How Bread is Bad For Your Health

Woman eating bread with jam

Staying away from bread seems to be particularly fashionable these days.

It can be hard to sift through the facts and the myths about eating bread.

Some experts push eating whole grains over refined, over-processed wheat (1, 2).

However, these studies are comparing a diet rich in whole grains to one with prevalent consumption of refined grains; they don’t always involve comparison with a grain-free diet.

It may also seem as though almost everyone you know has attempted to eat a gluten-free diet (3).

So is bread the devil for your health?

I’ve investigated this for you. Below are the results.

Bread Infographic

Bread Infographic

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Bread Can Throw off Your Blood Sugar

Your body uses a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for fuel.

Bread is high in carbohydrates.

The more carbs you eat, the more your body will use them as fuel, neglecting to use the fats.

After the body has quickly processed the glucose, you may experience a crash during which you rapidly lose energy.

The primary macronutrient that raises blood sugar is carbohydrate (4).

The glycemic index is a reference that divulges how quickly the carbs in the foods you eat will raise your blood sugar.

Eating foods that are lower on the glycemic index has been linked with a decreased risk of certain illnesses (5).

hungry man eating cookie

One slice of the average whole-wheat bread has a glycemic index of 71. This is higher than a serving of vanilla cake made from a mix, 250 mL of Coca Cola or a Snickers bar (6).

Eating bread can make your blood sugar and insulin levels spike.

Glucose levels can go down just as quickly, causing you to be hungry again and making you reach for another snack that’s loaded with carbs.

High blood sugar levels, or hyperglycemia, are often associated with individuals with diabetes.

Blood sugars can also react with proteins in the cells and contribute to the ageing process (7).

Health problems stemming from the introduction of sugar and flour to the modern diet are widely documented (8).

The incidence of obesity increased by about 15% from 1971 to 2000.

This has been linked to increased intake of calories and carbohydrates and a decrease in the consumption of fat (9).

Reducing the amounts of carbohydrates that you eat can help you manage your weight and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (10, 11, 12).

KEY POINT: The high level of carbohydrates in bread has been linked with high blood sugar spikes and other health conditions such as diabetes.

Bread Is Packed Full of Gluten

frustrated woman waiting for toast

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, spelt and rye.

It helps to bind the particles in the flour together, which allows bread to rise and form that spongy, soft structure that many people love to eat (13).

What’s so bad about gluten?

Even in the year 2000, celiac disease, a condition in which gluten damages the small intestine, was relatively unheard of (14, 15).

Not a lot of research had gone into studying the disease.

Although less than 1% of the American population is considered to have celiac disease (16), researchers are finding that more people are becoming sensitive to gluten (17, 18, 19).

People may be affected by gluten in the following ways (20):

  • Wheat allergy: T-cells in the lining of the intestines are activated by compounds in gluten, cross-linking immunoglobulin E and releasing chemicals like histamines from certain cells.
  • Autoimmune response: The body responds to the ingestion of gluten by releasing antibodies that attack the lining of the intestines. Celiac disease falls into this category.
  • Gluten sensitivity: People experience some form of physical or mental distress when they eat gluten. Their symptoms improve upon elimination of gluten from their diet.

Some researchers theorize that all humans demonstrate an innate immune response to the presence of gluten in our systems (21).

Studies have shown that even individuals who don’t have a wheat allergy or celiac disease experience distress, such as damage to the intestinal walls, pain, bloating, stool irregularities and fatigue, due to gluten consumption (22, 23).

Gluten sensitivity doesn’t only cause digestive problems.

It can also produce symptoms that are associated with the brain. It has been linked with mental illnesses like schizophrenia (24, 25).

It has also been associated with cerebellar ataxia, a condition that affects the areas of the nervous system that control motor function (26, 27).

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may experience the following symptoms (28, 29):

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mental fogginess
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Rashes
  • Depression
  • Anemia

Although NCGS is often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome, gluten withdrawal can help reduce symptoms in people with NCGS (30).

KEY POINT: Bread made from wheat, rye, barley or spelt contains gluten. Gluten causes negative health symptoms in people who are allergic to it or have certain autoimmune conditions. Some researchers believe that all humans are sensitive to gluten.

Unhealthy Ingredients and Additives: What to Avoid

bread getting injection of ingredients

Even if you eat gluten-free bread, you may still be consuming excessive amounts of corn or rice starch, which don’t have a lot of fiber and are high on the glycemic index (31).

You may also be eating other unhealthy, unnecessary ingredients like starches and gums.

Much of the bread that you buy at the grocery store is highly processed.

In the process of converting grains of wheat into white flour, many nutrients are lost.

Even if you eat 100% whole-wheat bread, you might not be consuming exactly what you expect.

Some companies simply add the bran, endobran and sperm from the wheat back into processed white flour.

They also add in flavorings and dough conditioners to improve the flavor and texture (32).

Other additives and ingredients to avoid are:

High-fructose corn syrup

Whether it’s in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or tiny white crystals, sugar isn’t healthy.​

​It has been linked to problems with metabolism, type 2 diabetes and heart conditions (33).

HFCS also contains hydroxymethylfurfural, which has been linked with DNA damage (34).

Azodicarbonamide

This may be abbreviated as ADA or ADC on ingredient labels.

When it’s heated, it produces the chemical Semicarbazide, which is carcinogenic (35).  Azodicarbonamide is not used in European breads.

Potassium bromate

​This is carcinogenic in rats and toxic in humans. It especially damages the kidneys (36).

