I frequently get asked about bread. Elite athletes and the general public alike all seem to want to know if it is okay to eat bread. I can understand the confusion; bread has become something of an enemy which may be attributed to low carbohydrate trends and its gluten content. So, is it okay to eat bread?
Bread comes in many forms, but for the most part contains flour, yeast, salt and water. Healthy Food Guide has an article in the March 2015 issue that answers many questions about the differences between bread varieties (e.g. white versus. wholegrain) and the ingredients bread contains.
Not all breads are equal and some varieties contain far more nutrients than others. Two slices of white bread (although very yummy) contain only 1.5g of fibre, whereas multigrain breads contain 5.2g of fibre (depending on the brand), more protein, and healthy fats and vitamins due to the seeds and grains. The higher fibre content makes these breads more filling too, meaning you eat fewer slices to feel satisfied.
I think this is where the confusion arises. If you use bread as a food rather than a filler you eat smaller amounts. Many people eat bread because it is a quick and easy alternative to making something else. I’ll use an example to explain what I mean. I see time and time again in food diaries bread used as a quick filler.
You are feeling hungry so you scan the pantry and decide toast is the easiest option, with perhaps peanut butter or jam. Two slices are not filling enough so you make an extra slice. Yes, toast is a quick and easy option but if you live on toast as a snack then you miss out on other key nutrients if you had perhaps made a smoothie (milk, yoghurt, banana, and berries), or had a pottle of yoghurt and a piece of fruit.
Another example is the humble sandwich. I frequently see sandwiches in food diaries that contain bread, ham, chicken or luncheon with some lettuce (maybe) and mayo. Not very filling and so three to four sandwiches are eaten.
A better way to use bread is as a small part of the meal rather the primary ingredient. A tasty sandwich is made from multigrain bread, filled with salad ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, grated carrot, avocado, beetroot, sliced red onion, cucumber, and ham, chicken or some other protein source…yum. And this kind of sandwich is far more filling.
There are some individuals that are unable to eat standard breads due to coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, but there are many gluten-free breads and bread products available, and the same rules apply to these.
So yes, you can eat bread, just don’t live on it. If you are using bread as a substitute for other foods because you are too busy, too lazy, or too tired to prepare something else, or add better nutrients to your bread, then take some time to think about how you can change this. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, healthy snacks and avoid toast for dinner.
Lillian Morton is a performance nutritionist and senior academic staff member at Wintec. She holds an MSc in sport and ex science and is working towards her PhD.