If you think carbs are all wasted calories and bad for you, think again. Here is just one more reason to love bread, as if its deliciousness weren’t enough. Australian scientists found that the fiber in bread, cereals, and fruits helped people avoid disease and disability in old age. Their findings have been published in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 

Bread can aid “successful” aging.

The researchers examined the relationship between carbohydrate nutrition and healthy aging, and out of all the elements examined, fiber seemed to make the biggest positive impact on what was deemed as “successful aging.” In this regard, successful aging is defined as including an absence of disability, depressive symptoms, cognitive impairment, respiratory symptoms, and chronic diseases including cancer, coronary artery disease, and stroke. 

The study reports those individuals with the highest fiber intake had an almost 80 percent greater likelihood of living a long and healthy life over a 10-year follow-up. What this essentially means is that these people had decreased likelihood of hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression, and functional disability. 

Bread can be an excellent source of fiber, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals.

There are so many varieties of breads to choose from these days, from whole wheat to sprouted grains. There are several ways to identify a healthy grain. One way is to pick an item with a whole grain as the first ingredient list containing no added sugars. In addition, the Whole Grain Council encourages companies to place the Whole Grain Stamp on packaging if the product contains at least eight grams of whole grain per serving so that it is easily identifiable by consumers. 

One rule of thumb is to choose breads that contain three grams or more of fiber per serving. For instance, a whole grain slice of bread (or one serving) that has five grams of fiber is considered an excellent fiber source. A simple recommendation by experts, in research published in the December 2013 Public Health Nutrition Journal, advises that when choosing grains or other carbohydrate rich foods, aim for at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of total carbohydrates. 

The recommended amount of fiber intake per day is 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men. That’s a high number to strive for considering the average American only consumes 15 grams per day, but this new 1:10 ratio can make choosing good foods a little easier. Look at your food label, identify the carbs and fiber, and divide the grams of carbohydrates by 10. If the grams of fiber listed on the label is at least as large as the answer, the food has met the 1:10 ratio. 

Pair bread with other healthy foods. 

What you put in that sandwich can create a nutrient rich and balanced meal or snack. Some examples are lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats to include are: eggs, roasted turkey breast, wild salmon, white tuna packed in water, nut butters, avocado, tomatoes, spinach, arugula, lettuce, cheese, hummus, apples, pears, olive oil. The list is really endless in packing on the nutrition when you use your imagination. And if it is hot outside and you don’t feel like cooking, what’s simpler than a sandwich on a summer day?

Whole grains aren’t just for aging; they’re also for now. 

In addition to fiber, whole grains contain vitamins, trace minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, in addition to fiber. Whole grain diets improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. They can help with weight management and also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. There is even research that supports whole grains, nuts, and legumes as being positively associated with higher cognitive function. 

Bottom line: Focus on whole grains when choosing which carbs to eat. 

Social media and self-professed nutrition experts spread the bad word that carbs make us fat, bloated, and cause disease, but in truth they make us happy, smart, and healthy into older adulthood. Instead of avoiding bread, reap the benefits of whole grains. They can serve as a means for us to consume a nutrient dense balanced meal in a convenient and quick way. A sandwich can be simple or fancy depending on your mood, the occasion, and what you have in your fridge at any given time. A meal that is balanced with healthy carbs, fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats provides satiety while lessening temptation for us to graze on true empty calories. 

Now excuse me while I go make myself a sandwich.  

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information

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