Noshing on white bread comes with a side of health risks. Yes, that means baguettes, bagels, and pizza, too.
Most people know that white bread is a diet don’t: One of the easiest swaps you can make for a major health boost is ditching refined flour in favor of whole wheat. But it’s not just that loaf of Wonder Bread that you need to watch out for. The basket of rolls delivered to the table when dining out, the French baguette you grab on your way home to accompany dinner, your Saturday-morning bagel ritual, and Friday pizza night all come with a side of less-than-desirable health risks. Here are five unpleasant reasons to nix the bread basket:
- Little nutritional value. Yes, food is delicious, but at the end of the day we are eating for one reason: to nourish our bodies. And white bread made with refined flour fails to accomplish this goal. “When a grain is refined, such as in the making of flour for white bread, the outermost and innermost layers of the grain are removed. This removes the fiber and some (25 percent) protein, leaving behind the starch,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. You may see "enriched flour" on the label. While this flour has had some nutrients like B vitamins and iron added back in after the refining process, it’s still lower in fiber and protein than whole-wheat flour. Opting for whole-grain varieties carries with it a dose of healthy fiber and more protein, adding a nutritional boost to meals.
- Erratic blood-sugar levels. “Since it's low in the fiber and protein that helps to slow digestion, white bread is digested and absorbed rapidly. This leads to blood sugar's rising quickly,” says Palinski-Wade. This spike — and subsequent crash — in blood sugar not only leads to irritability, but will leave you headed to the vending machine for a pick-me-up.
- Increased risk of type-2 diabetes. “When blood sugar elevates rapidly, excess insulin is released into the bloodstream to push the sugar into the cell,” says Palinski-Wade. “When this occurs on a regular basis, cells become more insulin resistant, making it harder over time to control blood-glucose (sugar) levels. Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports this, finding that people who consumed several servings of whole grains per day — and limited intake of refined grains — had less of a type of fat that increases risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Weight gain. After eating refined carbohydrates like white bread, the surplus of sugar in your bloodstream — unless immediately utilized for activity — tends to be stored as fat in the body. Plus, the blood-sugar crash will leave you hungry soon after ingesting, so you'll be reaching for another snack. “Rapid digestion can increase hunger and cravings, leading to a lack of satiety after eating, which may result in increased caloric intake at the end of the day,” says Palinski-Wade.
- Symptoms of depression. It may taste good going down, but that white bread can negatively affect your mood. New research published in the June 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a link between the consumption of refined carbohydrates — like white bread — and depression in post-menopausal women. The same hormonal response that causes blood-sugar levels to drop can also cause mood swings, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression.
Tips for Keeping White Bread Off the Menu
- Skip the bread basket. When dining at a restaurant that serves bread baskets, ask the waiter not to drop one off at your table — it'll reduce temptation. If you feel the need to munch before your meal arrives, order some crudité with a light dip like hummus, or a side salad.
- Look for “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the package, and be sure to check the ingredients list when purchasing a loaf of bread. Simply listing whole-wheat or whole-grain on the label isn’t enough: many whole-wheat varieties contain enriched, refined flour as the first ingredient, meaning the bread contains more refined flour than whole wheat. It's important to note that there is a variety of wheat that is white and lacks color in the bran. This wheat has a milder flavor and texture, prompting some bread companies to use it to produce healthier products, which is a better option for those who don't like the taste or texture of whole-wheat bread. However, you still need to check the labels carefully to ensure that white whole wheat is the first ingredient listed.
- Make smart bread swaps. Even healthy whole-grain breads can blow your daily calorie count when eaten in excess. Look for creative, tasty ways to swap out bread and other refined carbs in your favorite dishes, like using leafy greens as wraps for your sandwich toppings or making zucchini boat “pizzas,” no crust necessary!