Many people wonder whether they can eat bread when they are living a healthy lifestyle. Certain foods are considered “off-limits” when it comes to healthy eating, and bread tends to be one of those. However, most dietitians would agree that healthy bread exists and it can fit into many health journeys.
And dare we say that bread can actually be considered healthy? It’s one of those studies where you have to read it to believe it. We read it, and the research suggests that eating bread — albeit multigrain variations with more fiber — is linked with more fat loss and a lower likelihood of disease.
Why Bread Has a Bad Reputation
Although bread can offer some unique health benefits, some varieties can come with some downside. Traditional bread is loaded with refined carbohydrates. These loaves of bread are highly processed, refined, and stripped of their nutritional value. They are also very easy to overeat, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar.
When a grain is refined, the food processors remove the parts that contain antioxidants, fiber, and many nutrients in order to make it appeal to the masses (taste-wise). And while white bread can be super-tasty, it is missing some key nutrients.
The good news is that the body of research indicates that diets containing whole grains can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, diets rich in whole grains can also help with weight management. It is the fiber in whole-grain bread that helps slow digestion to keep us full longer, increases satiety to cue us to stop eating, and moderates spikes in blood sugar. And the natural antioxidants found in whole grains, including whole-grain bread, can help support our overall health.
With a little direction and information, you can navigate the bread aisle with confidence, knowing that you are equipped to select the right one to support your own needs.
Fitting Bread Into a Healthy Lifestyle
When you are trying to eat well, but you really want a sandwich, there are some tips to follow to help you make the healthiest bread choice for your dietary needs.
Ingredients to Watch Out For
Standing in the bread aisle at the grocery store can be overwhelming with so many options. Blindly choosing a ‘brown’ bread does not mean it is a healthy, whole grain version. You may be surprised when scanning the ingredient label — high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and corn syrup are frequent offenders in prepackaged bread products and should be avoided.
When picking out bread, there are a couple of ingredients to look for and select, like whole grain or whole wheat flour. If there is an organic option, that is also a good choice. Other options also include bran, barley, and rye. Some experts suggest that for every 10 grams of carbohydrate, shoot for 1 gram of fiber.
As an RD, These Are My Favorite Healthy Bread Picks
As a registered dietitian, I have a keen sense of what is considered “healthy” and what is fluff. Among the sea of options out there, here are my favorites:
Fresh Baked Whole Grain Bread
Freshly made bakery bread has less salt, sugar, and preservatives compared to mass-produced bread, whose manufacturers add these ingredients to extend shelf life. And thankfully, many grocery stores have a bakery right inside. Many bakeries also have whole grain options, making it super-convenient to eat well. These freshly-baked choices will likely taste less sweet than their processed counterparts — which is a good thing. Adapting taste buds to less sweet foods also helps with long-term weight management.
Sourdough bread is another favorite. Sourdough and other fermented bread are healthy options because they use a starter and contain healthy bacteria that help build a healthy gut. Of course, if you’re up for making your own — go for it. Approach bread baking as an experiment and enjoy the process. There were many novice sourdough bread makers turned experts as a result of the pandemic.
Pre-Made Whole Grain Bread
When in a pinch, grabbing a loaf of pre-made whole grain bread from the bread aisle is a-ok. Make sure there isn’t any corn syrup added to it, it contains fiber, and it does not contain food coloring. Also, keep an eye on how many calories one slice provides. Some pre-made loaves are oversized, and one slice is the equivalent of two “normal-sized” slices.
What About a Gluten-free Bread Option?
If you follow a gluten-free diet, know that gluten-free bread has come a long way, and many bakeries and restaurants are making their own versions. While they used to be very dense, very tasteless, and very expensive, they are now actually pretty good!
If you want to try baking a loaf, gluten-free flour can be found in most traditional grocery stores. Going to a specialty health food store for gluten-free bread products is a thing of the past, and because of the demand for gluten-free products, there are many options readily available.
Sample to find the product that tastes best while also offering up a boost of fiber without too many calories. Alternatively, items like bell peppers and lettuce can be used in place of bread for a gluten-free, non-bread option.
Healthy & Delicious Ways to Enjoy Bread
Bread is easy to overeat — especially when served warm at the table when you may be more likely to be borderline hangry. Therefore, eat mindfully and keep an eye on portion size.
In addition to watching portion size, eat your bread dressed, not naked. This means pair up bread with lean protein and or a heart-healthy fat. Adding butter or olive oil to the warm dinner basket bread will help increase how long it takes for your stomach to empty and help prevent spikes in blood sugar.
For some inspiration, you can try your hand at some of these dressed-up options:
Avocado toast with poached eggs and a side of greens. Ham, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich with a side of fruit. White bean and grilled chicken Panzanella salad. Open-faced turkey sandwich topped with tomato, lettuce, and pickles for a zing. Or a Mediterranean tuna-fish salad with homemade croutons.
Bread Can Be a Part Of A Healthy Lifestyle
If you are a bread-lover, know that there is no need to cast off your favorite loaf. Following these simple and straightforward guidelines will help you enjoy bread in a delicious and health-supporting way. Remember to choose whole grain first, eat mindfully to monitor portion size, and dress up bread with lean protein and heart-healthy fats when navigating your bread choices. Visiting a local bakery is also a win-win — you get healthy and delicious bread while supporting a local business. Experiment with what works best for you and enjoy.