Myths about sugar in bread

“In the current ongoing media focus on sugar, food groups of all types have been pulled into the spotlight in the quest to expose what appear to be healthy choices as ‘ones to watch’. One food recently brought into this debate is bread, which in my view seems difficult to justify.


As a dietitian, I have concerns that staples of the British diet, such as bread are having their role in a healthy diet questioned.

Despite the varying media reports, in truth, most sliced bread in the UK contains only 2-4% sugars – and much of this is naturally occurring, it is not ‘added’.

The sugar content typically arises from sugars naturally present in flour (approx. 1.4-2.1g per 100g), with the remainder produced through the action of yeast during the fermentation process.


  • The sugar figure in the nutrition information on the back of pack relates to the total amount of sugars present in the product – which is a combination of naturally occurring and, where present, added sugars
  • When sugar is added, it is done so in very small amounts to help balance flavours (e.g. in wholemeal loaves) but the overall sugar content of most bread remains low
  • Most UK bread contains 2-4% sugars which occur naturally and are not added which means it easily meets the definition for a low sugar food (5g of sugar or less per 100g)
  • Bread is an essential part of the diet, providing more than 10% of the average adult’s intake of iron, zinc, magnesium, protein and B vitamins as well as a small amount of potassium
  • Bread is low in calories – an average slice (35g) contains around 80 calories
  • Bread provides 20% of the UK adult total dietary fibre intake; half of this (10%) is contributed by white bread

The Glycaemic Index was also discussed in some media reports. The GI of bread varies with type – typically mixed grain breads that include wholegrains have a lower GI than either wholemeal or white bread.

This is because they take longer to be broken down and digested, resulting in a slower glucose release.

However, bread is seldom eaten on its own, and therefore the glycaemic load is different when it is combined with other foods.

It is therefore possible to include even higher GI breads such as wholemeal or white and still regulate glucose release into the bloodstream.

Combining bread with high protein, fibre or fat options, like butter / margarine based spread, hummus, nut butters, cheese or baked beans can reduce the glycaemic load of that meal.

There are some breads in the UK which have a little added sugar as part of their ingredients to enhance flavour.

I often call for a more holistic view of a food in terms of overall nutrient gains rather than simply considering how many sugar, carbohydrate or fat grams there are and bread is one such food where this is needed.

Bread alone provides 10% of the daily intake of protein, fibre, calcium, iron and other essential nutrients and is the base of many healthy balanced meals in the UK.

Without it, the UK diet could potentially suffer and it is important to not forget which staple foods in our everyday diets are really pulling their nutritional weight.

There are a great variety of breads to suit different consumer needs or tastes and by encouraging everyone to be label smart when food shopping, bread can most definitely stay in our trolleys.”



  • Carbohydrates including bread are essential to the diet and should not be cut out completely for those seeking to manage their weight. A 2012 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that low carbohydrate, high protein diets can lead to severe long term effects such as diabetes i
  • Similarly, another study published in the British Medical Journal found that low carbohydrate, high protein diets can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease ii
  • A recent study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found that bread is not associated with obesity. In fact, the study found that those who were obese actually ate less bread, especially whole grain bread iii
  • The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) ‘Eatwell plate’ suggests that diets should contain a third (33%) of complex carbohydrates such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. Despite this, the Family Food in 2012 (DEFRA survey) shows that only 20% of total food purchases are made up of complex carbohydrates iv

i Low-carbohydrate diet scores and risk of type 2 diabetes in men. (Lawrence de Koning et al)
ii Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 26 June 2012)
iii Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2014 Feb 12:1-10 (Mostad et al.)
iv Food statistics pocketbook 2013.