Ah, the much maligned loaf of bread.
There aren’t many foods in recent memory that have been as vilified, or as craved, as bread. With the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets like Atkins and South Beach more than a decade ago, this favorite restaurant appetizer and sandwich staple became the latest and greatest culinary “faux pas” for those who wished to reduce their waistlines and lose weight.
Now that the low-carb craze has cooled a bit, the question still remains: Is bread really bad for the waistline? Does completely giving it up help get you closer to your weight loss goals? Researchers in Spain sought to find out, and the results of their study might surprise you.
Have Your Bread… And Eat It, Too
Researchers at La Paz University Hospital in Madrid followed 122 overweight or obese women for 16 weeks. The women were divided evenly into two groups, both of which were placed on low-calorie diets, received nutrition education, and were asked to follow specific exercise guidelines. The only difference between the two groups is that one group was allowed to include bread in their diet, while the other group was to consume other sources of carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, potatoes, and legumes — but no bread. (Both groups were encouraged to choose healthier whole-grain options of the carbs they were allowed to eat.)
At the end of 16 weeks, researchers concluded that the presence or absence of bread in the diet had little to no effect on the success of weight loss in the study participants. In fact, they said, “The combination of a balanced low-calorie diet with physical activity recommendations and nutrition education produced a significant improvement in the nutritional state of both study groups.”
Both groups of women lost weight and reduced their waist circumference, body mass index and body fat percentage.
Interestingly, the “no bread” group had a significant increase in dietary transgressions by week 12 of the study while, in contrast, the women in the “bread” group stuck to their assigned diets. In addition, 104 out of the original 122 women actually completed the study, and the majority of the “dropouts” were in the “no bread” group.
What can we conclude from this? That major dietary restrictions (and many would consider the elimination of bread a major restriction) can lead to feelings of deprivation and eventually cause a person to cheat on a diet. What makes any diet successful is your ability to stick with it, lose weight, and keep it off. If the diet makes you feel deprived, you are more likely to cheat and eventually quit, which often leads to weight gain and overall frustration.
Fortunately for bread lovers, this study shows that you can enjoy that turkey sandwich or piece of toast without worrying too much about sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
But There Is One Caveat…
There is a big difference between bread made with refined white flour versus whole-grain flour.
During the refining process, wheat is stripped of its germ and bran — the most nutritious parts of the wheat — leaving behind a product that has little nutritional value. Refined flour is also devoid of fiber, which means that, when consumed, the carbs are more quickly absorbed into your bloodstream, causing a major spike in blood sugar levels — followed by a huge drop in energy.
Whole grains, on the other hand, are more slowly absorbed in the bloodstream, allowing your body to maintain more stable blood sugar levels and provide a steadier supply of energy.
Moreover, whole-grain products are just plain healthy for you because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, iron and many other nutrients. In fact, research has shown that simply swapping out your refined grains for whole grains could lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 20 percent to 30 percent.
So if you’re going to enjoy bread, choosing a whole-grain loaf is obviously the better option. Check the nutrition label on the package. Avoid breads that list the first ingredient as enriched or white flour. Instead, opt for breads made from 100% whole-grain or whole-wheat flour. Or check out the more interesting types of bread you can find at health food stores or organic markets that are made from whole-grain barley, oat, millet or teff.
 Loria-Kohen V et al. Evaluation of the usefulness of a low-calorie diet with or without bread in the treatment of overweight/obesity. Clinical Nutrition. 2012; doi:10.1016.j.clnu.2011.12.002.