A Grain of Truth

Carbs will not kill you. Here's why.

Loaf’s too short to be confused about bread.  So today’s your day to learn about how and rye.  You can crust me, I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist.

First things first, bread is not your enemy except in some very specific, individualized circumstances.  Second, there are SO MANY different types of bread, often even those with very specific, individualized circumstances might still have an option for their sandwiches.  Can you live without bread?  Sure.  Do you have to live without bread to be healthy?  Not exactly.

Diabetes

One of the first things people “swear off” or are ill-advised to “swear off” is bread when they are diagnosed with diabetes.  While reducing overall carbohydrate intake can and will definitely improve blood sugar management, small amounts of 100% whole grain bread can be included in a healthy eating pattern.  While I do NOT agree with the annoying advice of “avoid all white foods” (cauliflower, eggs, and onions are super healthy and white in color), I would definitely agree that avoiding or reducing intake of processed, refined, enriched white flour grain products benefits most everyone.  Start the kiddos out with whole, healthy foods, and you will not struggle to “undo” their love of white bread later in life.  Help the littles out.  Feeding kids white bread, Pop-Tarts, juice, and other crappy stuff because “kids will be kids” is simply setting them up for failure later in life; not to mention that those poor littles are completely dependent on their parents for nourishment.  They cannot understand the long-term impact of poor nutrition choices at all, but they will pay for them eventually.  Please feed the kids healthier foods…they consider “normal” whatever is “normal” for their environment.  If they start out on 100% whole grain foods, they do not even know that it is “healthy,” but rather they see it as a normal part of their eating pattern.

Celiac Disease

The only therapeutic treatment that is effective with managing celiac disease is nutrition-based, and it involves complete abstinence from gluten-containing foods.  Gluten is not a mystical unicorn that creeps out from under your bed to give you cancer.  Gluten is actually a protein found specifically in wheat, rye, and barley, and any food, cosmetic, or medicine containing derivatives of those grains.  Despite the fact that many common grain products such as bread, pasta, and crackers contain gluten, there are now more gluten-free versions of these foods than ever before.  Ten years ago, it was difficult to find gluten-free products except for in that little hippy-dippy healthy section in the corner of the grocery store.  Now you can find gluten-free-just-about-anything intermingled amongst similar foods throughout the shelves.  Ps – this is deserving of an ENTIRELY separate post, but “gluten-free” does not automatically equal “healthy.”  While gluten-free products can be healthy, all that declaration means is that the product is free of gluten; that’s it.  A gluten-free donut is still junk food…I can’t believe I seriously feel the need to say that…

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IBD/Allergies/Intolerances

Some individuals have a host of difficulties with digestion and/or allergies and/or intolerances.  Boy, that has to suck.  I can’t imagine the hardships some people face in this arena.  While the intricacies of these conditions cannot and should not be limited to a mere paragraph in a blog, I will simply say that sometimes avoiding certain types of bread can help.  Wheat is among the top eight most common allergens; and even if a person doesn’t have a true allergy to wheat, sometimes wheat and/or gluten-containing foods in general can cause a lot of grief to a sensitive GI tract.  If you suspect you might be a victim of a gut violation via the bread-bandit, try eliminating only that for a few weeks.  If you find improvements in your gut functioning or you simply feel better, then keep avoiding bread.  Eventually you can reintroduce certain types of bread to see how you fare, but only trial one variable at a time if you truly want to pinpoint a cause/effect of food particulars.

