Is Bread Really The Devil For Your Health And Wellbeing?

Fiona Tuck

Nutrition Expert

Bread used to be a staple to live by; however it is now common knowledge that white bread (made from refined grains with added salt and sugar) is not that nutritious and may actually be unhealthy for us to eat. Does this then mean that all bread is demonised or can bread actually be good for us?

breadimage via pinterest

White bread

White bread is made from wheat flour that has the bran and germ removed. This lightly coloured flour typically has a longer shelf life as the natural oils present in the wheat grain have also been removed.

This means that the flour is devoid of many nutrients, in addition the lightly coloured flour may also have been bleached (using chemicals) to get a more consistent colour. To counteract the removal of natural nutrients, synthetic vitamins such as vitamin B12 and folic acid are often added back to the bread. These synthetic vitamins tend not to be in a form that is easily absorbed by the body and with an estimated 50% of the population having the MTHFR polymorphorism this means that it’s even harder for many people to process. Not looking so good for the white bread fans out there.

The flour used in white bread is pulverised into a very fine powder which is easily absorbed into the blood stream, thereby spiking blood sugar and insulin levels. Couple this affect with added sugar and salt, not to mention the gluten and I’m afraid that white bread is pretty devilish.

Brown or whole wheat bread

Whole wheat or brown bread uses the whole grain of wheat so it includes more nutrients and fibre than white bread, however it too has been pulverised into a fine powder and spikes the blood sugar and insulin levels. This effect rivals that of ice cream and sweet snacks on our blood sugar and insulin levels.

This blood sugar spiking also creates issues on the other side when it goes down causing hunger and leading to overeating.

Brown or whole wheat does have more fibre and nutrients (such calcium, iron and magnesium) but we still can’t classify these products as ‘nutritious’ snacks.

Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in wheat which acts like glue. This is glue not only affects the stickiness of bread dough but also can have a harmful impact on our digestive tract. Gluten can be attacked by the immune system (gluten intolerance) which can result in pain, bloating and general inflammation in the body. This is extreme with those suffering coeliac disease.

Gluten free bread is made using flour which is not coming from wheat and does not contain the gluten protein. Typically, the flour used is rice, corn or bean. This flour is pulverised like white and brown so still results in blood sugar spikes and subject to mass production practices of adding sugar, salt, preservatives etc.

Again, not ideal for a nutritious snack, but this time won’t send you for an hour-long + visit to the bathroom if you are gluten intolerant or worse if you are coeliac.

Where is the good bread?

Is there such a thing?

Fermented breads such as sourdough and old school yeast bread does have some benefits. The process of fermentation helps the nutrients in whole wheat to become more available for digestion whilst decreasing the availability of sugar. They also can introduce beneficial bacteria to your intestinal tract.

The nutrients that become more available are:

– Zinc (immune system)
– Iron (oxygen carrier)
– Magnesium (regulate protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose and pressure)
– Copper (red blood cells and health nervous/immune system)
– Phosphorous (growth and repair of cells)

There are also new types of “bread” available. Buckwheat bread is a gluten free alternative to regular bread and full of health promoting nutrients and fibre. It is heavier in texture so best suited to toasting. Seed bread is another healthy example which took the internet by storm a few years back. Seed bread uses psyllium seed husks instead of flour to bind the seed mixture together. Psyllium is a super absorbent fibre containing both soluble and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre help clean out the colon, this coupled with the wonderful nutrients present in seeds has heralded some seed breads being called “life changing loaf”. Plus, it’s gluten free!!

The key to having bread as part of your diet is to be aware of your own levels of gluten tolerance, avoid mass production techniques which strip out nutrients and add artificial preservatives, sugar and salt and look for alternatives such as nutrient dense seed breads, rye, buckwheat or sour dough as a healthier alternative.


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