It’s a popular fad to cut out carbohydrates for weight loss. Even Bradley Wiggins attributed some of his 2009 Tour de France form to an incredibly low body fat percentage of four percent, helped by cutting bread and pasta out of his diet. Avoiding beer probably helped too.
Henry Furniss, personal trainer and co-founder of Wyndymilla Bespoke Cycling, concedes that it's a great way to shed body fat quickly, but is far from suggesting cutting out carbs for good: “I get my clients to do it for no more than a month in the off season," he says.
“For most people, it’s better to turn normal eating behaviour on its head,” says Furniss, “which means eating a bigger, carbohydrate-rich breakfast, and then a protein and nutrient-rich dinner with a low carb content.
“But for cyclists trying to lose weight, the most important thing is cutting down on the pasta, simple sugars and potatoes after the last training session in the day, rather than cutting them out altogether.”
The trouble with cutting out bread is that you could be missing out on all the goodness to be found in whole grains such as wheat, oats and barley. All three contain vitamin E, selenium and other phytochemicals which, despite limited supporting scientiﬁc evidence to date, are strongly believed to help prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
According to Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (VeloPress), whole grains are not only great sources of carbohydrate for replenishing muscle and liver glycogen stores depleted during intense training, but also great sources of ﬁbre and the growth B vitamins that the body cannot store.
The difﬁculty seems to be making sure that the bread you’re buying is in fact ‘wholegrain’. “Whole grains literally come from the entire grain, which includes the endosperm, germ and bran,” explains Ryan.
To get the maximum nutritional beneﬁt you need the B vitamins, trace minerals and dietary ﬁbre from the bran outer layers and the sprouting germ, as well as the carbohydrates, protein and other goodness from the inner endosperm. Normally the starchy endosperm is all that is left of the grain when wheat is reﬁned to produce white ﬂour.
Food packaging is deceiving, so ignore what it says on the front and read the ingredients. The ﬁrst item on the list, and therefore largest ingredient by weight, should be whole wheat ﬂour. No other ﬂour should be listed: wheat ﬂour, stone-ground wheat ﬂour and multigrain ﬂour are all terms disguising reﬁned white ﬂour that’s almost devoid of nutritional beneﬁt.
According to US dietician Becky Hand, shorter ingredient lists on packaged food are always preferable. “All you really need to make bread is ﬂour, water, yeast, salt and a little sugar to activate the yeast. Anything extra is likely to have been added to improve the taste, texture, shelf life or nutritional proﬁle of the bread so consumers ﬁnd it more appealing.”
Nutritionally speaking, you should look for a loaf that has no more than 100 calories per slice, roughly 2g of ﬁbre per slice and no more than 225mg of sodium per slice.
Bread winners and losers
1. Wholegrain/wholemeal: The nutritionally leading loaf is made from ﬂour that is ground from the entire wheat grain, including the bran, germ and endosperm, and provides almost four times the ﬁbre of white bread. 35g slice: 75 calories, 1g fat, 3.3g protein, 2g ﬁbre and 0.4g salt.
2. Granary: With the most wholesome look and feel, you might think a crusty, seedy loaf is best. But made from brown ﬂour mixed with malted wheat grains for the nutty ﬂavour, it’s good but not top dog. 35g slice: 84 calories, 1g fat, 3.3g protein, 1.5g ﬁbre, 0.5g salt.
3. Pitta: Despite the potentially gut-wrenching contents of your kebab and the beer that made you buy it, a wholemeal pitta is actually nutritionally okay. 55g serving: 122 calories, 1g fat, 5g protein, 3g ﬁbre, 0.6g salt.
4. White: The white stuff has to have B vitamins, niacin, thiamin, iron and calcium added, so it can’t be much good to start with. 25g slice: 80 calories, 0.8g fat, 3g protein, 0.5 ﬁbre, 0.5g salt.
5. Naan: Curry lovers beware, not only is the delicious korma full of fat, but the tasty ﬂat bread you’re dipping in it is bottom of our loaves list. 150g serving: 445 calories, 13g fat, 12g protein, 4g ﬁbre, 2g salt.