Can Bread Make You Gain Weight? The Role Of Bread In Our Diet
Bread can make you gain weight- but then again, according to the laws of thermodynamics any food can make you gain weight if you eat too much of it. Your body doesn’t care whether the calories come from proteins, fats or carbs- as long as you consume more than your body needs to maintain energy balance those excess calories will be stored as body fat and you’ll gain weight. Some foods are higher in calories than others, which make them as a rule more likely to make you gain weight. Breads are a very calorie dense foods- most have anywhere from 70-80 calories per ounce and most on the market today are made with refined flour which cuts down on the nutritional value and the fiber content. The less fiber a food has, the more of it you’ll eat and refined flour breads are no exception, in fact refined flour products make up just about 20% of the daily calories in the average American’s diet. A diet that tends to unfortunately be higher in calories than is needed to maintain energy balance.- thus the common perception that bread does indeed make you gain weight and that eating bread will make you fat. Giving up bread is one of the most common methods people employ to lose weight, and given the number of calories saved in the average diet by cutting out breads, such diet strategies do have some merit. Advocates of (what is commonly called) the ‘Paleolithic Diet’ suggest that bread is a fairly recent addition to the human diet and vilify bread as one of the culprits responsible for the extra pounds around your waist. The argument is that early man followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for the greater part of our time on the planet and that we are not biologically designed to eat bread, grains or any foods that are agriculturally based. It’s an interested presumption, and given the remarkably healthy constitutions of the hunter-gatherer bands that still exist on earth, it does sound pretty easy to blame our current societal weight gain and obesity problems on the consumption of bread, wheat and grain products. However these arguments don’t account for the fact that numerous cultures have eaten bread as a staple for millennia without the obesity and health problems we see today. While we can indeed learn a lot from hunter-gatherer diets, it isn’t as simple as singling out bread and grains as the cause of our weight gain woes. For one, bread was indeed eaten by early man -a fact that throws into question a central premise of the Paleolithic Diet’ and secondly, the refined product found on supermarket shelves today bears little resemblance to the food that sustained so many human lives for centuries.
Can Bread Make You Gain Weight? Understanding The History
Contrary to the popular belief that we ate only meat, nuts, fruit and roots during our time as hunter gatherers, there is archeological evidence today that a form of flatbread was made by early Europeans during the Paleolithic era as early as 30,000 years ago using plant roots. When bread made from wheat and other grains became a prevalent addition to the diets of the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent where wheat was first domesticated around 8500 BC , there was no catastrophic increase in the incidence of obesity or metabolic diseases. One can argue that the nutrition from a predominantly hunter gatherer is indeed superior to one of a more agriculturally based diet, but there is no evidence whatsoever of widespread illness as a result. Instead, it paved the way for stable villages instead of nomadic wandering, which lead to animal rearing and the creation of civilization as we know it.
The growing of wheat to make bread spread throughout the Eurasian continent and parts of Northern Africa and for thousands of years, bread has been a major solution to the problem of producing high energy foods that can sustain us. With as little as 3.5 oz of handmade stone ground wheat bread yielding about a hundred calories, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein, bread was a concentrated and convenient energy source that became a healthy and wholesome part of the diet of most Eurasian cultures. Our second population explosion however, would change not only the bread that so many had benefited from for years, but our fundamental relationship with our food.
Can Bread Make You Gain Weight? Understanding The Effects Of New Technology
The Industrial Revolution in the later part of the 1800’s brought new ways of addressing the food requirements of the growing number of people in living in Europe at the time. While initially created with the most noble of intentions, technology has done much to degrade the quality of food we eat today, but it also enables us to produce more of it to feed more people. Bread was one of the first casualties of this new technology when the method of producing wheat flour was changed. Before steel milling technology, wheat was stone ground, either manually or between large stone wheels powered by rivers or animals. The resulting flour was nothing like the white flour that we are used to today, as stone grinding only removes the bran from the wheat kernel, but not the endosperm (or wheat germ) which contains an impressive array of protein, folic acid, B vitamins, carotenes and omega-3 fatty acids. Stone grinding crushes the wheat germ and releases the oils inside, leaving it a yellowish gray color (thanks to the carotene content) and has the effect of decreasing the flour’s shelf life. The oils in the wheat germ soon oxidize and turn rancid when exposed to the air, as do all omega-3 fats at room temperature. Consequently wheat flour was a very perishable food product, and every town had to have its own flour mill, as the finished flour could not travel very far without spoiling.
