Is Bread Bad for You (Why Popular Opinion on Bread Is Wrong)
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when lunches involved a sandwich most of the time.
The general public didn’t believe bread was a terrible thing back then.
Our breakfasts also involved a lot of toast.
I’m guessing the average person had 2-4 pieces of bread per day.
Obesity wasn’t a huge issue back then. Maybe we were so active back then that we overcame the negatives of our high-bread diet.
I guess that could be the case.
The healthy people who live in the countries along Mediterranean, typically eat a lot of bread.
Possibly their active lifestyle makes up for the “unhealthy” bread habit?
My grandpa ate 2-4 pieces of toast each morning with coffee and lived into his late 90’s.
Maybe he just had great genetics?
There are a lot of examples of societies that thrive with a decent amount of bread in their diet.
Various types of bread, affect the body differently.
I want to dig deeper into that in this article.
I also want to look into studies that examine health, obesity and bread consumption.
I will do that in a sec…
Right after a short music break.
The music theme for this post is very specific.
I call this the “Early 80’s Pizza Parlor Rock” mix.
If you were playing Centipede, Joust or Dig-Dug while waiting for your pepperoni pizza in 1982-1983?
These were the tunes that were always rocking in the background.
This same playlist was cranking at amusement parks around the U.S. during the same time period.
Maybe I should call this Roller Coaster Rock 🙂
I have a selfish reason for writing this blog post.
I’m fighting for bakeries.
I stay lean and healthy with a diet that includes bread at least a few times per week.
The keto movement is growing at a rapid rate.
It does work for fat loss but does NOT allow for rice, bread or beer… so a “No Go” for me.
Next time I travel to Europe I want to visit bakeries and cafes.
When I visit Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, I need my fix of fresh Boudin sourdough bread.
Bread is unfairly criticized and blamed for a lot of modern health problems.
I’m hoping this article will make you consider a different point of view than what is currently popular right now.
I realize that bread-phobia is at an all-time high.
I knead bread in my life (sorry).
We must rise above the anti-bread message (sorry again).
Let’s look into a bit of science.
Bread, Obesity and Longevity Research
This section of the post is inspired by an excellent article by Markham Heid, titled:
His article links to a lot of compelling research to increase daily bread consumption.
I will cover many of the same studies cited in his article, but with my own opinions on these findings.
A large-scale study was published in June of 2016, by Dagfinn Aune.
This research is a meta-analysis looking at a total of 45 studies.
This meta-analysis provides further evidence that whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and total cancer, and mortality from all causes, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, and all non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes. These findings support dietary guidelines that recommend increased intake of whole grain to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality.
This study looked at whole grains in particular, so whole grain bread is what would give these health benefits.
What about white and other refined bread?
The countries along the Mediterranean are some of the healthiest in the world… they eat a decent amount of bread and not all of it is whole grain.
Whole grain has added benefits that are missing from bread made with refined white flower.
Although people along the Mediterranean do fine with some refined bread, a better health choice is to mainly eat whole grain bread.
Look for whole grain as the first ingredient is one way to find healthy bread.
There may be another approach of choosing bread that will allow you a larger variety of bread to choose from.
The 10:1 Carb-to-Fiber Bread Ratio Rule
I like easy to follow and easy to remember rules.
This is a great one you can use next time you are buying bread at the grocery store.
A recent study found that you are looking for breads with a carb-to-fiber ratio of 10:1 (or more fiber if possible).
Among proposed WG (Whole Grain) criteria, the 10:1-ratio identified the most healthful WG products. Other criteria performed less well, including the industry-supported WG-Stamp which identified products with higher fiber and lower trans-fats, but also higher sugars and energy.
If a slice of bread has 20 grams of total carbs, you would want it to have AT LEAST 2 grams of dietary fiber.
Luckily a 10:1 ratio is easy math.
I don’t think it always has to have enough fiber to hit 10:1, but the closer the better.
There is a specific type of bread where this rule doesn’t apply.
Here’s Why Real Sourdough Bread is Beneficial Even if it Doesn’t Meet the 10:1 Carb-to-Fiber Ratio
You must understand…
I am originally from the Bay Area.
Sourdough is a way of life there.
I have fond memories of walking the San Francisco Wharf as a kid with my family and eating fresh sourdough bread.