Weight Loss

For the love of Pete, PLEASE stop blaming bread as the independent culprit to difficulties with weight loss.  PLEASE.  Again, I’ll say your health doesn’t depend on having bread be a part of your life, and you most certainly could live without it.  However, having bread be a part of your life does NOT MEAN that you absolutely cannot lose weight.  Bread, especially 100% whole grain bread of whatever kind, can fit into the path toward weight loss.  If a SMALL amount of bread (or any type of 100% whole grain food like crackers or pasta) is consumed along with an eating style mainly focused around mostly non-starchy vegetables (like leafy greens, carrots, green beans, zucchini, etc.), a small bit of fruit, a small bit of protein-rich foods, and a small bit of healthy fats, then you can definitely lead yourself to a healthy weight.  Bread gets the blame for struggles with weight loss because when we overeat, we tend to overeat carbs.  Carbs cannot and will not independently cause weight gain any more than protein or fat will.  However, SO MANY foods we eat contain carbs that they add up FAST.  If you are eating bread AND potatoes AND corn AND fruit AND milk at the same meal, you likely have way too much carbohydrate in one sitting no matter how high-quality your choices are.  It’s not the bread’s fault, nor is it the potatoes’ fault; its relative to the total amount you’re consuming.  What most of us consider to be “normal” in terms of portions is often not exactly healthy.  But because we are so sentimental about our up-bringing and how we are used to eating, we often fail to see that the overall meal is simply too much food (and often inadequate in non-starchy vegetables).

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So, if you’re still not convinced that you can have bread, then don’t!  Who cares!  But if you decide to “give up bread,” please stop talking about it because it is really annoying.  If you are still a bread-lover, read on for some tips you might find useful.

  1. Start to narrow your search by scanning that overwhelmingly huge aisle of bread and keep an eye out for “100% Whole [wheat/barley/oat/whatever grain]” on the package.
  2. After you’ve found a few labels that say “100% Whole____,” read closer.  Eliminate the options that say “made with 100% whole grain,” as this is simply a clever way of saying “this is still crappy bread but we sprinkled a bit of whole grain fairy dust on our crappy white bread dough before we baked it.”
  3. Once you’ve found a bread or two that you think might make the cut, flip them over and read ingredients.  If you spot the word “enriched” ANYWHERE on that list, that is not 100% whole grain; put it back and try again.  “Wheat” bread is almost always white bread that has caramel coloring added, and it is not anywhere close to healthier for you  than white bread.
  4. Just because a slice of bread has X amount of calories or X amount of carbs does not make it “bad” versus “good.”  Some bread slices have 110 calories in one slice, and that isn’t going to kill you.  Some of the BEST, hearty, fiber-rich, amazing breads have >100 calories in a slice.  Some of the low-calorie, low-carb breads that only have 40 calories per slice have next to nothing to offer you nutritionally no matter what crafty claims to fame they try to slap on the label.  Do not sacrifice nutrients to save calories; you are not improving your health when you do that.
  5. A truly decent bread will be 100% whole grain, will be free of enriched flour, likely will have >70 calories per slice, will have >3 grams of fiber per slice, and will have a short-ish list of recognizable ingredients.

I hope that helps the bread debacle.  Please remember that although I recommend reducing or avoiding consumption of white-flour (enriched) bread, crackers, pasta, etc., you will not burst into flames and die if you have a some once in a while.  What you are doing on a daily basis has far more of an impact on your overall health than eating a white-flour hamburger bun once in a blue moon at the neighborhood barbecue.

Last but not yeast, eat bread or don’t eat bread.  Whatever you choose, be informed.

It’s bun fun – see you next time 😉

xoxo
Casey

4 thoughts on “A Grain of Truth

  1. […] Bread, pasta, crackers, brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc. […]

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  2. […] with diabetes and those trying to prevent diabetes by reducing the body’s insulin response.  All carbs are NOT created equal.  Lack of fiber (and most other nutrients) is one of the biggest reasons that we benefit from […]

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  3. […] from good-quality protein-rich foods, and one-fourth coming from either starchy vegetables or 100% whole grains.  The EASIEST way to distinguish the type of vegetable you have is that the most commonly eaten […]

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  4. […] grains. I know they are high in the oh-so-dreaded carbs, but 100% whole grains like rolled oats and quinoa have a decent amount of protein all by […]

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