How to Find Healthy, Lower-Carb Bread

Which Breads are Less Glycemic?

Whole Wheat Bread
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If you want to cut back on carbs but don't want to eliminate bread, how do you choose lower-carb bread? On a truly low-carb diet for your health, regular bread has to be very restricted. You must switch to special low-carb breads, or make your own, such as flax meal bread.

Why Does Bread Cause a Rise in Blood Sugar?

Grains like refined wheat flour are mostly starch, and starch is made up of long strings of glucose.

The enzymes in your saliva start breaking down starch molecules into sugars as you chew. By the time they reach the stomach, most starches have been converted to sugar. But there are exceptions, and these are things to pay attention to when buying bread.

What to Look for When Buying Bread

  • Less "Usable" Carbohydrate: Check the nutrition label. To find usable carbohydrate, subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate. This is the most important step when figuring out a food's effect on blood glucose (how glycemic it is). If you are counting carbs, you must read the label and see how much carbohydrate you are eating. But even if you don't care to do carb counting, do take a look at a few loaves of bread to get familiar with how much carbohydrate they contain.
  • Thin Bread: Obviously, smaller or thinner bread slices usually have less carbohydrate, because they have less of everything. However, watch out for very dense thin bread (often imported) as this can be similar to regular bread in the amount of starch.
  • Lots of Fiber: Some breads substitute fiber for some of the starch in the bread, reducing calories as well as carbohydrate. However, more fiber doesn't necessarily mean a smaller impact on blood sugar, if that fiber is simply added to the other ingredients, rather than being a substitute for the starch. Again, subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate to figure this out.
  • Rough, Grainy Texture: The more finely ground a kernel of wheat or other grain is, the more quickly the starch will break down into sugar. There has been an effort by some bread manufacturers to make 100 percent whole grain bread that is softer, with a texture that is more like white bread. The problem is that this bread is generally every bit as glycemic as white bread. On the other hand, bread with is more roughly-textured will, generally, be less glycemic. The best bread for this purpose has visible pieces of grains, as some cracked wheat bread does.
  • Sprouted Grain Bread: There has not been much research on this, but some preliminary evidence shows that sprouted grain bread does not cause as high or fast of a blood sugar rise as regular bread. However, sprouted grains are not entirely fiber, as some bread labels claim, so read labels carefully if they are claiming large amounts of fiber and very low "net carbs."
  • High Protein Breads: Some breads use a lot of wheat gluten instead of the whole grain. Since gluten is the protein part of the wheat, these breads can be good bets unless you are sensitive to gluten.
  • Sourdough Bread: Sourdough bread has been shown in one study to produce a less glycemic response than regular bread.

    What About Light Breads?

    "Light" bread may not make you lighter. Light breads have fewer calories than their regular counterparts, but this can be achieved by simply adding more air and making the slices smaller. On the other hand, some "light breads" are lower in carbs than regular. For example:

    • One slice of Oroweat 100 percent whole wheat bread weighs 38 grams and contains 17 grams of carbohydrate, 3 of which is fiber, and 100 calories.
    • One slice of Orowheat Light 100 percent whole wheat bread weighs 23 grams and contains 9 grams of total carbohydrate, 3.5 of which is fiber, and 40 calories.
    • In this case, most of the calorie savings are simply from making the slices smaller, but there has apparently been some substitution of starch for fiber.

      Low-Carb Tortillas Can Be a Great Substitution

      Perhaps the best commercial bread substitute is a low-carb tortilla. They are reasonably priced, and many grocery stores carry them. Make a wrap, use it as a hot dog bun, or as the basis for a pizza. If your local store doesn't carry them, they can be found online, such as:

      Bread to Avoid

      • Bagels and Rolls: Bagels and rolls are often deceptive, in that they can contain two, three, or even four normal servings of bread. They also are far less likely to be 100 percent whole grain. However, there are also "thin bagels" in some markets. If not, do the scoop. Use a spoon or even your fingers to remove some of the soft center of a sliced bagel and hollow it out before you place schmear or use it for a sandwich.
      • Soft Bread: Soft bread is usually made from white and/or very finely ground flour which turns to sugar in your body quite quickly.
      • Sweet Breads: Any bread with added sugar is to be avoided, but most bread on the market is made with at least some sugar. A good rule is to avoid breads where one of the first five ingredients is sugar, honey, molasses, fructose, etc.
      • Alternative Grain Breads: Since wheat actually has more protein than most other grains, alternative grain breads such as gluten-free breads are usually even higher in carbohydrate than breads made with wheat.

      Sources:

      Najjar, AM, Parsons, PM, et al. "The acute impact of ingestion of breads of varying composition on blood glucose, insulin and incretins following first and second meals." Human and Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 101, No. 3 391-398 (2009).

      Najjar, AM. "The Impact of Breads of Varying Composition on Biomarkers of Glucose Metabolism in Overweight and Obese Adults." University of Guelph, December 2009

      USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21.

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