Ah, bread. If there's one food many of us have a love/hate relationship with, it's this one. But you may be wondering: How much bread per day is healthy?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bread falls into the grain group. This group includes all foods based on wheat, barley, oats or any other cereal grain. Other foods in the grain group include pasta, oatmeal and rice.
Yes, bread contains plenty of carbohydrates, but that doesn't make it evil. Here's why judiciously including bread in your diet can be a good idea.
Is It Bad to Eat Bread Every Day?
In short: Nope.
Bread (and the other grain products) provide us with fuel to use for energy. They also contain B-group vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. The B vitamins help regulate metabolism and the nervous system. Minerals, such as iron and magnesium, improve the immune system and maintain oxygen levels in the blood. Dietary fiber is essential to bowel health. Include a wide variety of bread products and other grains in your diet to maximize the nutritional benefits of these foods.
The caveat is choosing the right bread. "Bread is wonderful!" Monica Auslander Moreno, RD, LDN, founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Unfortunately, we have completely adulterated it. Bread actually isn't supposed to be shelf-stable for very long. Real, freshly baked bread goes rock hard within a day or two at room temperature."
Bagged supermarket bread often has added sugars, preservatives, dough conditioners and chemicals that bread bought at a small, local bakery or made at home does not, she adds.
So, How Many Slices of Bread Should You Eat in a Day?
The USDA makes daily serving recommendations of grain foods in general, rather than specifically bread. (It's worth noting that you don't need any bread to stay healthy; any grains can help you meet your nutrient needs.)
For all grains, 1 ounce is the serving size. One slice of bread is considered a single serving, but, obviously, not all bread slices are exactly 1 ounce.
If you're slicing your own loaf of bread, you may want to weigh each slice on a food scale. If you're eating packaged bread, read the labels carefully, not only for serving size information, but for nutritional differences between brands and types of bread. For example, some brands of bread contain 12 grams of carbohydrates per slice, while others contain 18 grams. Likewise, one variety of bread may contain more fiber or less added sugar than another.
The number of 1-ounce servings of grains you need per day depends on your age, sex and level of physical activity. In general, the USDA recommends that moderately active women aged 19 to 50 consume six servings per day, and women older than 50 consume five servings. Moderately active men aged 19 to 30 need eight servings, while men aged 31 to 50 require seven and men older than 50 should get six. Children require fewer servings than adults, while those who regularly participate in strenuous activities need more.
If you want to nail down exactly how many grain servings are right for you, consider working with a registered dietitian.
How much bread you need per day depends on your age, sex and level of physical activity. Work with a registered dietitian or download a food tracker like LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app to help you calculate your daily needs.
Look to Whole Grains for a Nutrient Boost
Whole grains, which contain all parts of the grain kernel, have the most nutrients and carry the most health benefits of all grain products. Whole-grain products include whole-wheat bread and brown rice. The USDA recommends that whole grains make up at least half of all the grains you eat.
Refined products, on the other hand, are milled to remove the bran and germ (which have all the vitamins and fiber) in order to give them a finer texture and greater shelf stability. Refined grains include white bread and white rice.
Enriched grains may sound much healthier than refined, but the difference is merely that some (not all) of the nutrients stripped away are added back in, according to the Whole Grains Council.
Bread baked with whole grains — such as whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, spelt and oats — has an increased fiber and vitamin content, notes Moreno. "Sourdough bread is often easier to digest for some, since its deep fermentation almost pre-digests some of the gluten," she adds.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
So while it's true you can eat a perfectly healthy diet without any bread at all, it's certainly not necessary to shun it if you don't want to. The key is making your daily selections carefully.
"Any kind of bread, as with any food, is not to be eaten with reckless abandon," says Moreno. "It has a place at some meals and snacks, but should be a vehicle for something else nutritious, like vegetables, proteins or fats."
It can pay to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to create an optimal nutrition plan, including the ideal amount of bread for you, especially if you have any medical conditions or other special considerations that may be affected by your diet.