Stop worrying about bread — the toppings you put on are more likely to influence your weight
- Carb-heavy staples such as bread are often the first thing to be cut out in popular weight loss diets.
- But bread, whether whole-grain or otherwise, is not particularly high-calorie and can have a place in healthy diets, according to nutritionists.
- If weight loss is your goal, you may be better off keeping track of what you put on the bread, experts said.
- Whether it's toast or sandwiches, bread toppings can quickly add up to 2-4 times the number of calories as the bread itself.
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Good news, carb-lovers - you may not have to cut back on bread even if you're trying to lose weight, according to experts.
"People have demonised carbs as one of the main things behind gaining weight when that's not proven by evidence," nutrition coach and author Graeme Tomlinson told Insider. "It's 'calories in' versus 'calories out' [that] are going to determine whether you gain or lose weight."
Tomlinson, also known as "The Fitness Chef," recently posted on Instagram to illustrate how a humble slice of bread is often blamed for weight gain, when it is, in fact, what's on the bread that can tip dieters into a calorie surplus.
That's because, no matter how much you enjoy bread, it's rare to just snack on a slice alone. Typically, bread is eaten with toppings, Tomlinson said, such as toast with butter, peanut butter and/or jam, or as a sandwich.
Those toppings, particularly when they're calorie-dense foods like cheese or nut butter, can end up being double or quadruple the calories of the bread itself, he explained.
We spend so much time demonising carbs that we ignore the extras
This is true not only of bread, but other carb-heavy staples like potatoes, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table, and @bonnietaubdix on Instagram.
"It's not about the carbs, it's about the company they keep," Taub-Dix told Insider. Condiments and spread can quickly and surreptitiously raise the total calorie of your meal or snack and make it harder to keep track, she said.
However, cutting out the carbs themselves could actually backfire, Taub-Dix added, since there's some evidence that carbs, especially high fibre versions like whole grains, are linked to feeling fuller and more satisfied after eating. Carbs could even boost mood, according to some research.
"It's not just about what bread is providing nutritionally speaking but emotionally speaking," Taub-Dix said.
As such, carbs can potentially be a useful tool for weight loss if they can help stave off snacking later in the day, she added.
Taub-Dix recommends trying to include some of each macronutrient - carbs, fat, and protein - when you sit down to eat so your meal or snack is nutritionally balanced but also enjoyable.
"That combination is satisfying for your body but also for your mouth and your mind," she said.
If you're looking to lose weight, aim for sustainable changes, not cutting out whole food groups
Cutting out bread, or carbs, entirely can also backfire if it makes you crave those foods intensely, leading to overindulgence later.
"If you're cutting things out, those are the foods that come back with a vengeance when you're off the diet and you'll gain back any weight you lost," Taub-Dix said.
If weight-loss is a goal for you, Tomlinson advises focusing on the total meal, including any toppings on your bread. This means using a kitchen scale or other tools to measure out serving sizes and see exactly what it looks like compared to how much you typically use.
"It can be a bit of an eye opener to see how many calories you were eating vs how many you want to meet your target," Tomlinson said. "You can eat a lot of the foods you enjoy, you just have to understand portion sizes so you can eat those things and still meet your goals."
You don't have to constantly measure out everything you eat, though - just try it a few times so you can get better at estimating a portion size, and how it fits into your own nutritional goals, he suggests.
With that in mind, including some bread in your diet can actually help with weight loss goals, Tomlinson said, since a diet of foods you enjoy is more likely to be a diet you can stick to.
"If you enjoy a type of food, you should include it. People will end up depriving themselves can end up over-consuming enjoyed food," Tomlinson said. "If you can take the diet you have and make the smallest change with the biggest impact, that's sustainable. It's about a lot of small little tweaks."
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