The advent of steel milling changed this, as steel rollers can grind wheat to a much finer consistency than stone grinding ever could and steel milling also removes the endosperm completely. Without the presence of the quickly spoiled omega-3 fats, flour could be stored for longer periods of time and transported across vast distances. Interestingly enough, vermin no longer ravaged the new nutrient depleted white flour as it was a now a far cry from the nutritious stone ground flours, making storage far easier. Europeans at the time preferred white flour over its courser and somewhat smelly stone ground counterpart, and for years only wealthy members of society had access to truly white flour. Steam driven steel milling made it possible for everyone to have access to affordable white flour and by the 1880’s refined flour became the new European staple- one that would eventually spread around the world. Unfortunately, with this new refined flour came many problems, some of which we are still dealing with today.
The first problem with refined flour was that all breads made from it were no longer the food that human had eaten for tens of thousands of years. It was an entirely new food and in many ways unnatural, as it lacked the nutrients that helped us digest breads safely and efficiently. As bread made from refined flours became more available there were outbreaks of crippling vitamin B deficiencies such as beriberi and pellagra as these vitamins were no longer present in the breads that most people of the time ate as their main source of food. The discovery of vitamins in the 1930’s lead to vitamin enriched bread, (basically adding a vitamin pill to the flour) which minimized the B vitamin deficiency related diseases. Yet it was only in 1996 that health authorities realized that most people also had folic acid deficiencies and thus it was mandated that folic acid be added to refined flour as well. These measures may have stemmed some of the deficiency problems, but does they did little to address the problems of obesity, diabetes and certain cancers that have been linked to the process of refining carbohydrates.
An important dilemma that bread made from refined flours pose is the lack of fiber. Steel milling removes the fiber that served to slow the release of the natural sugars in bread. The fine grinding also reduces the flour is to smaller individual particles. As a result, there is a larger surface area exposed to our digestive enzymes when we eat it, so the starches in bread made from refined flours turn to sugar much faster and increases its glycemic index. The rapid increase of sugars in the bloodstream then set off a chain of events that can lead to increased weight gain. The pancreas has to work harder than normal to deal with the quick influx of sugars and responds with a spike in insulin levels to reduce the sugar levels in the blood. Natural foods don’t create insulin spikes and the human body isn’t designed to handle such spikes, which can prevent existing fat stores from being used as energy and promote fat storage. This chain of events has been implicated as one of the major factors for obesity, diabetes and the slew of metabolic related chronic diseases that we face today. That being said, avoiding bread and wheat products made from any refined flour is an important part of staying healthy and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Can Bread Make You Gain Weight? The Role Of Whole Grains
Are there any kinds of bread that we can eat today without having to worry about gaining weight and negatively impacting your health? The answer is yes and no. Whole grains breads are defined as those where the flour still contains the wheat germ and bran. They thus are higher in protein, healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants. An study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people eating whole grains tended to have lower fasting insulin levels as compared to those eating refined grains, and it suggested that whole grain consumption may be an important component in reducing type 2 diabetes. Other studies have also found that regular consumption of whole grains lowers LDL and triglyceride levels and can reduce the risk of heart disease by 26%.  Other studies found that the more whole grains were eaten, the lesser the likelihood of hypertension, diabetes and obesity when compared to those who ate refined grains.
The protective effects of whole grains may depend on the presence or interaction of several biologically active constituents, including dietary fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, and other nutrients and non-nutrients. Dietary fiber absent or reduced in refined breads has been shown to decrease glucose, insulin, and serum lipid concentrations in both diabetic and non diabetic persons.[8,9] Magnesium, found in the grain germ, is also associated with low insulin levels [10,11] and a low incidence of type 2 diabetes [12,13,14] and vitamin E and folate are both linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. [15, 16] Here in the United States relatively few consume whole grain breads- but the popularity of whole grain products is on the rise. Shrewd food manufacturers regularly use confusing labels that make it difficult to discern whether a bread is really made a whole grains product. The common practice is to use some whole grain flour and mix it in with the cheaper refined flour in just enough proportions that they are able to label it as being whole grain- but it really isn’t.
