Bread is a staple in many Mediterranean cuisines and many of us love gorging ourselves on bread.
However, it does have a bad reputation and people often say cutting out foods like bread has helped them lose weight.
If you’re following a Mediterranean diet, you might be wondering whether you can eat bread and if so, which varieties and how much.
Can You Eat Bread on the Mediterranean Diet?
Bread is often consumed as part of many Mediterranean cuisines in different forms, including in Greek, Spanish, Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Specifically on a Mediterranean diet, bread is allowed and is encouraged to be eaten often. The Mediterranean diet pyramid below shows which sorts of foods should be eaten in what proportions.
As seen above, bread is eaten daily in this diet. However, it should be eaten in the form of wholegrain bread, as this is the healthiest type of bread.
Whole grains are also recommended to be eaten daily on the diet.
White Bread vs Whole Grain Bread
The nutritional profile of bread varies considerably depending on the type of bread.
For example, whole grain bread is rich in protein, fiber and B vitamins, whereas sprouted grains have more beta-carotene and vitamins C and E (1).
These would be considered healthy types of foods to eat. On the other hand, white bread is a refined grain.
A grain includes the germ, endosperm and bran. The bran and germ are removed within the refining process, removing good sources of fiber, selenium, potassium and magnesium.
Only the endosperm of the wheat is left within white bread, a rapidly digested starch. This contributes to sugar swings and impacts other health markers.
Whole grain bread is better than white bread because it contains more fiber and protein. These important nutrients reduce how quickly sugar is absorbed into the blood stream, thus minimizing blood sugar spikes (2, 3).
Is Bread Healthy?
Generally, they are lower in vitamins and minerals than other foods like fruit and vegetables. However, eating bread in the form of whole grain bread can be a healthy choice. Whole grains have been shown to improve a number of health markers.
Can Lower Heart Disease Risk
A review of 10 studies found 28g of daily whole grains found a 22% reduction in heart disease risk (7).
Another 10-year study found those who ate the highest proportion of their carbs in the form of whole grains had a 47% reduced risk of heart disease (8).
Can Lower Stroke Risk
A review of 6 studies involved 250,000 people found those who ate the most whole grains had a 14% lower stroke risk than those eating the fewest (9).
Another study concluded that higher whole grain intake had a protective effect on stroke (10).
Can Reduce Obesity Risk
Whole grains contain more fiber and other nutrients that are more filling. These increases feelings of fullness can prevent overeating and therefore, reduce obesity risks.
One study of 120,000 people found 3 daily servings of whole grains was linked to reduce belly fat and BMI.
Can Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Obesity and weight gain is a risk factor diabetes (11). As whole grains contain more fiber, they can help in this regard.
One study found replacing refined grains with whole grains and eating 2+ daily servings of whole grains could reduce the risk of diabetes (12).
Studies have also linked whole grains with improved insulin sensitivity (13).
Can I Lose Weight on the Mediterranean Diet Whilst Eating Bread?
Eating wholegrain bread as part of a healthy diet won’t cause weight gain, but it can contain a fair amount of calories. To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body expends.
Generally, a wholewheat slice of bread contains 82 calories whereas white bread is 75 calories. However, it’s important to remember that bread is often eaten with other foods.
These foods can add substantially more calories to them. This can include adding a spread to the bread like butter or mayonnaise, or adding certain foods if they are eaten within a sandwich.
For example, adding 1 tbsp of butter adds 102 calories to them. If they are eaten as part of sandwich with processed meat such as chorizo and ham, this can add even more.
That’s why it’s important to consider everything that is eaten within the meal, not just the bread.
Another important consideration is that white bread is a refined grain and considered an ’empty’ calorie. Because they are low in fiber and quickly digested, they cause swings in blood sugar levels that can cause overeating (14).
Foods that cause high swings in blood sugar levels are measured on a glycemic index. Foods higher on the glycemic index cause higher blood sugar spikes. White bread has a high glycemic index.
Foods with a high glycemic index keep you full for a shorter period of time. This is because blood sugar levels drop more quickly when eating more refined carbs, which promotes hunger and causes food cravings. This can lead to overeating (15).
On the other hand, whole grain foods have been associated with a lower risk of obesity and can help you lose weight. One study found 3 servings of whole grains daily was associated with less body fat and lower BMI (18).
Is Sourdough Bread Allowed on the Mediterranean Diet?
The nutritional composition of sourdough bread is dependent on the type of flour used, mainly whether it’s made from refined or whole grains.
This means that sourdough using refined grains is similar to white bread and sourdough using whole grains is similar to whole grain bread.
However, the fermentation process can improve the nutritional profile. It also has lower levels of phytates compared to those in regular bread. Phytates can hinder the absorption of nutrients, meaning fewer is better.
As it is a healthy type of bread, sourdough can be eaten on the Mediterranean diet. Just try and ensure whole grain flour is used.
Best Breads to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet
When it comes to eating bread in the Mediterranean diet, the focus should be on eating whole grain bread.
However, all type of bread is technically allowed on the diet and there are many types of bread. Some of the healthiest include:
- Whole grain bread
- Sprouted whole grain bread
- Sourdough bread
- 100% whole wheat bread
- Oat bread
- Flax bread
- Rye bread
Breads to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet
You should look for breads with ‘whole’ in the ingredient list. This means all parts of the grain (bran, germ, endosperm) are present and ensures the grains are unrefined, rather than refined.
However, you might see some names of bread that are more ambiguous. The labels below do not guarantee a whole grain product:
- wheat germ
- organic flour
- unbleached wheat flour
- 100% wheat
- wheat bread
Mediterranean Diet Bread and Olive Oil
Olive oil is often consumed with bread on the Mediterranean diet.
It is a healthy choice to pair with bread too. This is because it contains lot of polyunsaturated fats that have many health benefits.
One study found those who consumed 50 ml of olive oil per day on the Mediterranean diet had significantly reduced inflammatory markers (22).
Another study found older adults at risk of heart disease who consumed 60 ml of extra virgin olive oil with a Mediterranean diet had a 30% reduction risk of stroke or heart attack when compared to those following a low-fat diet (23).
Bear in mind that extra virgin olive oil offers better anti-inflammatory benefits than refined olive oils. This is because refined olive oils are diluted with cheaper oils that aren’t as healthy.
Therefore, if you’re eating bread with olive oil, try and get extra virgin olive oil.
Mediterranean Diet Bread Recipes
You don’t need to bake your own bread, but if you want to, then these are some great and healthy options.
Looking for a delicious sourdough bread recipe using freshly milled, 100 percent whole grain flour? This is a proven failproof bread recipe that you will find yourself returning to time and time again.
This easy, 9-ingredient seeded whole grain bread with oats, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed. It is naturally sweetened, hearty and extremely easy to make.
This easy homemade oatmeal bread is made with rolled oats, whole wheat flour and sweetened with honey.
To Sum Up
Bread is a food commonly eaten in Mediterranean cuisines and is allowed on the Mediterranean diet.
Because the Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of whole grains, whole grain varieties of bread should be eaten rather than white bread. White bread is far less nutritious than whole grain bread and can contribute to health risks like heart disease if consumed too much.
Whole grain bread has lots of benefits and there are many varieties of whole grain bread available.