Why Eat Bread?

Eating grain foods, like bread, plays an important role in your diet by providing many nutrients, such as dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies.1 The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends eating 6 servings of grain foods each day, with half of them being from whole grain sources. To get the most nutrients and benefits, both whole grains and enriched grains should be a part of your balanced diet.

Complex Carbohydrates

  • Complex carbohydrates (also called starches) are found in bread and other grain-based foods and are the body’s main source of fuel for energy.2,3,4,5,6,7
  • The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy to the body, especially the brain and nervous system.2,5
  • Most people should consume 45% – 65% of their total calories from carbohydrates, preferably complex carbohydrates (like bread and buns) and natural sugars (from fruits like apples).2,5,12
  • Despite the criticism fueled by low carb diets, complex carbohydrates are a healthy and necessary part of a balanced diet for both kids and adults.6,7
Red arrow with
Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.2

Whole Grains

Whole Grains Defined:

100% Whole Grains, including wheat, rye, oats and other grains, contain all parts of the kernel:
  • The Bran: the multi-layered outer covering of the grain kernel that protects the germ and endosperm. The bran contains phenolic compounds, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.8,9
  • The Endosperm: the largest part of the kernel which is ground to make white flour and other refined grains. The endosperm provides energy for the rest of the plant and contains carbohydrates (starch), protein, vitamins, and minerals.8,9,10
  • The Germ: the tiniest part of the kernel, which would grow new wheat if planted. The germ contains vitamins, some protein, minerals, and fat.8,9
When all parts of the kernel are ground together, the result is 100% whole grain flour.10,11,12 You can determine if a product is whole grain by looking at the ingredient legend. Look for “whole” or “100% whole” before the name of the grain or flour to determine if the product is whole grain. Many popular-selling wheat, rye, oat and multi-grain breads contain enriched white flour, bleached white flour, enriched wheat flour or unbleached wheat flour that are NOT whole grains. Descriptive words, such as multi-grain or stone-ground, do not necessarily mean that the product is whole grain.11 Always check the ingredient listing to be sure. If the words “whole grain” do not appear at the beginning of the list of ingredients but somewhere later in the list, the product is made with some whole grains, but may also contain refined grains. Whole Grain Council Stamp Another way to identify products containing whole grains is to look for the Whole Grain Stamp to find out the number of grams of whole grain in a serving. There are two types of Whole Grain Stamps found on product packaging:
  • Basic: 8-15 grams of whole grain per serving
  • 100%: ALL grains in the product are whole grains and the product has a minimum of 16 grams of whole grain per serving

Whole Grains Give You Phytochemicals & Antioxidants:

  • Phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and other plants and include antioxidants, lignans, phytosterols, phytic acid, resistant starch, oligosaccharides and tannins.16,11  In whole grains, most of the phytochemicals are found in the germ and the bran.8,11
  • Many of the better-known phytochemicals are available as dietary supplements; however, research suggests that these single supplements are not as beneficial as the foods from which they are derived.16
  • When providing health benefits, phytochemicals in whole grains complement those found in fruits and vegetables when consumed together.8
  • Phytochemicals have either antioxidant or hormone-like actions. Polyphenols and some flavonoids act as antioxidants and rid the body of free radicals.16,20
  • Joe Vinson, Ph.D., found that whole grains contain “surprisingly large” amounts of polyphenols, which may be even more important than fiber in explaining the many documented health benefits of whole grains.20
  • Dr. Rui Hai Liu of Cornell University and his colleagues discovered that whole grains contain protective antioxidants in quantities rivaling or exceeding those in fruits and vegetables. (See the chart below) In fact, the antioxidant activity in wheat and oats was almost equal to that of broccoli and spinach.20,21
Many antioxidants in whole grains are the same or similar to those contained in fruits and vegetables, but many are unique.17
  • Antioxidant research continues to grow and emerge as new beneficial components of food are discovered.19 However, it is clear that antioxidant activity is one of several factors contributing to whole grains’ promotion of a healthy lifestyle.17

