Bread Is (Always) An Ultra-Processed Food

January 18, 2012

Yesterday we talked about the classification of foods between unprocessed, lightly processed and ultra-processed. Today, with that knowledge in mind we are going to put on trial what is possibly the most popular food in the world. One that man has made for thousand of years, refining the techniques for baking it and one that you can find in almost all households around the world (except mine): bread.
An all time favorite that you use for making your favorite sandwiches, to spread peanut-butter and jelly, to accompany all of your meals and so on.
And why it is on trial today? Because beside being the most common food, it is also an ultra-processed food. No matter if you make it at home from whole ingredients or if you buy the “industrial” Wonder Bread at the supermarket, it's still ultra-processed food.

Not all bread is created equal

In it’s most raw form bread is made up of unprocessed ingredients (yeast and water) and of lightly processed ingredients (flour). 
Industrial breads on the other hand have a whole range of more ingredients in it; such as white sugar, potato flakes, powdered milk, butter, margarine, etc.
Even if there is a enormous contrast in quality between freshly baked rough breads and mass produced “plastic” products according to the above mentioned classification both are considered to be an ultra-processed food.

Having said that comparing "Wonder Bread" to home made organic bread is like comparing apples and oranges. It might be still the same kind of food, but nutritionally they're two completely different worlds.

Should bread be a staple food?

Bread is recommended in practically all official guidelines as healthy and good to consume abundantly. Is this a mistake? It's arguable at the least and a differentiation should be made before drawing any conclusion.
On one side, mass-produced breads are grossly degraded and palatable, and most of the time a mere vehicle for what are usually fatty or sugary and often also salty spreads, fillings or toppings. In addition, they're usually made with flour from just a few strains of wheat, the rest are industrial made ultra-processed ingredients.
On the other side, whole wheat homemade organic breads or (even better) sourdough breads are baked with wholesome ingredients that retain most of their nutritional value. Including vitamins, iron and precious proteins.
If you want to make bread part of your diet you should definitely choose the latter kind. Make you own or buy at some local bakeries that you know are doing their job properly.
Just keep in mind that it's an energy dense food so you'll need to balance out the calories otherwise. Also, if you follow the paleo diet, you'll probably disagree with eating bread all along. Am I right?

The Iron You


  1. HI, I'm a big fan of your blog. If you don't eat bread (I eat the whole wheat or the german bread) what do you eat on your snacks everyday? I follow a nutricional plan to build muscle, and it includs (like most nutricional plans) eating sandwiches as snacks with turkey ham 2 times a day, what is a good substitute for this in your opinion?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi!
      Personally I like a fat free greek yogurt (that Fage or Oikos stuff) and a fruit (an apple for instance) for snack.
      If I want to get more protein I mix some whey protein powder in the yogurt, or I make myself a protein shake/smoothie or, if I can't resort to these options, I buy a natural/organic protein bar (such as Clif Builder's Bar).
      My friend Garrett usually gets turkey sandwiches (such as yourself) but he doesn't eat the bread (I always tell him to just buy turkey slices but he's too lazy). Another buddy of mine, David, likes hummus and carrots for snaking. While Sam is into green juice mixed with hemp protein.
      Hope this helps!

    2. I'm confused as to how ALL bread is ultra-processed, and therefor bad, but Clif Bars and Whey powders aren't?!?!

    3. Yes, they are also ultra processed by their standards. It’s a common hypocrisy. Even when he discussed homemade organic bread as being from lightly processed the. Suddenly mixing them together with heat makes it ultra-processed. It’s a joke really.

    4. LOL I had the same thought about recommending protein powders and Clif Bars because bread is too processed. Maybe he gets paid by Clif Bars.

  2. Thanks, that was very helpful, but is it really possible to build muscle without eating any kind of bread?! Isn't there something in the bread like carbohydrates that are vital to build muscle? And only eating yougurt with protein powder for snack and a piece of fruit will give you enough calorie intake?

    Also, have you heard about the german bread? it's really bitter and dark, I believe it's almost not processed. It would be awesome if you could research that and create one post about it, maybe the german bread is different and a healthy option, no?

    Thank you a lot for your answer.

    1. Hi Martin,

      Personally, I have decided to not eat bread in the same way I have decided not to eat pizza, pasta, cookies or refined carbs for that matter (but, truth to be told, once in while I will indulge.)
      It's true that, as humans, we need carbs to survive, it's the fuel that keeps us going. In addition, as athletes, this becomes even more true.
      However, as my friend Fred (a French national team triathlete who's on the paleo diet) thought me, we can get carbs from so many sources other than grains: fruits (including dried fruits), veggies, brown rice, legumes (including other cereals healthier than wheat such as oat and rye).
      It all comes down to what works best for you. If you feel that whole wheat bread (or german bread) is the best option than you should stick to your guns.
      Personally if I train/compete on grains/carbs I always run out of energy earlier than I need to.
      Hope this helps

  3. I do not agree with this post. All breads are not ultra processed and dumping everything into this category is just confusing the matter. Yes, mass produced breads made with artificial ingredients and bulked out with soy flour then heaped with preservatives and emulsifiers are indeed very processed and damaging to ones health. Breads such as home-made sourdoughs consisting only of filtered water, organic wheat, sprouted, spelt and rye flours with a little sea salt are nutritionally beneficial containing Iron and host of B vitamins. This is the only bread I will make for my family and give to my children. Coupled with hummus, salt and sugar free peanut butter or organic cheese they are an excellent Low GI snack for children and adults alike. This post is misleading by attempting to criminalise all breads, this is simply not the case.

  4. According to OpenFoodFacts fresh bread is classified as Processed, not as Ultra Processed as it is made with flour, yeast, salt and water only. Industrial bread which has stabilisers, flavourings, sugar etc added is Ultra Processed. You wouldn't typically use these ingredients if cooking at home; that is what defines Ultra Processed Foods. Hope this helps.

    1. I think this was written a long time ago, so the general (healthy eating) population realise this information is wrong. Of course if you're following paleo, it's out, but if upf is your guiding philosophy, home made, particularly sourdough, is in, whey powders, protein bars etc are very much out