Phytic acid

This is a naturally occurring substance found in whole-wheat breads.

Legumes and seeds contain phytic acid, which is a compound that makes the seeds more difficult to digest (37).

The phytic acid in whole-grain breads can make it difficult for the body to absorb vital minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc (38, 39).

Soaking and sprouting grains before milling them for flour can reduce the amount of phytic acid in the bread (40, 41).

KEY POINT: Majority of commercial breads contain added and natural ingredients that are harmful to your health.

Does Bread Have Vital Nutrients?

Bread does not contain any nutrients that can’t be found in other foods. Even stone-ground and whole-wheat bread aren’t as healthy as you might expect.

Little girl eating sandwich at home

Let’s take for example two slices (64 grams) of whole-wheat bread. It contains the following nutrients (42):

  • 162 calories
  • 8 g protein
  • 2 g fat
  • 28 g carbs
  • 4 g fiber
  • 3 g sugars

The same slice of bread contains the following essential minerals:

  • Calcium: 104 g (10% DV)
  • Iron: 1.5 g (14% DV)
  • Magnesium: 48 g (14% DV)
  • Zinc: 1 g (12% DV)

Now, let’s look at ¾ cup of mashed sweet potato and 1 oz of almonds, respectively. These foods contain the following nutrients (43, 44):

  • 187/164 calories
  • 3.4 g/6 g protein
  • 0.3 g/14 g fat
  • 43 g/6 g carbs
  • 6 g/3.5 g fiber
  • 14 g/1 g sugars

The same amounts of sweet potato/almonds contain the following minerals:

  • Calcium: 66g/76 g
  • Iron: 1.7g/1 g
  • Magnesium: 44 g/77g
  • Zinc: 0.5 g/0.8g

Sweet potatoes and nuts contain just about the same calories and nutrients as two slices of bread.

Sweet potatoes have more carbohydrates and sugars, but they also have about 31 grams of vitamin C per ¾-cup serving, compared with none in whole-wheat bread. Sweet potatoes also contain more vitamin A.

In addition, because gluten can harm the lining of the intestines, it may prevent the body from absorbing other nutrients (45).

The fiber from wheat can cause the body to eliminate vitamin D before it has a chance to use it (46).

This can make you deficient in the vitamin even if you get enough exposure to sunlight.

If you’re deficient in the vitamin, you might be at a greater risk of dying from cancer, diabetes and heart disease (47).

Although bread may contain more protein than sweet potatoes or nuts, it’s not an ideal protein source for humans .

Animal proteins contain more essential amino acids, making them a more complete source of protein (48).

KEY POINT: Breads don’t contain nutrients that can’t be found in other whole foods. The nutrients in bread may not be ideal for human consumption.

Whole Wheat Isn't Great for Your Cholesterol

cholesterol clinical examination

Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol is the type that’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

It is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

These particles exist in different sizes in the body. People who have a greater number of small, dense LDL particles have been found to have a higher risk for heart disease (49, 50).

In one study that looked at 36 overweight men, some participants were asked to eat whole-wheat cereal and others oat cereal (51).

After 12 weeks, the group that ate oat cereal experienced a drop in total LDL as well as in the number of small, dense LDL particles.

The group that ate whole-wheat cereal registered increased LDL after 12 weeks.

What’s more, the number of small, dense LDL particles in their blood increased by about 60%.

KEY POINT: Consuming whole wheat may increase the small, dense LDL particles in the body, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Wheat Can Be Habit-Forming and Addictive

Do you ever crave bread? Some researchers theorize that gluten can be addictive.

As gluten is digested, it creates opioid peptides (52). These peptides stimulate the opioid receptors in the brain, acting in much the same way as morphine would.

Some doctors have reported seeing withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by opiate addicts in patients who stop eating gluten (53).

The opioid effects of eating gluten may cause you to crave more. These feel-good chemicals may also disguise any negative symptoms that eating gluten may cause (54).

KEY POINT: Eating gluten may induce a “feel-good” reaction in the body caused by the opioid peptides produced during digestion, leading to addiction.

If You Must Eat Bread, Make It Yourself

woman shaping dough

It’s not easy to remove all traces of wheat from your diet.

If you do eat bread, consuming whole-wheat products is better than eating refined, highly processed white bread.

In one study, participants who ate more than two slices of white bread each day were more likely to become overweight or obese compared to those who ate whole grain bread (55).

If you make your own bread at home, you can have more control over the ingredients that go into it.

You can choose to use high-quality whole wheat, and you can avoid the additives that are often infused into commercial breads.

You can also make your own flour by soaking and sprouting grains, drying them and grinding them to use in your breads.

Making breads using this method lowers the amount of phytic acid in the flour. This increases the level of phytase, which is naturally present and may protect against cancer, diabetes, kidney problems and heart conditions (56).

One report explains that several kinds of fiber, not just fiber from grains, should be included in the diet for optimal health. The ideal types of fiber do not contain phytic acid (57).

KEY POINT: You can avoid some of the more unhealthy ingredients in bread by making it from scratch. You can even make your own sprouted grain flour to reduce the amount of phytic acid in the finished bread.

Bottom Line

Gluten in bread can be problematic for many individuals, and some researchers theorize that all humans are somewhat sensitive to gluten.

Even if bread does not contain gluten, it usually contains grains. The phytic acid in grains can prevent the body from absorbing crucial vitamins and minerals.

Commercial breads may also contain unhealthy ingredients.

If you must eat bread, making it yourself with sprouted grains that don’t contain wheat might be your best bet when it comes to your health.

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