Considered a cornerstone of so many meals, bread is everywhere we look. Be it that iconic meal deal for the office worker or the packed lunches schools provide. You can almost guarantee its presence. For a vast majority of the population, bread will feature in at least one meal a deal. So the real crux of the matter is does this freshly baked staple form an essential part of necessary diets? Or is there no real benefit to chowing down on extra thick slices of a white loaf? Given the prevalence and frequency of bread in our everyday diets, the impact to health can range massively. One thing is certain though, your favourite sandwich might not be doing you a world of good.
To understand the impact of your preferred choice of bread; white, brown or wholegrain. We need to understand what is happening inside our bodies when we digest bread. The process remains the same for each type but the outcome can have widely different effects on your health.
The process of making bread is extremely simple. This is often why it is considered a staple part of diets around the world. Flour mixed with salt and yeast, thrown together in a bowl with some water. Bake and you have yourself a loaf of bread. It is because of this simplicity that many people assume the health implications are minimal. It is down to the processing of the wheat grain and the type of grain used that vastly changes the health benefits with some types of grain causing more problems than they solve.
Bread is packed full of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are a form of fuel for the body of which your body will prioritize over your fat reserves. It is often why many weight loss diets encourage cutting carbohydrates so that your body burns the fat instead. This comes with its own caveats though. Carbohydrates are an essential fuel for your brain providing long-term energy throughout the day. Significantly more beneficial than the short-lived burst of energy that foods high in sugar provide. Without carbohydrates and the glycogen that they provide your brain runs off of ketones released when it breaks down the fat for energy. Using ketones as a form of energy will get easier over time. Your body will adapt but initially, they can cause symptoms like; tiredness, nausea, and brain fog whilst your brain desperately struggles for a resource to power it.
Here is where bread plays devil's advocate. We know that ideally, we need carbohydrates for our brain to function at its optimal level and bread can provide that. The problems come from how the grains are processed in the body, especially white bread. When the grains are broken down into flour the components within are absorbed incredibly quickly. Subsequently, the starch contained within the flour is broken down into glucose and enters the bloodstream. This can cause a rapid rise in our blood sugar and insulin levels. With every rise comes a fall, and a fall in blood sugar leaves us feeling hungry. We consume more bread and the cycle continues. Because processed bread is just that, processed, our bodies just cannot retain the essential carbohydrates from it to provide any substantial benefit to our health.
We know that refined grains can reek havoc with our sugar and insulin levels, so is there a type of grain that is good for us? Whole grain bread is typically considered better. They use the whole grain taking longer for the body to break down. The glucose that we mentioned earlier is drip fed rather than a sudden influx. There are also additional nutrients and fiber found in whole grains which aid digestion. Whole grains provide a healthy supply of iron, magnesium and B vitamins. These nutrients help to maintain balanced energy levels and are the bodies preferred source of energy.
The important thing to remember is there are not any nutrients in bread that cannot be had from alternative sources of food. The question of whether bread is good or bad for your health all depends on the type of grain used in making the bread. Our bodies rely on the carbohydrates provided for energy but too much processed grains causes this energy to spike. This roller-coaster of energy can bring some serious health implications. Overeating and the subsequent weight gain or even diabetes in extreme circumstances. Your body cannot balance the insulin to match the spiking sugar levels that the processed flour causes. Like all foods, it is about moderation and understanding the ingredients and the process that have gone into producing it.