Health Eating: Bread - to eat, or not to eat?

Many people will be giving up bread for the 8 days of Passover; but should we be exiling this food from our lives for longer?

Potato bread 521 (photo credit: MCT)
Potato bread 521
(photo credit: MCT)
During Passover we give up certain things – the cereal will be thrown out, the cakes, cookies …. and of course all the bread will go. For most of us that will be the one thing that we long for the most over the eight days of Passover - from white to whole wheat, from rye to pita, bread will be a big no no. But with low carb diets and eating regimes growing in popularity, is a no bread diet the way to go?
In honor of Passover, here are four reasons to give up bread longer than the eight days of the holiday, and four reasons to rush to add it back to your daily lives.
Reasons for giving up bread
Increases blood sugar
Did you know that certain white breads have the same effect on your blood sugar levels as a cupcake or a cookie? Yes that’s right, white bread (as well as bagels) cause your blood sugar levels to rise. While whole grain breads are far superior to white bread, bagels and of course French bread, bread no matter what its color will cause your blood sugar to spike. This blood sugar spike is what gives us that instant energy feel; however, what goes up must come down, and when our blood sugar falls we start to crave more food. This roller coaster ride also contributes to many diseases, particularly type II Diabetes.
Causes inflammation
Due to its high starch content, bread, and even many grains in general, are inflammatory foods, and the more refined the grain the more inflammation it causes. However, all bread, whether brown or white, causes some degree of inflammation. So why is this bad for you? Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous diseases including arthritis, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, bone loss, emotional imbalance and even cancer. 
High in calories
While this one may seem a bit odd as a slice of bread typically only contains 80-120 calories; however, rarely do we eat bread alone. On every slice there is usually a pad of melted butter, a few tablespoons of peanut butter or a whopping pile of hummus. Now while some toppings can be healthy, the majority sadly are not – and when we make a sandwich, whether it be open or closed, we tend to pile on the toppings, sending the calorie and fat content through the roof. 
Pure confusion
White bread, whole wheat, whole grain, multigrain, bagels, rye… there are so many different types of bread out there that one of the big disadvantages is understanding which ones to consume, and which ones to avoid.
Most of us know that bagels aren’t the healthiest as they are high in calories and that brown bread is healthier than white, but that’s probably it.
As a general rule of thumb, brown breads are better than white, but this is not always the case. Just because bread looks brown, it's not necessarily whole wheat bread, and therefore does not contain all aspects of the grain. Take for instance whole grain and multi-grain bread. Many of us interchange the two, and most of us consider these two types to be healthy. The term "whole grain" refers to flour that is made from all parts of the wheat grain kernel (the bran, germ and endosperm). The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of the wheat grain and they contain an array of vitamins and minerals. However, during the refinement process, most of these nutrients are removed. Now multi-grain on the hand is a mix of different grains; but unless the bread is made from whole grains, it may not contain all these health beneficial nutrients.
So before you deem a bread to be "healthy," make sure to look at the ingredients listed. The first ingredient on the list should either be whole meal flour, or whole wheat, and not wheat flour or enriched wheat flour. If all the nutritional information is listed, it's also beneficial to check out the amount of fiber (both soluble and insoluble) per slice – when it comes to this health beneficial ingredient, the more fiber you have the better.
Reasons for why bread could be good for you
Loaded with B-Vitamins
Like many other whole grain foods, whole wheat/whole grain bread (i.e not white bread) is rich in B-Vitamins, particularly Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). A water-soluble vitamin, Vitamin B6 is essential to metabolize food as well as form the heme in red blood cells, which is necessary to carry the oxygen around the body. This B-Vitamin has also been linked to helping relieve stress in the body and reducing PMS symptoms.
Many many minerals
Whole wheat bread is a good source of magnesium and phosphorus, two minerals needed to maintain bones and teeth. Magnesium is also needed for proper muscle function, energy production as well as promoting healthy blood pressure. Whole-wheat grains are also rich in selenium, which supports immune function and is necessary for proper thyroid hormone activity.
Top source of fiber
Once again, this only applies to whole grain breads that contain all three parts of the grain, i.e they are not refined. Now if you can get your hands on this type of bread, you will be loading your body up on fiber. Consuming a diet rich in fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, encourage proper bowel function thus reducing constipation, and increasing the feeling of fullness to help with weight management and even loss.
While this may not be a health benefit per se, bread is certainly a convenient food. It doesn't spoil easily, it transports well, and you can mix and match it with almost anything. As a result, it's very easy to use it to build a healthy meal, depending on what ingredients and which type of bread you use as the base. 
It’s up to you to be the judge whether or not you want to allow bread back into your life after Passover comes to an end. Despite its many pitfalls, the majority of us will most likely never give up this food entirely, and we don’t really need to. The key when it comes to bread is moderation. The right amount will supply you with healthy benefits, while too much can contribute to health complications.