Is Supermarket Bread Bad for You?

For many people, supermarket bread is the quickest and easiest way to obtain the staple food. But is it bad for you?

Is Supermarket Bread Bad for You?

When eaten in high amounts, white bread may lead to weight gain

Supermarket bread may be the most convenient version of the staple food but is it bad for you?

Bread has been a staple of our diet for thousands of years, with the earliest evidence of bread production dating back to around 14,000 years ago in the form of ancient flatbread remnants found at archaeological sites in Jordan.

Over time, bread-making techniques spread across different regions and cultures, leading to the development of numerous bread varieties with different flavours, textures and ingredients.

Supermarkets are by far the easiest way to obtain bread.

Shelves are stocked with different varieties, with between nine and 12 million loaves sold every day.

While bread is high in carbohydrates, supermarket varieties have a number of additional ingredients.

We explore whether supermarket bread is bad for you.

White or Wholegrain Bread?

Is Supermarket Bread Bad for You - who

White bread is made from processed flour which has been milled to remove the bran and germ of the grain, leaving just the starch-packed endosperm.

This means most of the fibre and many of the vitamins and minerals have been removed.

The resulting flour has a fine, light texture and a longer shelf life, ideal in supermarkets.

In the UK, any white or ‘brown’ flour (not including wholemeal) is legally required to have calcium, iron, thiamine (vitamin B1) and nicotinic acid (B3) added back by the manufacturer.

White, refined flour produces bread which is quick and easy to digest.

When eaten in high amounts, white bread may lead to weight gain and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But white bread may be a better option if you have a gut condition and have been advised to follow a low-fibre diet.

On the other hand, wholegrain flour includes all three parts of the grain – bran, wheatgerm and endosperm.

This ensures the naturally-occurring nutrients of the grain are retained, along with the fibre.

Slice for slice, when you eat wholemeal, you get more iron and twice the zinc and fibre than the equivalent white loaf.

But even wholegrain supermarket bread may contain 20 additives, such as emulsifiers, flour treatment agents and dough improvers, as well as sugar or dextrose.

These ingredients are typically added to improve the colour, texture and crumb of a loaf, as well as to support the manufacturing process by improving dough stability and volume.

Nutritional Profile of Bread

Nutritional values depend on the ingredients used and the bread variety you choose.

An average slice (25g) of white bread provides:

  • 55kcal/233kj
  • 0.4g fat
  • 11.5g carbs
  • 0.8g sugars
  • 0.6g fibre
  • 2g protein

An average slice (25g) of wholemeal bread provides:

  • 54kcal/230kj
  • 0.6g fat
  • 10.5g carbs
  • 0.7g sugars
  • 1.8g fibre
  • 2.4g protein

When is Bread Bad for You?

While supermarket bread is more convenient, manufacturers add additional ingredients that can be bad for you.

This includes sugar, oil, vinegar, preservatives and flour treatment agents.

In white supermarket bread, the highly processed flour and additives can prove unhealthy.

Eating too much white bread can lead to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

But buying bread with the word “whole” still does not guarantee a healthful product. It is only the first step.

Preservatives are added to mass-produced bread to help it stay fresh for longer. But people can store fresh bread that contains fewer preservatives in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness.

Many types of bread contain added sugars or sugar substitutes.

People should avoid bread with corn syrup or any that contain ingredients ending in “-ose”. These are listed at the beginning of the ingredient list because these are all sugars.

Some examples include sucrose, glucose and fructose.

Supermarket bread has also been found to contain as much salt per slice as a bag of crisps.

The campaign group Action on Salt looked at 242 loaves of bread from 28 different companies available at 10 of Britain’s biggest supermarkets.

It found that two-thirds contained more than 0.34g of salt per slice, which is what is found in a bag of crisps.

Manufacturers typically order an ingredient list according to the weight of ingredients in the product. Ingredients that appear near the top of the list will be present in relatively high proportions.

The Health Dangers of White Bread

Is Supermarket Bread Bad for You - white

White bread is by far the UK’s most popular type of bread, with £876 million worth of loaves sold in 2021.