Freshly baked sourdough with apricot jam is one of the best culinary experiences on the planet.
I’d eat it even if it was found to be unhealthy.
Luckily, sourdough has magical properties beyond just the delicious flavor.
Healthline has an extensive article about sourdough bread:
Here’s what I found to be the most interesting part of this article:
Sourdough bread may have a better effect on blood sugar and insulin levels than other types of bread, though the reason for this isn’t yet fully understood. Researchers believe that sourdough fermentation may modify the structure of carb molecules. This reduces the bread’s glycemic index (GI) and slows down the speed at which sugars enter the bloodstream (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
So it provides stable energy while tasting delicious.
You need to buy real sourdough to have these benefits… a lot of the stuff you pick up from the grocery store is simply sourdough flavored.
Real sourdough bread is made from a starter.
A starter is a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing a colony of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli.
These starters are unique depending upon the ratio of water to flour and each started makes for a different tasting sourdough bread.
The microorganisms in these starters can be kept alive as long as water and flour are periodically added to the starter.
Here’s something crazy.
Some of these sourdough starters have been kept alive for over 100 years.
I can’t remember where I read this, but the saying was something along these lines.
“When you eat a piece of real sourdough bread you are eating a piece of history”.
In Seattle, we have a sourdough bread from the Essential Baking Company that is made from a starter that has been kept alive since the late 1800’s.
After the California Gold Rush a large group of prospectors traveled from California to Alaska in search of gold.
Seattle was a stop on the way to Alaska.
Many would bring sourdough bread to fuel them on their journey.
Quite a few wound up living in Seattle.
Their sourdough starters stayed as well.
These sourdough starters will be making tasty loaves of delicious bread long after low carb mania has died out.
Long live the sourdough starter!
Fiber in Whole Grain Bread Can Protect Your DNA?
We are just beginning to find out how important fiber is to our health.
We have known for decades some of the health benefits, but recent studies have shown it to be even more important for health than we first thought.
Are you familiar with the telomere?
Telomeres are the caps at each end of strand of your DNA… and as we age they shorten.
Preventing the telomeres from shortening is a way to have a younger biological age.
You can’t stop time.
You can change the rate at which you age by doing things that slow down the shortening of your telomeres.
A recent study (Mar 2018) found that adults with high fiber intake had longer telomeres than their counterparts.
“A difference of 4.8 to 6.0 years in cell aging was found between those in the lowest compared with the highest quartiles of fiber intake. Overall, the present study highlights the risk of accelerated aging among U.S. women and men who do not consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber.”
People eating a high fiber diet in this study were at a biological age that was 5 years younger than those who didn’t.
We have known for a long time that fiber helped in preventing colon cancer and lowering cholesterol levels.
The anti-aging benefits go way beyond that.
Longer telomere length slows aging and reduces the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
It’s a big deal.
We didn’t have the technology to measure telomere length until recently.
How much fiber do we need to eat per day?
The ratio that this study found beneficial was 10 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories.
A person eating 2,000 calories per day would want to eat 20 grams of fiber.
* The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015–2020) recommends 14 grams per 1,000 calories, but it seems that even 10 grams make a big impact.
In my opinion, any diet that limits fiber is a big-time health mistake.
I follow and recommend a high carb high fiber diet.
I know that this isn’t trendy right now.
Here’s a partial list of foods rich in fiber:
Whole wheat bread
If you want to maximize health and longevity, I highly recommend a diet that has a strong focus on fiber.
If you do decide to follow a low carb or keto diet, you can still get fiber.
Here are a few low carb friendly sources of fiber:
If you want to avoid bread…
If you are fine with not having tasty sourdough in your life…
If you are are a keto dieter who isn’t scared of angering the sourdough gods?
Make sure you get other sources of fiber (about 10 grams per 1000 calories consumed each day).
Doesn’t Bread Cause Spikes in Insulin Which Lead to Obesity and Diabetes?
I used to think type 2 diabetes was mainly caused by repeated insulin spikes from carbs.
Then I dug a bit deeper into the research.
The traditional Okinawan diet is a high carb diet (85%) and very low fat.
The Okinawanas have been one of the longest living populations on the planet… they eat a high carb diet and type 2 diabetes is virtually non-existent.
