Bread used to be my favorite food.
I loved to bake it from scratch, enchanted by the miracle of mixing yeast, sugar, salt, flour and water and coaxing it into a heavenly edible mass.
For years, on cold-weather Sundays, I baked twin loaves of Italian bread or four smaller baguettes for my family's traditional soup day. I'd later devour leftovers dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
When I decided earlier this year to lose weight, my advisers gently suggested I reconsider my bread consumption and recommended shifting toward more lean protein, fruit, vegetables and legumes to build muscle mass and fuel my exercise regimen.
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Reluctantly, I stopped eating and baking bread.
Immediately, I began to lose weight.
Many shed pounds later, I'm happier with my body. But as soup-and-bread season approaches, I'm apprehensive. Can I afford to reintroduce bread to my diet? Or should I remain bread-free to protect my weight loss?
Ellen Kunes and Frances Largeman-Roth, authors of the best-selling "The Carb Lovers Diet" (Oxmoor House, 2010), say to give bread a second chance. Their book aims to reestablish carbohydrates' role in a healthful diet at a time when the pendulum continues to swing between low-carb, high-protein diets a la Atkins and the low-fat, carb-rich approach. The authors argue that carbs not only are part of a healthful diet but also can help burn calories.
In particular, the Carb Lovers Diet calls for eating carbohydrate-rich foods containing "resistant starch," including pasta and white bread. Because resistant starches are indigestible, Kunes and Largeman-Roth explain, they can keep you feeling full and satisfied, thus helping you reduce your overall food intake. Studies of resistant starches' effect on rodents' weight and health have shown that this works, but there's less research with humans.
Atlanta-based registered dietitian Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, calls the research in resistant starch promising. "It does suggest that (resistant starch) might be helpful in weight management," she says.
In any case, the Carb Lovers book doesn't recommend going whole-hog on carbs: Portion control is key, as are calories, which in the initial phase of this diet total just 1,200 per day and go up to 1,600. That alone pretty much guarantees you'll lose weight.
And that, of course, is where I used to get into trouble. I shudder to imagine how many calories' worth of bread I once ate (let alone the olive oil).
Bread in and of itself is not bad for you. It's the quantity," Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietitian in the Kansas City area, told me. "I'm sure if you had just one slice, nothing would happen. The challenge is, when you have bread, it's hard for us to enjoy only one slice."
It's important to know what temptations you can and can't resist.
"Having a whole loaf of freshly baked bread in your home could be a trigger," so alluring that it might cause me to revert to my former overeating ways, Dulan says. "For some it's easier just to eliminate bread."
Moore points out that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for five or six servings of grains, at least half of them whole, daily. But those servings are only an ounce apiece, or a single slice of typical store-bought bread.
Other sources include oatmeal, corn, brown rice, quinoa and even popcorn.
If I feel strong-willed enough to resume baking bread, Moore suggests I incorporate whole-wheat flour. I've done that before, but baguettes and Italian loaves are best when plain white. OK, then: When I do bake, Moore says, I could immediately freeze half, thus limiting my gorging options.