in wholewheat bread.
Fibre has many benefits. These benefits include:
- Increasing satiety
- Increase gut bacteria diversity
- Lowers the risk of high cholsterol
Wholeweath bread accunts fotr about 10% of your vitamin B1 requirements.
When food is eaten, it’s broken down and converted to energy (ATP). The body can;t do this alone. It needs something to initiate this reaction. This is the role of Vitamin B1. (9)
Like B1, magenisum also helps converts food into energy (10)
A slice of wholemeal bread contains around 3% of your daily iron recommndeation. It’s not loads, but does add up.
Iron is essential for the generation of blood cells. Blood cells are important as they are what transport oxygen around the whole body. So if you’re into sports and performacne its even more vital to get enoug iron, to allow your body to utilise oxygen. (11)
Iv’e included some studies showing different health beenfits of bread.
Due to the increase in activitity and saturated fat in peoples, diets cholsterol lvels have increased.
This study showed that those who ate 20% of their calories from Rye bread, had a reduction in cholsterol elvels. (12)
High levels of LDL cholsterol are linked to blocked arteries, which can lead to stokes and heart attacks. Heart failure is one of the biggest death causes in the west, any dietary changes which can reduce that risk are welcomed.
Type 2 diabetes
In 2020 an analysis of 3 studies showed that eating wholegrain carbohydrates, including dark break, lowered the risk of someone having type 2 diabates.
This is why national food guidelines go on about eating plenty of wholegrins. (13)
A lot of people will avoid bread, because they think they are coeliac or have some intolerance. It’s estimated 10% of the UK avoid bread due to gluten. (x)
In the UK and Europe coeliac disease affects 1% of the population. (14)
If you have coeliac disease, your immune system will your gut lining. Not only is it extremely painful, but it will also render you’d body’s ability to process nutrients from food. This can lead to further issues. (15)
Though only 1% genuinely have coeliac, those who claim to be intolerant to gluten sya it’s due to belatedness etc.
As for those who avoid gluten due to a self-diagnosis, there’s some evidence to suggest it may be placebo.
A study in 2015, conducted 392 volunteers who believed to be gluten intolerant, over 2 years to investigate this. (16)
This study found 26 participants did have coeliac disease. 2 had wheat allergy. 27 did have non coeliac sensitivity. This means they don’t have the nasty symptoms of coeliac but will still get a slight tummy upset. This left 85% self-diagnosed people with no symptoms whatsoever.
So, if you’re unsure go to your doctor and get yourself checked before making assumptions. You may be right, but you may be denying yourself the opportunity to eat bread. Who would want to deny that?
As you can see to say bread is bad for you is wrong. Yes, when eating with lots of highly processed, salty, high sugar and saturated fat foods, it may not be great.
But in conjunction with a balanced diet, bread is very nutritious.
When choosing wholemeal variations, bread can be an effective way in managing weight, lowering the risk of high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Yes, white bread may not be as nutritious as wholewheat. But it still is fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, thus cutting it out, may mean you cut out some vital nutrition. Also if you like white bread, you can still get your fibre and other vitamins elsewhere in your diet.
So you can eat any bread, stay healthy, lose weight or sustain your weight without nay issues at all.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.