They eat high carb and low fat, but the carb source isn’t bread.
What about bread and longevity?
Are you familiar with the term “blue zones”?
These are communities where people live much longer lives with much less disease than the rest of the population on the planet.
There are 5 places on the planet that are considered blue zones.
Loma Linda, California
Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula
Ikaria, an isolated Greek island
Out of the 5 blue zones both Ikaria and Sardinia eat bread daily.
All 5 blue zones eat a diet high in carbs.
I’m not saying you HAVE to eat bread to stay healthy, but you can include bread if you choose the right type.
Why do a lot of people consider bread unhealthy?
As mentioned above, it is because of the belief that bread and other carbs spike insulin and create a state that can lead to type 2 diabetes over time.
The problem isn’t insulin.
It’s insulin resistance.
Research shows that excess fat inside the muscle cells is what causes insulin resistance.
The fat inside the cell is called Intramyocellular Lipid.
Studies show this is one of the root causes of insulin resistance.
When you eat carbs, insulin is released and acts as a key to allow glucose the enter the cell.
Excess fat in the diet can gum up the lock over time.
Here’s a Tedx Talk explaining this in detail:
Here’s a summary:
- Insulin acts as a key to allow glucose to enter the cell.
- A high fat diet gums up this lock over time.
- The insulin key stops working properly… so your body has to release more to get the job done.
This is what is meant by Insulin Resistance.
So there are two choices.
- Reduce CARBS to limit glucose and have less need for the insulin key to work properly.
- Reduce FATS to clear out the lock and get the glucose metabolism working properly.
I prefer to go the high carb low fat route, but a lot of people (keto and low carb dieters) choose option #1.
If you do decide to go the low carb or keto route, make sure you get enough daily fiber.
It’s looking like fiber is an extremely important part of a healthy diet.
How Many Grams of Fiber Does a Slice of Bread Have?
The amount of fiber obviously depends on the brand and type of bread.
I thought it would be cool to do a bit of bread research and find brands that meet or exceed the 10:1 carb-to-fiber ratio.
Here are 4 brands that are somewhat easy to find.
1. Dave’s Killer Bread
Dave’s Killer Bread is a brand you can find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. I know they sell this brand at Target, Costco, and Whole Foods. All of their sliced bread hits or beats the 10:1 ratio you are aiming for. The only one what is just barely short is the white bread (but close enough). This is all organic and non-GMO verified, etc. A great choice.
I am especially impressed with their Epic Everything Bagel which meets the 10:1 carb-to-fiber ratio and also has 12 grams of protein and 560mg of omega-3. I’m going to buy these next time I go grocery shopping.
2. Rudi’s Organic Bakery
Rudi’s Organic Bakery is a brand out of Boulder, Colorado. You can buy at Whole Foods and looks like Walmart as well. This company also makes a line of gluten-free bread for those who like to avoid the tastiest part of the bread. I love the smell of gluten in the morning.
3. Alpine Valley
Alpine Valley Organic Bakery bread is found at Costco, Sam’s Club, and many other grocery stores nationwide. It looks like most of their bread has a good carb-to-fiber ratio, except for their white bread. The English muffins meet the 10:1 ratio as well. I need to pick up some of those. This is all non-GMO and organic as well.
4. Arnold Organic Bread
Arnold Organic Bread is another great choice and is also a commonly available bread in the U.S. This brand is available in most grocery stores and Target and Walmart. This bread is also certified organic and non-GMO. This brand goes by three names: Arnold (in the East), Brownberry (in the Midwest) and Oroweat (in the West).
There are countless other brands available, I just wanted to list the brands with the widest distribution.
If you are outside of the U.S. simply look for 1 gram of fiber (or more) for every 10 grams of carbs.
Summary: Is Bread Bad for You?
I certainly don’t think you HAVE to eat bread to be healthy.
The Okinawans don’t include bread in their diet.
You CAN eat bread and be extremely healthy.
Like the people in Ikaria and Sardinia.
Make sure you either eat real sourdough bread or bread that falls in line with the 10:1 carb-to-fiber ratio.
If you do eat a lot of carbs, it is probably best to not eat tons of fat.
Hopefully, these guidelines help you.
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