There's nothing like biting into a freshly baked piece of warm, fluffy pita bread. The soft bread is comforting and satiating, but many wonder if pita bread is healthy. Like many foods, it depends on the ingredients.
To choose healthy pita bread, look for a whole-wheat or whole-grain version that contains little added sugar. For a complete meal, serve pita bread with falafel and hummus.
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What Is Pita Bread?
Pita bread is a type of flatbread. There are different variations of pita, but it's typically a yeast-leavened bread made from water and flour. Traditional pita bread is made with just water and flour but yeast helps it rise faster. It can be made from white or whole-wheat flour, which changes the nutritional profile of the pita.
Pita is usually baked into thin round flatbreads and may have a hollow pocket that can be stuffed with other ingredients, such as meat or falafel. It's traditionally eaten with hummus, baba ghanoush or tzatziki.
"Pita bread is a common staple in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diets," says registered dietitian Supriya Lal, RD. There are also Greek variations of pita bread.
What Are the Health Benefits of Pita Bread?
Many of the health benefits of pita bread can be attributed to its nutritional profile.
One small pita bread (28g) made with whole-wheat flour has the following nutrients, according to the USDA:
- Calories: 73
- Total fat: 0.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 117.9 mg
- Total carbs: 15.6 g
- Dietary fiber: 1.7 g
- Sugar: 0.8 g
- Protein: 2.7 g
"Many varieties of pita bread are made with whole grains and seeds for added fiber," Lal explains.
Whole grains are a rich source of dietary fiber and are associated with health benefits relating to weight management, digestive issues, diabetes and heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating whole grains is also associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including colorectal, pancreatic and gastric cancers, according to a March 2017 review in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.
What Ingredients Are Used in Pita Bread?
Pita bread is made from just a few simple ingredients. Traditionally, it's made with just flour and water. It's usually made with yeast as well to help it rise. Pita bread made with whole-wheat flour offers more nutrients than pita made with white flour.
"Pita bread is often made with flour, including white and whole wheat," Lal says. "Pre-seasoned varieties, such as those made with Zaatar, garlic and onion, are also available." She recommends purchasing or making whole-wheat pita bread for a dose of whole grains.
Many wonder whether pita is gluten-safe. Because it is made with wheat-based flour, it's not gluten-free. People with celiac or gluten sensitivities should avoid eating pita bread.
Pita bread, like other types of bread, can be very nutritious, but it can also lack the nutrients you want. Bread that is made solely of white flour or enriched white flour doesn't have any fiber, an important nutrient for heart and digestive health. Pita bread that is made from whole-grain or whole-wheat flour has more fiber and may be considered healthier.
The most nutritious type of pita bread is made from whole-wheat flour, making it rich in fiber and protein.
Is Pita Bread Healthier Than Other Types of Bread?
"Pita bread isn't inherently healthier than other types of bread," Lal explains. "But, it has a few advantages. It's thinner than other types of bread, such as bagels, so it's beneficial for those who may be looking for a substitute for other carb-heavy foods. It's also a great source of whole grains when made from whole-wheat flour."
Whole-grain pita bread made with whole-wheat flour contains more fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than white bread made with refined grains, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you're trying to determine the best and worst breads for your diet, it's simple. Bread made from whole-wheat flour is higher in nutrients like fiber and protein. Bread made from refined flour has fewer nutrients and should be eaten in moderation.
How to Pick a Healthy Pita Bread
The best way to pick a healthy pita bread is to look at the ingredients listed on the nutrition label. When listing ingredients, manufacturers put them in order from the greatest quantity to the smallest quantity. In other words, the main ingredients are listed first, and the most minor ones are listed last.
With this in mind, take careful note of what type of wheat is listed first. The first ingredient should be whole-wheat flour or another type of whole-grain flour.
Also, look at the amount of fiber in the bread. Varieties with the highest fiber content will have the most whole grains.
When shopping for pita bread, check the label for sugar, too. To avoid eating too much sugar, which can cause blood sugar spikes, pick a pita bread that has very little. That said, you'll want to avoid bread that's labeled "diet" or "sugar-free," because they often contain artificial sweeteners.
Comparing Calories and Carbs
The calories in pita bread can vary greatly depending on the ingredients and serving size. Because calories vary widely among brands, it can't be said that pita bread has more or fewer calories than standard, sliced bread.
The amount of carbohydrates in pita bread also varies greatly. Instead of focusing on whether your bread is low or high in carbs, focus on whether the carbs are simple or complex. A bread made mostly of white flour will be high in simple carbs, especially if extra sugar is included. On the flip side, a pita bread made of whole grains will be rich in complex carbs.
Naan bread is made with various kinds of flour as well. Like pita bread, naan is a flatbread; but unlike pita bread, it contains eggs and yogurt. If you like the taste of naan bread, choose one made of whole grains.
Pita bread isn't necessarily more or less healthy than a wrap, sliced bread or naan. Choose the form of bread you find appealing, but pick a variety made with whole grains.
How Many Servings of Grains Do You Need?
People assigned female at birth (AFAB) should get 5 to 6 ounce-equivalents of grains per day, and 3 of these should be whole grains, according to the USDA. For people assigned male at birth (AMAB), the recommended amount is 6 to 8 ounce-equivalents, and 2 to 4 should be whole grains.
Examples of a 1-ounce grain equivalent include a slice of bread, a mini bagel, half an English muffin or a half-cup serving of oatmeal.
To get more whole grains in your diet, try to:
- Eat brown rice instead of white rice.
- Choose whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta.
- When making pancakes, waffles or muffins, substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the white flour.
- Add grains like barley to vegetable soup, and include bulgar wheat in casseroles.
- Instead of coating chicken or fish with regular bread crumbs, coat them in rolled oats or a crushed, whole-grain cereal.
How to Eat Pita Bread: Meal Ideas
Pita bread is a delicious and nutritious way to get your whole grains. You can include it as part of a Mediterranean meal plan or pair it with a protein-rich dip for a balanced snack.
Pita bread is commonly used as the base of gryo meat sandwiches. Because it often has a hollow pocket inside, it can be stuffed with other ingredients, such as lamb, chicken, falafel or veggies.
Try eating pita bread as a part of these yummy recipes:
- United States Department of Agriculture: "All About the Grains Group"
- Mayo Clinic: "Make the switch to whole grains"
- MyFoodData: "Whole Wheat Pita"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Journal of Chiropractic Medicine: "Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses"