Poor old bread. For a long time, bread was one of the main staples in everyone’s diets. It’s a highly versatile carbohydrate that can be used to make sandwiches, toast, rolls and even a range of deserts. It’s not sugary and so most of us assume that it can’t be all that unhealthy and with the right combination of toppings, it is absolutely delicious.
But recently, bread has fallen out of favor and has been accused of being at the root of many of our health problems – including unwanted weight gain.
Where did it all go wrong?
Because we answer the question ‘does bread make you fat’, let’s first take a look at some of the other accusations that have been thrown its way recently.
Firstly, bread has fallen out of favor with many due to its being made from wheat. Wheat is of course bad news for anyone with celiac disease and for anyone with a gluten intolerance. In those cases, gluten can cause the ‘villi’ in the digestive system to stop working as they should, which means that you won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from your food as easily. In full blown celiac disease, this can cause a host of health issues over time and makes life very difficult indeed. In gluten intolerant people it just causes a lot of bloating and discomfort.
But for everyone else, bread is absolutely fine. This is the key thing to recognize: if you had gluten intolerance or celiac disease, then you would know about it. While it has become fashionable to consume gluten free food even if you have neither condition, all you’re actually doing is paying more and enjoying your food less!
But even with this in mind, bread is not out of the woods. That’s because it has also fallen out of favor with the paleo crowd. The paleo diet is a diet based on the notion that we should eat like our Palaeolithic ancestors and the way that our bodies evolved to eat as a result.
Problem is, recent findings show that Palaeolithic man actually would have eaten bread and farmed a range of grains and wheats.
Of course, the point of the paleo diet is not to eat like humans from a certain era but rather to eat the way our bodies adapted to eat.
And even if we farmed during the Palaeolithic era, it’s still true that man would have had to survive on foraged and hunted food for most of our evolution. And that’s why we might not be designed to eat as many carbs as we do.
Does bread make you fat? As a carb, it might just pose a risk.
You see, carbs are a source of glucose (energy) that get absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream. Because they don’t contain large amounts of fiber or fat, foods like breads result in a quick ‘hit’ of sugar to the blood which provides and energy spike followed immediately by a release of insulin (and lipogenesis – fat storage) and then a dip in energy or crash that leads to hunger.
In this regard, something like bread is barely different from chocolate or cake and most processed breads don’t offer up much in the way of nutrition either. So, if you’re eating a diet high in bread, chances are that you’re simply filling your body with lots of sugar, resulting in increased fat storage and hunger and potentially even leading to insulin resistance and other problems.
Diets like the paleo diet and the low carb diet suggest that we should be eating fewer carbs and more protein and fat. Fat provides energy just like carbs do but it releases that energy much more slowly into the bloodstream to provide a steady supply and prevent any unhealthy spikes. This means that the energy is used to help us complete daily tasks rather than causing a sudden spike and leading to weight gain.
But with that said, bread isn’t all bad. For starters, eating ‘simple carbs’ like this can actually be beneficial if you time it right. Following a HIIT workout for example, bread will be used to refuel the muscles and glycogen stores rather than being stored as body fat.
Likewise, getting a hit of energy like this can be very good for a quick boost before a workout or a long day in the office. If you’re absolutely sure you want to avoid the simple carbs that come with bread, then you could eat complex carbohydrate breads like rye bread instead. Wholegrain, whole wheat breads meanwhile contain a lot of goodness in the germ of the wheat.
And let’s not forget that carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram versus 9 calories per gram for fats. Carbs are useful for padding out the diet then without pushing us into super-high figures with regards to our calorie intake.
It would be very hard to completely remove bread from the diet for most of us. Sandwiches rely on bread and it is a common side dish for wiping up sauce or having with cheese and garlic when you’re enjoying lasagna.
The point is to enjoy everything in moderation and to take a look at your diet. Most of us are eating too many carbs and not enough fat. If you have toast for breakfast followed by sandwiches for lunch and a side of bread in the evening, then that is too much and it likely is contributing to your weight gain.
Conversely though, having a few slices every now and then won’t do you any harm and especially if you attend the gym regularly and time your carb meals for after your workouts (this is called carb back loading). Choose your bread more carefully and increase your intake of fats to gain a healthier balance.
Bread is not the enemy here – too much bread is!