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Rob Hobson explains all the health benefits of bread

For many years bread has become ‘persona non grata’ and it’s true that many of us rely heavily on bread and bread products as they provide a cheap and convenient meal option. 

However, this doesn’t mean that we need to cut bread out from our diet completely and who wants to deny themselves the satisfaction gained from a lovely comforting piece of toast. 

They key is variety and there is absolutely no reason why bread cannot be included as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Whole grain loaves have high levels of fiber, protein and vitamins that are key to our diet

Despite the low carb diet phenomenon/obsession, general consensus amongst health professionals is that a diet excessively high in carbohydrates may not be beneficial for long term health. 

Saying that, carbohydrates should not all be parked into one single category. The nutrition you get from a serving of whole grain bread or pasta is not the same as a similar serving of sugar.

If weight loss is your goal then yes, eating too many carbohydrate foods (especially white carbs) can cause insulin spikes that encourage fat storage and hunger pangs, but sensible servings of high-fiber carbs teamed with proteins, good fats and plenty of vegetables make for a nutritious meal combination that balances blood sugar levels whilst encouraging satiety between meals. 

A diet high in fibre has also been shown to help with weight loss.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A LOAF OF BREAD 

  • Look at the ingredient list! some breads can have a list as longs you arm so choose something as natural as possible, preferably fresh and not a packet loaf. If you’re worried about the cost and wastage (as these can be a little more expensive and don’t stay fresh as long) then slice it up when you buy it and chuck it in the freezer and just take slices out as and when you need them.
  • Watch out for salt as some loaves can be pretty high and especially the ones that are bought in a packet. Check the label one the front of the packet and got for something that is labelled green or amber for salt.
  • Like salt, some loaves can also be high in sugar and especially the speciality loaves such as gluten-free. Again, check the front of the packet and choose something that is labelled green or amber for sugar.
  • I tend to think that if you can’t pronounce it or don’t know what it is then don’t eat it and this couldn’t be truer for bread. Packet loaves have so many ingredients on the label to help increase their shelf life and whilst these are not going to be particularly bad for you I think it is better to eat something that is as natural as possible and let’s face it you only need flour, water, salt and yeast to make a good loaf! Fewer ingredients means better bread!
  • If you are buying brown bread, then just check the label quickly before you choose and look at the ingredients. Although this is not the case with more premium breads, cheaper varieties of brown bread may not be wholemeal at all and have simply been colored with molasses.
  • Check the ingredient list to insure you are getting the right type of bread, especially wholemeal varieties. Terms like ‘multigrain’, ‘enriched flour’ and ‘stoneground’ are often used to make breads seem more appealing but you just need to check the back of the packet and the first ingredient should be wholemeal flour or whole (grain of choice). 

What are the health benefits of bread?

Whilst a white sliced packet loaf is not that great, choosing a natural fresh loaf from your local baker can be very nutritious. 

Most breads are relatively low in energy with two slices (80g) providing around 180 calories. Being mindful of how you top your bread can influence the additional calories, bad fats and sugar.

Aside from the contribution to vitamin and mineral intake, bread is one of the key sources of fiber in the diet. 

Fiber is essential for digestion and has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and bowel cancer. 

We do not eat enough fiber in this country with many falling short of the 30g per day guidance by a third with less than five percent of adults actually achieve this.

Wholegrain varieties of bread are a good source of B vitamins (required to convert food into energy, healthy skin, healthy nervous system), vitamin E (antioxidant that also helps to maintain healthy skin), iron (healthy red blood cell production), magnesium (healthy nervous system, converts food into energy) and zinc (healthy immune system and skin).

Bread is also a good source of protein. 

The NDNS (2018) survey has shown that 23 percent of our protein intake comes from cereals and cereal products with 11 percent coming from bread.

In comparison, the greatest contributor to protein in the diet comes from meat and meat products (37 percent). Certain varieties of bread such as rye and buckwheat provide all of the essential amino acids that are required for health. 

Does bread cause bloating?

There is no singular reason for bloating, but certain foods do contribute more than others and for some people one such food is bread. 

Highly processed varieties of white bread use a process called Chorleywood that produces cheap ‘quick’ bread using enzymes and other agents, which can cause sensitivity in some people. 

Other people find that yeasts can cause bloating so varieties such as sourdough or soda bread can be a better option as they are yeast-free. 

For others, sensitivity to wheat or gluten can cause bloating. 

The type of bread can make a difference in some people so whilst packet white bread may leave you feeling bloated a good artisan loaf may have no negative effects at all. 

If you enjoy eating bread then there is a variety suited for everyone and it is often a case of trial and error.

For a condition called coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, then bread is definitely off the menu.

Certain people with IBS may be gluten intolerant so whilst bread doesn’t cause an issue in some, others may find it more problematic. 

As above, it is a bit of trial and error to see what loaf and flour type works best for you.

The healthiest way to include bread in your diet

Rather than using bread as the basis for every meal, try exploring other quick meal options. 

A couple of slices of good quality bread is great for breakfast alongside eggs or topped with avocado or nut butter and sliced banana. 

Lunch options also work well with healthier versions such as rye bread topped with proteins (tuna, lean meat or mashed pulses) and veggies (tomatoes, avocado and salad vegetables). 

Try limiting bread to just one or two of your three meals per day and choose a really good quality loaf. 

Good quality fresh bread is a little more expensive and doesn’t last long so slice it up and freeze then use as needed.

Everything in moderation!

The avalanche of advice and information about nutrition has made it difficult to see the woods for the trees and too much influence is put on singular foods and nutrients when we should be focusing on the diet as a whole. 

In moderation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with including bread as part of healthy balanced diet and I challenge any current ‘health guru’ to say undeniably that they do not or will not ever eat a single slice of bread no matter what variety it comes in. 

Too much of anything is never a good thing and like everything, moderation and variety is key to long term health and good dietary habits. 



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