Is there a more perfect supporting actor in the culinary world than bread? I think you’d be hard-pressed to name a better dining accoutrement. It’s the backstop for the perfect BLT. It’s the bed for your pepperoni-and-sausage pizza. It sops. It mops. It’s good with butter, it’s good with jam. It’s even good all by its lonesome.
But is it good… for you?
Bread is, essentially, a big ol’ loaf of carbohydrates, which your body does need to produce energy, but which make you put on weight if you have too many of them, as well as messing with your blood-sugar levels and otherwise being bad for your health.
So how much is too much? To answer that question, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “You can eat bread daily, especially if you limit yourself to no more than 2-3 ounces per meal [i.e., around two regular-sized slices],” Hunnes says. “What matters more, though, is the type of bread that is being consumed. White bread does nothing for a healthy body, and so I would not recommend that daily. But a hearty, whole-grain bread, there’s no reason not to enjoy it daily.”
Take care, though! Not all brown, whole-wheat looking bread is created equal. Hunnes explains that, when picking out bread, the key word to look for on the packaging (or when buying from a baker, asking at the counter about) is the word “whole.” “As long as the ingredients in bread are from ‘whole’ grains (meaning they still have the hull and the fiber and have not been as processed), then they are healthier and better for you because they still have the fiber and some of the other nutrients inherent in the grains themselves.”
Still, as much as you want to consider what kind of healthy ingredients you’ll want in your bread, there’s a whole list of unhealthy ingredients you’ll want to steer clear of, Hunnes warns. “I would try to avoid or limit your intake of breads that are made with enriched wheat flour (that means white flour), are made with high-fructose corn syrup or are full of hidden sugars . In fact, I would strongly advocate for looking for breads with as few ingredients as possible in them: Whole-wheat flour, water, salt, yeast – that’s all you really need!”
This can be tough to find in your average grocery store (seriously, go look at the ingredients — even the healthiest-seeming loaf will be stuffed full of corn syrup, molasses, honey or other kinds of unnecessary sugars) but looking for a nice sourdough loaf is generally a good place to start.
Now, go out there and earn that bread.