Most people would agree that you can't live on bread alone. Beyond that, however, there are many points of contention about the staple. We debunk a few of the common myths.
White bread is bad for you
Truth: when foods are eaten, the body breaks them down into their components, one of which will be sugar. Different foods break down at different rates. White bread is particularly quick, sending a sudden rush of sugar into the bloodstream. (Such foods are said to have a high glycaemic index.) Great variations in levels of blood sugar are linked to the risk of old-age diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. A 2007 study by Lund University in Sweden showed that eating low glycaemic index breakfasts can improve concentration and working memory (a type of short-term memory).
So, in that sense, white bread is bad for you. But if you've grown up on it, the grains and chewy texture of a wholegrain loaf may be tough to get used to. If you must eat white bread, check the label and ensure it has as few ingredients as possible, says Katherine Dale, a registered naturopathic doctor. Enriched or fortified breads sound nutritious but those additional vitamins or minerals are chemically added during baking. Many white breads also contain vegetable shortening, which Dale says is very difficult for the body to digest. Ingredients that are named using a combination of letters and numbers are another warning sign: they are preservatives, which extend the shelf life of baked goods. Dale's advice: buy fresh bread and freeze it.
Brown is better than white
Truth: much of the brownness we associate with wholesome goodness actually comes from added colouring. 'It's a myth that the darker the bread the better it is for you,' says Christine Jonkers, a nutritionist at Super Natural. Bread manufacturers often use brown sugar or caramel to colour bread brown in an effort to make it look healthier. The most nutritious breads are judged not by colour but by flour.
Locate the words 'wholegrain flour' on a label. 'Wholegrain [bread] has the most fibre, vitamins and minerals,' says Jonkers. Most of the goodness in a grain is found in its shell, which is removed during the refining process that creates white and wheat flour, resulting in less nutritious bread. 'Fibre cleans your intestines, which makes you take in more nutrients and gives you a fuller feeling,' says Jonkers.
Bread crusts are not nutritious
Truth: the crust is, in fact, a rich source of antioxidants and may provide a much stronger health benefit than the rest of the bread, according to a study by German researchers published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002. Using a conventional sourdough mixture containing rye and wheat flour, the researchers found that the process of baking bread produced a novel type of antioxidant, called pronyl-lysine, which was eight times more abundant in the crust than the crumb. The compound was not present in the original flour. In general, dark-coloured breads (such as pumpernickel and wheat) contain higher amounts of this antioxidant than light-coloured breads, say the researchers.
Bread will make me fat
Truth: Dr Atkins and his low-carb, high-protein diet may have propagated this myth. Jonkers says that low-carb diets don't fulfil bodily requirements in the long term. Eating too much protein can produce toxic waste in the body and tax your kidneys, she says.
In a 2006 case report, experts from the New York University school of medicine describe a life-threatening complication of the Atkins diet in a 40-year-old obese woman who was hospitalised for ketoacidosis. The authors state that a low-carb diet can lead to the production of acids (called ketones) in the liver that build up in the blood, leading to the condition.
A low-carb diet has also been linked with constipation and diarrhoea, bad breath, headache and general fatigue.
Strive for balance, says Dale. Bread spread with peanut butter and banana or flax seed oil with scrambled eggs offer a long-lasting hunger fix with a host of nutritional benefits. 'You want to think about balancing out your protein, fat, carbohydrate and omega oils daily,' she says.