The Scientific Case for Eating Bread
The widespread vilification of bread isn’t supported by strong research
Every week, the Nuance will go beyond the basics, offering a deep and researched look at the latest science and expert insights on a buzzed-about health topic.
Bread has long been a foundational part of the human diet, but a revolt against it has been building for years — and seems to be reaching a crescendo. Today, many regard bread as a dietary archvillain — the cause of bigger waistlines and the possible origin of more insidious health concerns. Popular books and health gurus claim that bread and the proteins it harbors can cause or contribute to foggy thinking, fatigue, depression, and diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer.
But go digging through the published, peer-reviewed evidence on bread and human health, and most of what you’ll find suggests that bread is either benign or, in the case of whole-grain types, quite beneficial.
“We have conducted several meta-analyses on whole-grain consumption and health outcomes like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality,” says Dagfinn Aune, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. “When looking at specific sources of grains, whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wheat bran were all associated with reduced risks.”
“Bread isn’t the baddie it’s made out to be.”
Asked if bread should be considered a “junk” food, Aune says the opposite is true. “Whole-grain breads are healthy, and a high intake of whole grains is associated with a large range of health benefits,” he says, citing links to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. In fact, his research has found that eating the equivalent of 7.5 slices of whole-grain bread per day is linked with “optimal” health outcomes.
While Aune doesn’t see “much benefit” in eating white bread, he says the evidence tying it to increased weight gain or other negative health outcomes is much less robust than the data on whole-grain bread’s positive effects.