But supermarket white bread is habit-forming and so harmful to health that it contributes hugely to modern epidemics of preventable killers such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

With nearly one in three adults in the UK now clinically obese, it is evident that we need to address the issues in our diet and the obvious place to start is with bread.


According to research, eating white bread stimulates brain regions involved in reward and cravings.

Study leader Dr David Ludwig said:

“Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked to substance abuse and dependence.”

The research highlights how this reaction is triggered by sliced white bread’s high glycaemic index.

Sliced white bread’s vast levels of refined-wheat carbohydrates break down so quickly in the body that they cause intense sugar-spike highs.

Dr Ludwig’s study says that the habit-forming element of that chemical reward also means people who eat sliced white bread quickly feel hungry again and want to eat more of it.

Furthermore, research found that participants who ate white bread consumed 500 more calories at their next meal compared to those who ate wholegrain bread.

Heart Disease Links

In 2021, researchers at the University of Oxford identified white bread as a staple that makes the traditional British diet such a lethal cause of heart disease.

White bread was ranked alongside soft drinks and table sugar as the worst culprits, raising the risk of heart disease and premature death by as much as 40%.

Studies show how recurring blood-sugar spikes from eating high-glycemic white bread can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as heart disease.

While bread has a glycemic index (GI) of 75. By comparison, wholegrain bread has a GI of 53.

Lacking Dietary Fibre

Another factor is the bread’s lack of dietary fibre.

Dietary fibre is comprised of carbohydrates from plant-based foods that are not digested in the small intestine.

It has proven health benefits, including lowering blood pressure as well as reducing the risks of Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Dietary fibre also helps food to travel through the intestines whilst reducing levels of cholesterol and carcinogens in the gut. It also promotes the growth of crucial healthy gut bacteria.

As Rothamsted Research reports,  the production of white flour involves the removal of the bran, which is what contains most of wheat’s dietary fibre.

A slice of wholemeal bread contains about 3g of fibre. A slice of ordinary white bread contains only 1g.

Fibre is crucial for health and in a 2019 study, for every 8g increase in dietary fibre eaten a day, total deaths and incidence of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer fell by almost a fifth. Risks of stroke and breast cancer also dropped.

UK guidelines recommend increasing dietary fibre to 30g per day. But less than one in 10 adults achieve this.

The average adult in the UK currently eats about 18g of fibre per day.

Healthier Alternatives

There are a number of breads available that are healthier than supermarket bread.

Bread made with sprouted grains is a good option. When a grain is sprouted, its nutrients become easier to digest and more available to the body for use.

It can be a better source of protein, fibre, Vitamin C, folate and other nutrients.

Another option is Ezekiel bread, made with only sprouted grains and no flour.

Known for its dense and hearty texture, Ezekiel bread is often considered a healthier alternative to traditional bread because it is higher in protein, fibre and various vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, homemade bread is a healthier option because you are in control of the ingredients.

The question of whether supermarket bread is bad for you is a nuanced one.

While it is true that some varieties of supermarket bread may contain additives, preservatives, or excessive amounts of salt and sugar, it is important to consider the larger context and make informed choices.

Not all supermarket bread varieties are the same and many brands now offer healthier options that prioritise whole grains, minimal processing and natural ingredients.

Reading labels and opting for bread with simple, recognisable ingredients can help you make better choices.

Furthermore, the negative reputation associated with supermarket bread should not overshadow the fact that bread, in its various forms, can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Wholegrain bread, in particular, provide valuable nutrients, including fibre, vitamins and minerals.

It is worth noting that homemade or locally sourced artisanal bread may offer additional benefits in terms of taste, quality and ingredient transparency.

However, this does not imply that all supermarket breads are inherently unhealthy or devoid of nutritional value.

Ultimately, when considering the healthfulness of supermarket bread, it is important to approach it with moderation and balance.

Pairing bread with a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods, consuming it in appropriate portions, and considering individual dietary needs and preferences can contribute to a well-rounded approach to bread consumption.

Dhiren is a journalism graduate with a passion for gaming, watching films and sports. He also enjoys cooking from time to time. His motto is to “Live life one day at a time.”

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