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Bread: Friend or Foe – is bread really that bad for you?
Ah, one of the great controversies of the century!
There are mad advocates for each side.
“Bread is fabulous and full of nutrients!”
and then there is
“Bread is evil, it makes you fat!”
So who do you believe?
Do a quick search on the interwebs and you will find support for both sides and the stinger is…they are both right.
How is that possible? Well, it goes back to the old adage that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
Here’s the thing. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all nutrition. Sure, there are plenty of guidelines out there that would indicate otherwise, but the reality is everyone is different and what is great for one person can cause some major damage in another.
In 2015, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel laid the foundation for this statement with an article that proved that each of us metabolises food differently due, in part, to our gut microbiota. You can watch the video abstract of the study here.
This same team focused on bread, one of the most frequently consumed foods worldwide. And they have shed some light on one of the eternal questions in nutrition: is it healthier to eat white bread or brown bread? Until now, nutrition experts often shunned white bread because of its low fibre content and potential to spike the blood sugar.
For the study, published in Cell Metabolism, Israeli researchers recruited 20 healthy people; half ate whole-wheat sourdough bread and the other half white bread for a week. Then both groups took a two-week break and switched bread diets.
Researchers measured 20 health markers and focused on blood sugar levels after eating, what is known as the glycemic response, a biological measurement of how quickly the body can process glucose consumed in the food.
The scientists found that on average, neither of the breads emerged as less likely to affect blood sugar.
For first author Eran Elinav, “The findings of this study are not only fascinating but potentially very important, because they point toward a new paradigm: different people react differently, even to the same foods”.
So, according to the results of the study, individuals can differ in their response to the same food, in this case bread, due to individual differences in the gut microbiota. So there is no good or bad bread, it comes down to each person’s gut microbiota.
This is why one person can eat bread all day everyday and not have any problems and the next person can look sideways at a piece of toast and gain 5 pounds.
Other influences that may make bread ‘bad’ for you
Of course there are other factors. Someone may have genuine allergies to the grains or other ingredients used for bread making. Others have developed ‘sensitivities’ to these foods as well – sensitivities are often tied back to gut health.
Crohn’s Disease, Celiac, metabolic disorders, and autoimmune issues can all make eating bread a bad idea.
Is bread bad for me?
If you have one of the conditions mentioned above then the answer is most likely going to be yes! Grains and bread are very likely to have a negative impact on you.
Outside of those conditions – it’s probably going to come down to your gut health. If you are fortunate enough to be one of those people with a good healthy strong gut then bread can most likely be incorporated into your healthy diet.
If, however, you are like a very large part of the population and have a not so healthy gut, bread may be more of an issue.
My personal story is one not having any issues with any foods as a young child but then many years of very liberal antibiotic use and then a diet that was very heavy in sugar I ended up with a very damaged and sad microbiota.
That sad state has seen me battle with my weight, skin conditions like eczema and even gestational diabetes (which I controlled by…eliminating grains from my diet).
The best approach when deciding if bread should be a part of your diet it to get honest with yourself. How do you feel after you eat it?
Do you feel bloated, uncomfortable and heavy after eating it? Do you get eczema, hives or dermatitis after eating it? Do you immediately gain weight? Then it’s probably time to rethink the role of bread in your diet.
But I really, REALLY love bread!!
Me too my friend, me too…
The good news is there are so many options available now for bread ‘alternatives.’
The alternative part of the equation comes down to the ingredients. Instead of traditional grain flours there are now many breads made with nut and seed flours, fibres such as psyllium and chia, plus starches such as arrowroot or tapioca.
Finding the right alternative for you will depend on what your goals are. Obviously if you are allergic to nuts – an almond based bread is going to be a bad idea, so you will want to find one based on seed flours or coconut flour.
If your goal is more to avoid the blood sugar effects of traditional breads then you will looks for a bread based more on fibres.
A quick search on the internet will return literally 100’s of different recipes from chefs and bloggers. There are so many options and if you love to bake and have the time (and access to the ingredients) you will find a recipe to fit your needs.
Here are a few of my favorite bloggers with great bread alternatives:
But I don’t want to bake
If you are time poor or baking isn’t your thing, it can be little harder to fill the bread basket.
If your goal is simply gluten free there are plenty of commercial products now available at your local supermarket or health food store.
If you are looking for grain free or keto/low carb options it can be a little harder but there are definitely products out there and more are becoming available all the time.
My favorite option
If you want the best of all the worlds then you’ll love the Primal Alternative range.
With grain free, vegan, and nut free options (plus low carb and keto choices) that are small batch baked by local producers. Breads, pizza bases and cookies oh my!
You can choose home baked loaves or if you still want to bake for yourself you can grab the handy pre-made mixes (my favorite) and bake them when you need them.
But I just want ‘REAL’ bread
There is hope friend! If you take some time to heal your gut you may be able to eat ‘real’ bread again one day.
Healing your gut isn’t an easy (or quick job) but it can be done and many find that they are able to add back in whole grains to their diet (prepared properly). In the mean time there are some great options out there, so do some experimenting, you might even find you like those alternatives even better than the real thing.
Korem T, Zeevi D, Zmora N, et al. Bread affects clinical parameters and induces gut microbiome-associated personal glycemic responses. Cell Metabolism. 2017. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2017.05.002