I Ate Bread Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened
It's been called "our daily bread"...but is it really healthy to eat bread every single day? A nutrition expert (and our writer, a fitness enthusiast with an autoimmune condition) let the truth rise to unveil better-for-you breads.
My life thus far has been defined by two equally true and devastatingly contradictory facts:
1. I love bread.
2. Bread hates me.
And just like the popular girl in eighth grade, bread hates me for no reason at all. (However, unlike Ashleigh, bread won’t suddenly move to North Carolina…which means I still have to stress about it every day.)
My complicated relationship with bread and my health
I grew up eating white bread as a daily staple. I didn’t love it or hate it—it was just what was in my lunch every day. Then in college, it so happened that I became roommates with a young woman who was training to become a baker. She needed a taste-tester for the many bread recipes she made, and I was the roomie with the gloriously good fortune to sample.
The kid who’d grown up on Wonder Bread had officially discovered the wonder of bread. But as I got older, I started to notice that I didn’t feel so great after eating a lot of bread. I don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, which is a main cause for people to avoid eating traditional breads—nor am I particularly carb-sensitive, so I was confused about this connection.
Eventually I was diagnosed with not one, but two, autoimmune disorders: POTS syndrome and a type of inflammatory arthritis. One of the most common tips doctors give to sufferers of these types of chronic illnesses? Avoid foods that cause inflammation. Unfortunately, gluten—a protein found in bread—is at the top of the inflammatory ingredients list. (So is sugar: Another common bread ingredient!)
So these days, I tend to skip the bread basket as a general rule. Yet when my editors asked me to eat bread every day for a week, I jumped at the chance. It’s for science, you see.
“Bread often gets a bad rap for all sorts of reasons like it being full of ’empty’ calories, being fattening, and more,” says Desiree Nielsen, RD, a registered dietitian, host of The Allsorts Podcast, and author of Good For Your Gut and Eat More Plants. “These are mostly myths, and bread can be a healthy part of your daily meals as long as you are choosing the right kinds of bread.”
Eating bread every day made me tired and gave me brain fog
The first thing I did was make my homemade buttermilk bread. It’s easy, delicious, and my kids love it so much that both giant loaves will be devoured in a day, so I’m not tempted to eat the whole thing. Not going to lie: It was even better than I remembered! That bread, warm out of the oven with a lil’ honey butter, is heaven.
Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning with aching joints, brain fog, exhaustion, and a headache…like I knew I would.
“Sure, if you select a nutrient-lacking white bread, you can feel foggy, lethargic and hungry again a short time later,” dietitian Nielsen says.
Instead of being bummed out, I decided this Week of Bread was a great opportunity to try some different types of bread, with the hope of finding one that is delicious, bread-y (you know just what I mean), and won’t trigger my hyperactive immune cells.
Eating bread every day taught me about different types of wheat
My first stop was at the European bakery in downtown Denver, where I live. For some reason, eating bread in Europe never seems to bother me like American bread does. I’m not the only Yankee who has noticed that connection, and the reason is likely due to the different type of wheat used in many European recipes. Explains Mark Sisson, a primal nutrition expert and author: “The majority of American wheat grown is hard red wheat, which is high in protein and thus gluten, while the majority of wheat grown in Europe is soft wheat, which is lower in gluten.” Makes so much sense.
I bought a loaf of dark brown German bread and a French baguette, along with a wheel of Brie and a bag of red grapes. I don’t know how you say “very happy” in French or German, but that’s how I felt for the next two days. Have you tried a French baguette toasted with just a smear of fig jelly, melty brie, and some fresh mint? It’s like a vacation in a meal.
My joints, however, did not agree. Apparently even the lesser-gluten option was still enough to make them grouchy. I needed to be able to bend my knees—so I couldn’t finish the bread. It wasn’t quite as bad as the white bread, but still not fun. (Or perhaps my joints were still reacting to the buttermilk bread. This wasn’t the most rigorous of studies.)
Eating bread every day led me to discover gluten-free breads and traditional breads
For the remaining four days, I decided to prioritize the ability to bend over and commit to gluten-free breads. Here’s what I ate:
Udi’s Gluten-Free Hearty Sprouted Grains bread, topped with mashed avocado, a fried egg, and chili flakes
Arepas, a Venezuelan cornmeal bread, stuffed with spicy black beans and veggies
Pappadum, an Indian flatbread made from lentils, topped with vegetable curry
Pão de Queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread made from tapioca flour, eaten with ceviche
I purposely chose just one “gluten-free bread” from the bread aisle, as I wanted to give one a fair try.
Eating bread every day made me try new things
Normally I just avoid bread, as I can’t be bothered to figure out what’s going to make me inflamed. However for my week of eating bread, I really enjoyed this opportunity to try some new approaches.
The traditional breads I ate are all originally made without gluten, so the recipes aren’t “adapted”—they’re just breads from different cultures. Even better, I was able to find all of them at my local grocery store. (The arepas and Pão de Queijo were in the freezer section, while the pappadum was in the cracker aisle.)
I thoroughly enjoyed all of these, although the arepas were probably my favorite—they’re so versatile, you can fill them with pretty much anything.
The three days that I ate gluten-containing breads were…unpleasant. I felt sore, tired, and had terrible joint pain. It was hard to sleep. I don’t know why my body reacts so severely to gluten…it just does.
Eating nutrient-dense bread helped my gut
However, Nielsen points out that swapping out white bread for bread with sprouted grains counteracts that inflammatory effect and can help improve gut health. She explains that when grains begin to sprout, vital enzymes are released, breaking down starch stores and digestive inhibitors. This is why sprouted grains have lower glycemic index levels, as well as increased soluble fiber and protein.
“Sprouted grains give you an anti-inflammatory boost, with 300% to 500% more antioxidant activity compared to regular bread,” Nielsen says. “And nutrient-dense breads, like those made with sprouts, whole grains, and beans, have other anti-inflammatory nutrients such as vitamin C and manganese, which can help regulate the immune system.”
Eating bread every day really upped my fiber intake
As someone who eats a lot of plant foods, I already eat a lot of fiber but adding in breads made with sprouted grains and lentils gave me an extra boost of the good stuff. “Fiber aids digestion while keeping you full and satisfied,” Nielsen says.
Eating bread every day made me really bloated
Gluten-free or not, all bread tends to make me retain water and feel uncomfortably bloated by the end of the day. Whether it’s the gluten, the extra fiber, the sugar, or just the universe working against me, all the breads made me kinda gassy and retain water. By bedtime, I felt like I looked four months pregnant, and taking a probiotic and digestive enzymes didn’t really fix the problem either. I didn’t love this effect, but I knew what had done it.
Overall, my week of eating break was a huge success. While I did end up in some discomfort from high gluten intake at first, this journalistic experiment inspired me to discover some better-for-me bread options.
Read more from Charlotte Hilton Andersen:
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- I’m a Doctor: Here’s Why I’ve Prescribed Ozempic to the ‘Healthy Overweight’
- What Is ‘Stress Poop’? Gastro Doctors Reveals the Science Behind This Extremely Normal Experience
- This Nightly Habit Could Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease, Says New Study
- Teachers in All 50 States Just Revealed How They Recover from Burnout