Carbohydrate is a notoriously contentious subject for weight loss and healthy eating. For years, the standard weight loss diet focused on restricting calories with a nutritional balance that was low in fat, but with little regard to carbs. Within the last two decades, the paradigm has shifted, with low-carbohydrate weight loss diets becoming increasingly popular– and not without scientific and medical support.
So should you never eat bread? Should you eschew literally all carbs? Is bread a “bad food” that makes you fat no matter what? Well, not necessarily. The problem with the weight loss industry is sensationalism. The reality is more nuanced, more complex, and more individually variable than a simple all-or-nothing approach.
Here are some of the benefits, and drawbacks, of incorporating bread and related foods into your diet. You’ll notice that some carbohydrates are healthier than others, and most of all, that moderation is key.
Is There Anything Good About Bread?
Bread is much maligned among modern healthy-eating afficianados. Bread, of course, is one of mankind’s oldest staple foods. In fact, advancements in grain agriculture in order to make bread helped lead to social and technological advancement that made possible the world we know today.
Here’s the thing about eating bread: not all breads and grains are created equal. Especially in North America, white bread is very common (think Wonderbread). The thing is, it’s nutritionally poor. If you want to eat bread and feel good about it, go for whole grains instead.
Here are a few good reasons to incorporate moderate amounts of whole grains into your diet:
- Fiber. Many people don’t get nearly enough fiber in their diet, which leads to digestive issues. Whole grain breads are packed with fiber, helping eliminate many chronic gastrointestinal problems like constipation and bloating.
- B Vitamins. Whole grain breads are rich in B-complex vitamins. Interestingly, some of the vitamins in this group– including niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin– are important for the body’s digestive processes that break down carbohydrates. B vitamins are also important for your brain and nervous system.
- Complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, digest more slowly than simple carbohydrates. This means that the energy from them will last longer, and you’ll also probably feel full for longer.
So Why Cut Back on Bread?
Wow, whole grain breads sure sound great! So why cut back on carbohydrates at all? If you’re trying to lose weight, there are actually some good reasons to reduce– though not necessarily eliminate– your carbohydrate intake. Here are a few good reasons to focus on protein while limiting carbohydrate intake:
- Fewer refined carbohydrates will help reduce hunger and cravings. When you eat simple carbs, like pasta and white bread, your body processes them quickly, raising your blood sugar levels. Soon afterward, your blood sugar falls back to normal. This can lead to cravings, being hungry after you’ve already eaten, and other issues that can block you from reaching your weight loss goals.
- Too many refined carbohydrates can lead to heart problems. A diet high in simple carbs can increase the amount of certain fatty acids in your body, which can lead to heart disease or diabetes over time. People whose simple carb intake is more moderate tend to be healthier and live longer.
So what’s the answer? It’s complicated. In general, whole grains like multigrain bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta can be safely incorporated into your diet, in moderation. However, simple carbs like white bread really aren’t that good for you. Remember, when you’re trying to lose weight, calorie restriction is what makes the difference. Whether you’re eating nothing but white bread or nothing but bacon and eggs, you won’t lose weight if you’re eating too much, period.