THE GREAT CARB DEBATE: IS BREAD JUST PLAIN BAD?
Every time people go on a fad or crash diet, they usually need to give up something in return. More often than not, it’s a classic ‘standby’ food — and that standby is often bread. We’ve already talked about how we’re not big on fad diets here at BodyRock, but what if you’re just trying to eat better? Is there any reason to actually eliminate bread?
Because hey — it’s been around forever, right? Bread is so ubiquitous as to have made it into dozens of sayings and clichés: our daily bread, best thing since sliced… yeah, you get the idea. Plus, there are several western societies (I’m thinking about you guys, France & Italy) where people live long, healthy lives without worrying about bread too much — it’s just there, and it’s good.
But we can’t all follow the perfect Mediterranean diet 100% of the time. So the question remains: bread — to eat, or not to eat?
HERE COME THE EXPERTS
The pro-bread side says: bread is a great way to get the complex carbs we need. If you’re pursuing a balanced diet, you can’t eliminate carbs. In fact, you should be eating a good amount of them, as they do tons of things that keep our bodies running properly, and those things aren’t easy to replace with something else. Bread is one of the easiest ways to get those carbs — it’s widely available, and delicious.
The no-bread side says: not all carbs are the same. White bread is digested far faster than other carbs, and thus heads right into the bloodstream as sugar. Just like white rice, there’s nothing very nutritious inside the food to slow the digestion down, and hunger levels rise much faster because of the increased levels of insulin that come with such an infusion of sugars.
This leads us towards a larger debate about carbs in general, and whether low-carb diets are actually healthful, sustainable, and good for our bodies. Remember — you can find scientific (and nutritionist) evidence for just about anything, if you look hard enough.
With that in mind, what are we, the ‘end-users’, the people actually eating, supposed to do?
FIRST, DON’T WORRY SO MUCH.
Like always, it comes down to the same fundamentals that we always talk about on the site:
Don’t overthink the science. Just because we’re saturated with opinions from nutritionists and dieticians doesn’t mean we have to take every one of them into account. A lot of their studies conflict with each other, and the entire sphere is basically one long running debate without any final resolution. Instead of following its ups and downs, it’s better to just stick to the fundamentals, from which we try and build all our advice:
Eat good bread instead. Don’t bother eating white bread. If you’re following any kind of ‘whole foods’ or ‘eating clean’ program in the first place, white bread should already be off the list. It’s usually full of sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup) and a ridiculous, unnecessary amount of salt. The more you can eat whole-wheat bread, or rye bread, or pita bread, or basically anything but white bread, the better.
Follow the bakery-or-nothing rule. This one is simple, and it’s exactly how many French & Italians continue to eat bread. If you’re thinking about cutting out bread but don’t want to make such a huge effort, just put your effort towards buying bread from a real bakery instead. Not only does it taste far better, but you won’t worry about useless added sugars or unnecessary ingredients.
Oh, and one more important thing: this counts for all bread. Just because a Subway sandwich seems to have a healthy calorie count doesn’t mean the bread isn’t full of preservatives and unnecessary additions. Same goes for any hot dog bun or dinner roll. Ever tried to buy, say, a hamburger bun that doesn’t contain sugar? It’s harder than you think — so let the bakery-or-nothing rule sort this all out for you. If it hasn’t been made, by a baker, in the last 2 or 3 days — skip it.
Don’t buy sliced or bagged bread. This is an easy-to-remember variation on the ‘bakery’ rule. Obviously it will have some exceptions (good pita bread is almost always in bags), but if you need a super-simple rule to remember, this is one. Only buy freshly-baked loaves and cut off what you need. Bread lasts longer when it’s not pre-sliced, and proper European-style crusty loaves keep air out far longer thanks to their thick crusts.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of margarine or butter on bread — switch to extra-virgin olive oil instead. Reserve butter (skip the margarine entirely) for restaurants only, and get used to the amazing taste of far-healthier olive oil at home. Your body will thank you.
Don’t eat too much of it. If there’s anything you should be watching your portion sizes with, it’s bread. Take it easy, savor it, and don’t make it the main protagonist of any meal. If you do this, and stick with the bakery-or-nothing rule, you’ll be set.
AND NOW, OVER TO YOU
We’re always interested in hearing what you, our readers, have to say. Found interesting ways to enjoy bread, instead of cutting it out completely?
Share them with us in the comments! We read every single one, and try and respond to as many as we can.