Bread is a staple food in many countries and has been eaten worldwide for millennia.
Typically prepared from a dough made of flour and water, bread is available in many varieties, including sourdough, sweet bread, soda bread and more.
Despite its widespread popularity, bread is often characterized as unhealthy, harmful and fattening.
This article examines the health impact of bread, telling you whether it’s good or bad for you.
Compared to other foods like fruits and vegetables, bread is relatively low in essential nutrients.
It is rather high in calories and carbs but low in protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
However, the nutrient profile can vary widely across different types of bread.
For example, whole-wheat bread may boast a higher amount of fiber, while sprouted grains are richer in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E (1,
Here is how one slice of several kinds of bread compares in nutritional content (1, 3, 4):
|White bread||Whole-wheat bread||Sourdough bread|
|Serving size||1 slice (25 grams)||1 thin slice (33 grams)||1 small slice (32 grams)|
|Total fat||1 gram||2 grams||0.6 grams|
|Carbs||13 grams||17 grams||18 grams|
|Protein||2 grams||3 grams||4 grams|
|Fiber||0.6 grams||2 grams||1 gram|
|Thiamine||8% of the RDI||7% of the RDI||9% of the RDI|
|Folate||7% of the RDI||5% of the RDI||12% of the RDI|
|Sodium||7% of the RDI||5% of the RDI||9% of the RDI|
|Manganese||6% of the RDI||31% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Selenium||6% of the RDI||18% of the RDI||12% of the RDI|
|Riboflavin||5% of the RDI||4% of the RDI||5% of the RDI|
|Niacin||5% of the RDI||7% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Iron||5% of the RDI||6% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
Bread is high in calories and carbs but low in protein, fat, fiber and many vitamins and minerals. However, the specific nutrient profile depends on the type of bread.
Wheat products like bread contain gluten, a specific type of protein that helps dough rise and gives it an elastic texture.
Though most people digest gluten easily, some cannot tolerate it.
For example, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the lining of your small intestine and impairs nutrient absorption (
Some people may also have a sensitivity to gluten, which can cause issues like bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain (
For these individuals, wheat bread should be avoided altogether to prevent negative side effects.
That said, gluten-free breads — typically made from tapioca, brown rice or potato flours instead of wheat flour — are also available.
Bread contains gluten, which can cause adverse side effects for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Bread is high in carbs — a single slice of white bread packs an average of 13 grams (3).
Your body breaks down carbs into glucose, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels.
Some research suggests that eating foods with a high glycemic index (GI) — a measure of how quickly foods increase blood sugar levels — can lead to increased hunger and a greater risk of overeating (
One study in 571 adults even linked consumption of high-GI foods to increased body weight (
High-carb diets may also be associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that increase heart disease risk (
However, certain varieties such as whole-grain bread are also high in fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream to help stabilize blood sugar levels (
Studies indicate that upping your fiber intake may lower your risk of coronary heart disease, feed your beneficial gut bacteria and increase stool frequency to promote regularity (
Bread’s high carb content can increase blood sugar and hunger while possibly promoting a higher body weight and an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Grains typically harbor antinutrients, compounds that block your body from taking in certain minerals.
In particular, grains are high in phytic acid, a type of molecule that binds to iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium and prevents their absorption (
Although high-fiber, whole-grain bread may have a richer nutrient profile than lower-fiber, refined grains like white bread, it’s also more likely to be higher in antinutrients.
For most people following a well-rounded, healthy diet, antinutrients should be of little concern.
However, for vegans, vegetarians and those who base their diets around grains and legumes, antinutrients can contribute to serious nutritional deficiencies.
Soaking and sprouting grains before baking is an easy and effective way to reduce antinutrient content and enhance nutrient absorption (
Grains contain antinutrients like phytic acid, which can block the absorption of minerals, such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
Bread is generally low in important nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
However, some types are enriched with extra micronutrients to boost their nutritional value and prevent deficiencies.
Some common compounds added to bread include iron, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin.
Though the US does not currently mandate fortifying food products like bread, many manufacturers choose to enrich their products with these key vitamins and minerals (
Other countries, including Canada, have strict rules and regulations that require the addition of certain nutrients to many types of flour (22).
While each serving of enriched bread supplies only a small amount of the micronutrients you require, it can help you meet your needs when paired with an otherwise healthy diet.
Bread is often enriched with important vitamins and minerals, including iron, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin.
Whole-grain consumption is tied to a number of impressive health benefits.
In fact, eating whole grains may lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even colorectal cancer (
Keep in mind that bread is made from grains that have been pulverized to form smaller particles. This process speeds up your digestion and diminishes many of the potential health benefits (
For this reason, the benefits of whole grains like oats, buckwheat and barley may not apply to certain types of bread or other refined grains.
However, whole-wheat bread is higher in fiber, protein and micronutrients like selenium and manganese than white bread, making it a better choice if you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health (1, 3).
Certain types of whole-grain bread may also be made from less-processed grains, which are digested more slowly and may carry more health benefits.
Whole-grain consumption may provide a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and colorectal cancer — though these same benefits may not apply to certain types of bread.
Making smart choices about which types of bread you eat can optimize your diet and sidestep the negative side effects associated with unhealthy bread.
For starters, whole-wheat bread is a better option than white bread because it provides a higher amount of fiber and protein, both of which slow the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream to keep blood sugar steady (
Whole-wheat bread is also richer in several key nutrients, such as manganese and selenium (1, 3).
Selecting bread made from sprouted grains — such as Ezekiel bread — is another great option to maximize the nutritional benefits of your bread.
Sprouting is a process that involves repeatedly soaking and rinsing grains over a period of several days to enhance the digestibility and nutritional value of the final product.
Studies show that sprouted bread contains more fiber, folate, vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene but fewer antinutrients (
Whole-wheat bread is higher in fiber, protein and several nutrients. Sprouted bread is also lower in antinutrients and rich in fiber and folate, vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Bread is high in carbs, low in micronutrients, and its gluten and antinutrient contents may cause issues for some people.
Still, it’s often enriched with extra nutrients, and whole-grain or sprouted varieties may bestow several health benefits.
In moderation, bread can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet.
However, it’s best to pick healthier options like whole-wheat or sprouted bread and pair it with a balanced diet to get the maximum health benefits.