I grew up in the Netherlands, and there we love our bread. We eat bread with Dutch cheese for breakfast and more bread with cheese for lunch. But slowly things are starting to change, people are starting to see bread as “the bad guy”. Should they?
Whole grain bread
Lets start with the obvious, whole wheat (or other whole grain) bread is a lot better than white bread. As far as I know, everybody agrees on this point and most health-conscious people are well aware of this. An exception is made in Spain, where I had to try my best to find decent whole wheat bread. In whole wheat bread, as the name explains, the whole grain of wheat is used. In white bread only the starch rich part that is used. However, the other parts of the grain contain fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fatty acids.
The consumption of bread is mainly recommended because of the amount of dietary fiber it contains. Two slices of whole wheat bread contain 4,6 gram of dietary fiber. Quite a lot if you compare it to a plate of oatmeal (1,4 gram), a serving spoon of cooked vegetables (1,4 gram) or a small bowl of salad (0,6 gram). Dietary fiber is responsible for good bowel function and plays a role in maintaining a healthy body weight. Additionally, whole grain products, and mainly the dietary fiber in whole grain products, are linked to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and a variety of cancers of the digestive system.
All over the Internet you can read that eliminating bread from your diet leads to weight loss. Of course, if you delete calories from your diet you will loose weight. Two slices of whole wheat bread contain about 160 kcal, not a lot but clearly more than a bowl of salad without dressing (13 kcal). We all know that surviving on bowls of salads is not very pleasant, and that you need calories and nutrients to become and stay healthy. Whole wheat bread is high in nutrients; per calorie it contains relatively high amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other compounds that are beneficial for your health. And yes, whole wheat bread contains a lot of carbohydrates (about 27 gram per two slices), but it also contains protein (7,8 gram). And why are carbs all of a sudden bad for you? The body needs carbohydrates as a source of energy. The kind of carbs that you choose, that’s what’s important. You should choose carbs that slowly release their energy, so that they do not cause high peaks in blood sugar levels. A measure for how fast the blood sugar levels rise after the consumption of a product is the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI of white bread is high (around 70, where a GI above 50 is generally considered high), while the GI of whole wheat bread is low (around 40). As a comparison, the GI of oatmeal is 55. Low GI diets decrease small inflammations in the body and show a decrease in diabetes markers compared with high GI diets.
More and more people also avoid bread products because they contain gluten. Gluten are proteins that are present in multiple types of grains. There are three diseases linked to gluten: celiac disease, gluten allergy and “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS). Taken together 5-10% of people suffer from these conditions. It is never a good idea to self-diagnose, so if you suspect you are sensitive to gluten, discuss with your general doctor if you should stick to a gluten-free diet.
Beside these disorders there are no negative health effects of gluten known. So if you do not suffer from any of the above, there is absolutely no reason to avoid gluten.
What do I do?
I don’t avoid bread, but I always try to choose whole grain bread. In my opinion whole wheat bread is a healthy way of consuming enough dietary fiber. Additionally it provides protein, vitamins and minerals. I do try to add something to my lunch, eating bread with cheese for breakfast and lunch leaves little possibility to eat other important foods like vegetables. Therefore I add a salad or a (vegetable) soup to my lunch, a perfect way to raise my vegetable intake. For me, combining vegetables and whole wheat bread makes for a delicious and healthy lunch!
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