Whole Grain Health Benefits

Heart Health

All the nutrients in whole grains work together to provide health benefits and may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers, as discussed below. Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Not all whole grain products qualify to make this claim. To qualify, a product must contain all portions of the grain kernel, contain at least 51% whole grain by weight per reference amount customarily consumed (50g for bread and buns), and meet specified levels for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, and sodium.11 Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.23
General Heart Health Tips
  • Cut back on saturated fats and try to eliminate trans fats – they can raise cholesterol and lead to heart disease. Use olive oil instead of vegetable oil, butter, or margarine. It helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and can help raise “good” HDL cholesterol.13,18,25
  • Maintain a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI) – the risk for heart disease may be higher if you are overweight or obese. Also, a high concentration of body fat around your abdomen may increase your risk of heart disease.39,40
  • Just 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, offers heart health benefits – even if you have to split it into 2 or 3 10-15 minute segments.42,44


Fiber Defined

Fiber is made up of the material composing the walls of the cells of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that is resistant to being broken down and digested.14,15
  • Dietary fiber describes the carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants that are not digested and absorbed in the small intestine.14,22
  • Soluble (Functional) fiber consists of the isolated carbohydrates not digested and absorbed in the small intestine that have beneficial physiological effects in humans.14,22
  • Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber.14,22

Fiber Health Benefits

  • Fiber can promote good digestive health and can aid in weight loss efforts.8,14,22,24,52
  • Foods that are good sources of fiber are digested more slowly by the body and can make us feel full and satisfied after eating less.1,8,14,22,24,52
  • Development of cancer depends on many factors. Eating a diet low in fat and high in grain products, fruits, and vegetables that contain dietary fiber may reduce your risk of some cancers.
  • Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain some types of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease associated with many factors.
The FDA has definitions for foods that contain an “Excellent Source” or a “Good Source” of fiber:
  • Varieties which contain an Excellent Source of Fiber have at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per 50 grams of bread or at least 20% of the daily recommended amount.
  • Varieties which contain a Good Source of Fiber have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per 50 grams of bread or 10-19% of the daily recommended amount.

Recommended Amounts of Fiber

According to the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the adequate intake (AI) for fiber is 14g per 1,000 calories, or about 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men.12
  • Most Americans consume about half of the recommended amount of fiber, as the usual intake averages only 15g per day.12,14,22
The chart below summarizes the AI of fiber by age and gender:
Fiber Recommendations by Age & Sex Daily Fiber Recommendation
Children ages 1-3 years old 19 grams
Children ages 4-8 years old 25 grams
Young boys ages 9-13 years old 31 grams
Young girls ages 9-13 years old 26 grams
Teenage boys ages 14-18 years old 38 grams
Teenage girls ages 14-18 years old 26 grams
Young and adult men ages 14-50 years old 38 grams
Young and adult women ages 14-50 years old 25 grams
Men ages 50 years and older 30 grams
Women ages 50 years and older 21 grams
Chart adapted from: Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes: Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC, National Academies Press, 2002 22

Enriched Grains

Enriched Grains

While the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends 3 servings of whole grain foods per day, the other 3 servings can be either whole grains or enriched grains. Since 1998 enriched grains, like white bread, have been fortified with folic acid and other nutrients (such as B vitamins and iron) and may contain more of these nutrients when compared to whole grain foods that have not been fortified.7,26,27   Enriched grains are the primary source of folic acid in the American diet.3 For many generations, eating white bread was considered a sign of status and peasants ate wheat bread. Around 150 B.C., upper-class Romans insisted on the more exclusive and expensive white breads, while darker whole wheat and bran breads were for the general public. This attitude persisted well into the 20th century in Europe and North America.47

B Vitamins

  • Enriched breads are a good source of some B vitamins, including thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and niacin (vitamin B3).1,3
  • These B vitamins play an important role in metabolism by helping your body produce and release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.1,28,29,30,31
  • These B vitamins also help your nervous system function properly,1,3,31 and are involved in producing red blood cells that carry oxygen all over your body.30
  • B vitamins are necessary for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver.31
  • The body does not store B vitamins, so they need to be replenished daily.31,32,33,36,38