At the end of the day even the few whole grain breads using only whole grain flour today are still a far cry from the food that our ancestors ate. Bread is a simple mix of flour, water and yeast, contrast that with the 15 ingredients of one brand of stone ground whole wheat, which include high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, mono-diglycerides, mono-calcium phosphate, calcium propionate, ethoxylated mono-diglycerides and soy lecithin. Nothing even remotely resembling the healthy breads of our forefathers and if history is to teach us one thing, it should be that modernized food products come with health consequences. Nowadays the healthy properties of one ingredient is in a product is held up as a justification to classify a food as being healthy, but I doubt that anyone would consider a bread with high fructose corn syrup and several unpronounceable chemicals healthy or natural even if it was made with stone ground flour.
When it comes to bread, the less ingredients the better. Some brands are better than others, but bear in mind that real bread has a limited shelf life, is far more expensive and won’t have the taste you may be used to. In a way it’s ironic that the very bread that the poorer people ate has become the most expensive, and is in fact the healthiest. Stone ground and whole grain or not, you still need to bear in mind that bread is a high calorie food. In years past people subsisted on bread with very simple additions to their diet, and not the abundance of foods that we eat today. That being said, they didn’t have to worry about portion control as it was quite often all that they had to eat. We have far more options today and a slice of bread can add a considerable number of calories to your intake. Especially if you make a sandwich with two slices and something in between them. At the end of the day, if watching your weight is a priority, you might be better off eating bread in limited quantities relative to your activity level and caloric needs or not at all.
Personal trainer NYC Kevin Richardson is an award winning health and fitness writer, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense™ High Intensity Training and one of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City . Visit Kevin’s official website at www.naturallyintense.net. If you live in the New York metropolitan area and need help losing weight or taking your body to the next level give Kevin and his team a call at 1-800-798-8420.
1. Prehistoric man ate flatbread 30,000 years ago: study”. Physorg.com. AFP. October 19, 2010.
2. Guns Germs & Steel, J. Diamond
3. In Defense Of Food, M. Pollan
4. Whole Grain Foods and Heart Disease Risk, J.W. Anderson, T.J. Hanna, X. Peng, R. Kryscio, Metabolic Research Group, Nutritional Sciences, Division of Biostatistics, VA Medical Center and University of Kentucky. American College of Nutrition Journal 2002.
5. Whole-grain intake is favorably associated with metabolic risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the Framingham Offspring Study. N. M McKeown, J.B. Meigs, S. Liu, P. WF Wilson, P.F. Jacques. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition August 2002
6 Plausible mechanisms for the protectiveness of whole grains. Slavin JL, Martini MC, Jacobs DR Jr, Marquart L. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999
7. Impact of nondigestible carbohydrates on serum lipoproteins and risk for cardiovascular disease. Anderson JW, Hanna TJ. Journal of Nutrition 1999
8. Beneficial effects of high dietary fiber intake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Chandalia M, Garg A, Lutjohann D, von Bergmann K, Grundy SM, Brinkley LJ.New England Journal of Medicine 2000
9. Correlates of fasting insulin levels in young adults: the CARDIA study. Manolio TA, Savage PJ, Burke GL, et al. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 1991
10. Associations of serum and dietary magnesium with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, insulin, and carotid arterial wall thickness: the ARIC study. Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Ma J, Folsom AR, Melnick SL, et al. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 1995
11. Carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and incident type 2 diabetes in older women. Meyer KA, Kushi LH, Jacobs DR Jr, Slavin J, Sellers TA, Folsom AR. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000
12. Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of NIDDM in men. Salmeron J, Ascherio A, Rimm EB, et al. Diabetes Care 1997.
13. Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women. Salmeron J, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA,Wing AL,Willett WC. Journal of the American Medical Association 1997.
14. Folate and vitamin B6 from diet and supplements in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among women. Rimm EB,Willett WC, Hu FB, et al . Journal of the American Medical Association 1998
15. Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of coronary heart disease among women. Wolk A, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association 1999, 1998–2004.
16. Vitamin E consumption and the risk of coronary disease in women. Stampfer MJ, Hennekens CH, Manson JE, Colditz GA, Rosner B, Willett WC. New England Journal of Medicine 1993.