Bad Fiber: Why Bread Isn’t Best

There are smarter ways to get your fiber.

Is there any food in the world more celebrated than bread? It’s been a daily staple in the human diet for thousands of years, and it’s been drilled into our heads that a meal isn’t complete without it. The words “fiber” and “wheat bran” are practically interchangeable. You know you need fiber for good health, so bring on the bread, right? The fact is, the mass of gluten you’ve got clutched in hand is not the best source of fiber at all. In fact, it’s a bad source. Here are some reasons why, along with some healthier high-fiber alternatives.

In America, we wear our love of wheat in mid-western farm fields and on our supermarket shelves. But most of the wheat grown here is only of two or three varieties that have been crossbred and hybridized over decades to become high-yield plants. This lack of diversity – known as monoculture – means that wheat requires more chemical treatment in the form of fertilizers and pesticides.

White bread products are among the junkiest foods you can put in your body, full of empty calories and practically bereft of nutrition. Worse, the chemicals used to whiten flour so that bread will look fluffy and appealing can include carcinogens like benzoyl peroxide and chlorine dioxide. Even wheat bread usually contains bromide, a dough conditioner that disrupts the endocrine system and actually slows down metabolism. The UK banned bromide in bread in 1990, and Canada did the same in 1994, but it’s still present in nearly all flour and bread products sold in the United States.

For many people, bread is difficult to digest, and for those with gluten sensitivities, it’s literally poison, causing a severe immune response. Even if you aren’t gluten intolerant, bread can have negative impacts on your health. Bread is a high-glycemic food, meaning it causes your blood sugar to spike. According to Dr. William Davis, a preventive cardiologist in Milwaukee, two slices of wheat bread increase blood sugar more than a candy bar. This results in a sugar crash, leaving you feeling shaky, foggy and hungrier than ever two hours later.

Ultimately, the most important point is that bread doesn’t have nearly as much fiber as you think it does. Refined white bread might have a single gram per serving, while even the most robust whole-grain varieties usually don’t top 4 grams. Per calorie, bread is one of the most inefficient ways to get your fiber. Does that mean bread is totally bad for you and you shouldn’t eat it? Not necessarily, but you definitely shouldn’t rely on it for your fiber needs, especially because there are so many other foods that kick bread’s ass in the fiber arena.

The World’s Healthiest Foods’ website notes that for pure fiber-packing power, nothing beats beans. Navy beans are the best, with 76.4% out of 255 calories coming from fiber. Dried peas, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans and soybeans have similar nutritional value. Barley rates as high as many of these beans, which isn’t surprising given that it’s a grain. But did you know that cinnamon, turnip greens, eggplant, collard greens and raspberries are among the healthiest high-fiber foods? Other surprising sources of fiber include figs, raisins, avocado, papaya, broccoli, green peas, pears and sweet potatoes. And of course, whole grains that haven’t been processed to death are still a smart choice.

As with anything, eat bread in moderation. A diet rich with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as minimally processed whole grains, is the key to making sure you’re getting the real fiber you need.

Photo: goblinbox

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.