The Good of Grains and Hope for Bread's Redemption

Ever since the dawn of the low-carb craze, bread has been on the outs. Diners ask for the breadbasket to be removed from their tables at restaurants, sandwiches are shunned, and toast is … well, toast. But new research may help prove that bread has been unfairly demonized, and that the loaf languishing in your kitchen is not the enemy you once thought.

Yanni Papanikolaou, vice president of Nutritional Strategies, Inc., was part of a team that used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to investigate the role of bread — and other grain foods — on body weight and nutrient intake. Some of what the team discovered was surprising, even to the researchers themselves.

“Those in the grain group had a higher daily caloric intake than those in the group that did not eat grains,” says Papanikolaou. “But they did not have any increase in body weight.” The grain eaters also had higher intakes of fiber and folate. And wWhile Papanikolaou cautioned that this research is observational (meaning it doesn’t establish cause and effect), he also pointed out that other research has shown a correlation between higher fiber intake and better weight management.

But remember when reaching for the breadbasket that not all loaves are created equal. Ideally, opt for 100 percent whole grain whenever possible. “Be wary of claims on the label like ‘whole grain’ or ‘7 grain,’” warns Alissa Rumsey, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They may mean nothing, and your loaf may actually be made mainly from refined grains.

“Your best bet is to ignore the front-of-the-package claims, turn the bread over and read the ingredients and nutrition facts instead,” she suggests. The first ingredient on the list should be whole-wheat flour, and each slice should provide at least 3 grams of fiber. “While traditional homemade bread doesn’t contain sugar, many packaged varieties do add some,” says Rumsey. Again, search the ingredient list for sugar or one of its many guises — corn syrup, can juice, brown rice syrup, or any word ending in “-ose,” like dextrose or sucrose.

“I think bread is judged unfairly by the company it keeps,” says Papanikolaou, referring to the high-fat spreads and meats that often accompany slices. “But bread can be nutrient-dense — providing a rich source of shortfall nutrients such as fiber, folic acid and iron.”

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

Next Up

Fresh Mozzarella: The Good Stuff

Is fresh mozzarella worth the splurge? Consider that it's nutritionally comparable to low-fat mozzarella, but has a much better flavor. Try it in Robin Miller's grilled fruit salad.

One Chef's High Hopes for Redemption on Beat Bobby Flay

Find out what happened when Bobby and his chef competitor faced off in a lobster battle on Beat Bobby Flay.

Protein-Enhanced Foods: The Good, Bad and Ugly

It seems like everywhere I turn, new and “improved” high protein versions of seemingly healthy foods are being advertised. Are these really a good-for-you choice?

Taste Test: Whole-Grain Bread

We have taste-tested five popular whole-grain breads from the supermarket and rated them according to what are the tastiest and healthiest.

Ina’s Favorite Flavor of All Time: The Good Vanilla

And why you really don’t want to know what the imitation stuff is made of.

Katie's Healthy Bites: Spelt's Whole-Grain Goodness

Lately I've been feeling bored with traditional grains, so I've added spelt into my regular repertoire. If you haven't tried this nutritious, nutty and oh-so-satisfying grain, try it today! Here are some tips on buying, storing and, of course, cooking spelt.

Food Porn: The Good, the Bad and the All Too Pretty

Those gorgeous photos of perfectly presented dishes we can’t get enough of may prompt us to eat more, researchers say. But don’t worry; there’s good news, too.