Bread is one of life’s simple pleasures, is it not? But when it comes to losing weight, one of the first things you probably prepare to cut down on is a good old hunk of fluffy bread. But it doesn’t have to be that way—just like all food, bread is meant to be enjoyed.
“We are all on a mission to avoid bread, or so it seems,” says Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as “Dr. Taz,” a weight-loss expert and author of “What Doctors Eat” and “The 21-Day Belly Fix.”
“Loaded with carbohydrates and sometimes refined flours, bread is now the new enemy, replacing the fat fear of the ’80s. But, believe it or not, there are healthy bread options if you play your cards right.” And play we will. Anything for a bite of bread’s crusty, tasty goodness.
Now, here are 20 tips for avoiding weight gain while still eating bread, courtesy of registered dietitians as well as a doctor and a chef.
It’s super simple but is a handy rule of thumb to keep in mind whenever you’re shopping for a loaf: “For every 10 grams of carbs, there should be 1 gram of fiber,” says Rebecca Lewis, MS, RD former head dietitian for HelloFresh.
No matter what, remember this: “If the ingredients at the top of the ingredient list read sugar, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, white or wheat flour, these foods contain mostly simple carbs and should be limited,” says Lewis. “A food is only considered a ‘whole grain’ if the first ingredient on the packaging says, ‘whole grain or whole wheat.’ There are no standardized regulations or definitions for the label ‘multigrain,’ so it’s the one to watch out for.” Scan the ingredient list of multigrain products and use your judgment. Understanding the ingredient list—at least the basics—is a huge step for your ultimate guide to eating clean.
“Wheat has changed over the last 50 years and is no longer the recognizable crop of our forefathers,” explains Dr. Taz. “While the research goes back and forth on the role of pesticides and chemicals in our health, organic wheat has a lower exposure to pesticides, providing a healthier bread option.”
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“Fermented bread, like sourdough, have been allowed to ferment using a starter for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This fermentation process provides lots of healthy bacteria that help to balance the digestive system and manage your metabolism,” says Dr. Taz. “Choose or make fermented bread when eating bread for a health boost.”
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Frozen bread? Yup. “The breads that sit on the shelves at grocery stores have been bleached of their nutrients and pumped with preservatives, sodium, and sugar to prolong shelf life,” cautions Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities.
“Instead, look for sprouted grain bread, which is often in the freezer section. Sprouted grain bread goes through a process where enzymes are released and the protein and carbohydrates are broken down, which makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb nutrients. Sprouted grains still contain gluten, but can be tolerated by some people with mild sensitivity to wheat or gluten.”
Real talk: Bread used to be way healthier. “The mass industrialization and processing of bread and pasta is what has robbed these mainstays of their health benefits and transformed them into a refined and processed load for our bodies,” says Taz. But there’s salvation.
“The bakery makes fresh bread daily and leaves out a ton of the salt and preservatives that are found in a traditional loaf found on the supermarket wall,” says Hayim. “So go ahead and enjoy a delicious hot loaf straight from your local bakery, or even the bakery section of your supermarket. Opt for whole grains when available!”
These are some true allies when it comes to skinny bread chomping. “Opt for these fiber-rich foods in your bread. They contain beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that increases the amount of time it takes for your stomach to empty and prevents quick spikes in blood sugar,” explains Hayim.
Are you a from-scratch, DIY, bread maker? “Swap white flour for coconut flour,” says Lewis. “It has fewer carbs and 11 times as much fiber.”
“Pair your favorite bread with healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, and butter,” says Dr.Taz. Not only will the dipping slow you down as you eat, but it will also add some nice flavor. “The Italian tradition of bread with olive oil is a healthy option since the combination prevents over-consumption of bread.”
“Bake thin slices of bagels, triangles of pita, or tortillas in the oven at 400 for about five minutes,” says Chef Nate Appel of HelloFresh. “Baked chips are much healthier than their fried counterparts. Spice up your chips with cumin, oregano, chili powder, or whatever other spices you prefer to complement your meal.”
“The darker the flour, the more antioxidants your bread may have. Quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth are healthier, gluten-free flour options over rice or potato flour,” shares Dr. Taz. Did we mention amaranth is a superfood? (Don’t worry, a lot of people haven’t heard of it either.)
There are many simple ways to still enjoy a sandwich with less or no bread: “Eat open-faced sandwiches to cut back by one slice, go ‘animal-style’ and replace the whole hamburger bun with lettuce, scoop out the insides of a bagel, or opt for ‘thin-sliced,'” suggests Lewis. Instead of straight open-faced, “…you can also top with a piece of crunchy romaine or other lettuces to keep your hands clean while eating,” recommends Appel.
“Breads that are made with nuts and seeds pack a ton of nutrition,” says Hayim. “Compared to regular bread, they are also more filling and satisfying, and they have a lower glycemic index, which prevents the quick spike and fall in blood sugar levels.”
Not only will these kinds of breads help curb overeating, but nuts like walnuts and seeds like chia, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds add a nice textural element.
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Set up your slice of bread on a hot date. “Beyond healthy fats, pair bread with protein; a little meat or tofu balances the carbohydrates in bread and pasta,” suggests Dr. Taz. “Adding protein will keep you full and eating less.”
Bread doesn’t get a bad rep just because it’s, well, bread. It’s often stuck with not-do-nutritious condiments like mayo or sour cream. So, think creatively about how to lighten up your sandwich.
“Replace mayonnaise in your sandwiches with mustard, hummus, baba ghanoush, yogurt, or a bean spread. Not only does it cut down on calories but they give great variety and flavor to sandwiches and wraps,” suggests Appel.
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“Like a little crunch in your salad? Swap breadcrumbs for sliced almonds. They have fewer carbs and three times as much fiber,” shares Lewis. Want a loaded salad without the pound creepage? Check out these best salad ingredients for weight loss!
“If you’re going to eat bread, enjoy It, and savor it. When the waiter comes with that breadbasket of bread you probably don’t even need but just want to eat, say no,” says Hayim. ” Save it for your entrée, or appetizer, and enjoy bread the way the chef prepared it.”
“Cut a square of bread into quarters diagonally to make mini toast point sandwiches, [but serve them] open-faced,” suggests Appel. “These make great appetizers as well. You can secure all of the toppings with a toothpick, and they are great for passed hors d’oeuvres at parties.”
You can also simply spread on healthy toppings like olive tapenade, roasted eggplant, or tahini mixed with lemon juice and a splash of maple syrup. Pair it with a Mason jar salad and your packed lunches just got a major upgrade!
“Eating a grilled cheese at home is very different than eating it at the diner. At home, we take two pieces of bread, slip in some cheese, and throw it in the oven,” offers Hayim.
“At restaurants and diners, the bread is given way more attention—or should we say, added fat and calories. First, both sides are buttered, then they go into a pan with more butter and possibly leftover oil from the last dish. While a grilled cheese at home can be made low-fat, and less than 250 calories, the ones at restaurants are upwards of 500 calories and loaded with saturated fat.”
Just don’t be that person in line at the bagel store on Sunday morning who asks them to do it and tie up the whole line.
“You can reduce the calories substantially by taking out the bread in the middle. Load it up with smoked salmon, tomato, onion, capers, and a light schmear of cream cheese for a healthier version of the New York staple,” says Appel.
For more, be sure to check out the 10 Best Low-Carb Breads on Grocery Store Shelves.