Folic Acid

  • Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9.1,27,29,41
  • Sometimes the terms “folic acid” and “folate” are used interchangeably; however, there is a difference:41
  • Folate is a naturally occurring vitamin found in foods like dark leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and liver.41
  • Folic acid is a man-made form of the vitamin that is used to fortify enriched grain foods like bread. Folic acid is easier for the body to absorb and use.41
  • Folic acid is necessary to make new cells in your body, especially red blood cells.11,29,35,41
  • Folic acid also plays a key role in making and maintaining your DNA, which are the building blocks of our genetic blueprint.27,29,35,41
Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects
  • Healthful diets with adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord.
  • Sources of folate include fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, fortified cereals, and dietary supplements.
  • The FDA’s Recommended Daily Intake for folic acid is 400 mcg per day.
  • Since 1998 when the FDA began requiring that grain-based foods, cereals, and dietary supplements be enriched with folic acid, neural tube birth defects have dropped by 20 to 30 percent.27
Most whole grain foods are not fortified with folic acid or other vitamins and minerals, so this is one benefit to also consuming refined enriched grain products.11


  • The 2 types of iron that you can get from food are heme and non-heme.43
  • Both whole and enriched grain foods are sources of non-heme iron in the American diet.1,3,43
  • One of the major functions of iron is to carry oxygen in the blood.1,43

How Much Grain Food To Eat

The amount of grains you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Recommended daily amounts are listed in the chart. Most Americans consume enough grains, but few are whole grains. At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains.
Daily Recommendation*
Daily Minimum Amount
of Whole Grains
Children 2-3 years old4-8 years old 3 ounce equivalents5 ounce equivalents 1 1/2 ounce equivalents2 1/2 ounce equivalents
Girls 9-13 years old14-18 years old 5 ounce equivalents6 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents3 ounce equivalents
Boys 9-13 years old14-18 years old 6 ounce equivalents8 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents4 ounce equivalents
Women 19-30 years old31-50 years old 51+ years old 6 ounce equivalents6 ounce equivalents 5 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents3 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years old31-50 years old 51+ years old 8 ounce equivalents7 ounce equivalents 6 ounce equivalents 4 ounce equivalents3 1/2 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs. Chart Source: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains_amount_table.html. Last modified June 4, 2011
  • Less than 5 percent of Americans consume the minimum recommended amount of whole grains, which for many is about 3 1-ounce equivalents per day. On average, Americans eat less than 1 ounce of whole grains per day.12
  • While 3 or more servings each day will optimize your health benefits, scientists and health experts agree that every bit of whole grain you eat contributes to your health. Even small amounts can start you on the road to better health. So look for ways to get a little here, and little there.45
  • In general, a slice of bread counts as a 1-ounce equivalent serving of grain food.11,12

Fun Facts About Bread

  • Did you know that bread has been around for centuries? Experts believe that around 8,000 B.C. the first grinding stone was invented by the Egyptians. Flat breads were first baked from the crushed grains, but later it was discovered that adding yeast made the bread rise.46
  • Bread is probably the one food eaten by people of every race, culture and religion, and it is a universal sign of peace.47
  • Pre-sliced bread was invented in 1928 by a man named Otto Rohwedder in Chillicothe, MO, after working on it for 16 years. Many thought it was a fad that wouldn’t last because they assumed the bread would go stale faster than unsliced bread.48,49
  • During the 1700s, the Earl of Sandwich gave his name to the sandwich: meat between two slices of bread.46,50
  • Did you know that if you ate a sandwich for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it would take 168 days to eat the amount of bread produced from one bushel of wheat?47
  • In ancient Egypt, bread was a form of currency and was used interchangeably with money.46 In fact,  bread was so important to ancient Egyptians that loaves were often placed in tombs for the deceased to take to the afterlife.51


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