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Toasted vs. Untoasted Bread: Is One Healthier & Easier Digest? Experts Weigh In

Bread
Image by Laura Adani / Stocksy
February 22, 2021

There's nothing like eating a wholesome, perfectly toasted slice of bread. But have you ever wondered if heating your pan has any impact on its nutritional value?

Toasting (and dehydrating) your bread might actually be associated with a few potential health benefits1. But is it significant enough to matter? And are there any dangers to toasting your bread? For the inside scoop (er, slice?), two nutritionists offer their take.

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But first, the anatomy of a toast.

As straightforward as it sounds, your delectably crispy piece of toast is, well, a slice of bread with some heat. On a biochemical level, however, there's a string of chemical reactions that happen when fresh bread loses its moisture and turns brown. Known as the Maillard reaction, this chemical response is responsible for the darker hue, intricate flavors, aroma, and texture in toasted bread.

Great, and what about its nutritional value?

"The biggest myth my patients believe is that toasting bread kills nutrients, but toasting bread doesn't kill nutrients or lower its nutritional value. Vitamins and minerals are still within the bread," says Niket Sonpal, M.D., associate program director of Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center.

Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC, adds that toasted bread technically has a slightly lower glycemic index (GI) because those aforementioned chemical reactions break down the carbs. "But I wouldn't tell someone that toasting their bread will drastically impact its nutrient density in a big-picture sense," she says.

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Is one version easier to digest? 

Cording explains that when you toast bread, a chemical reaction causes the starches to change as the bread's water level decreases with heat. Breaking down these starches may make the bread at least a bit more easy to digest for someone who has difficulty processing untoasted bread.

But when it comes to optimal digestion, you're probably better off opting for specific types of bread—rather than worrying about toasting it. "I most often find myself recommending sprouted-grain bread," says Cording. "The sprouting process breaks down the grains' starches, making them easier to digest because they are, essentially, pre-digested when you eat them."

Any cautions for toasting bread?

As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid burning your toast, says Sonpal. Beyond its unpleasant, bitter flavor, "There are many health issues related to burnt bread."

Cording explains, "When foods are heated to high temperatures, a potentially carcinogenic compound called acrylamide forms from the starches and amino acids (arginine) present in food." If your bread is lightly toasted, that's totally fine, "but if you get any char on there, there's more of a chance that some acrylamide was formed," she says.

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The bottom line.

When it comes to toasted versus untoasted bread, toast may be the winner here—particularly for anyone watching their carb or sugar intake. (Just be sure to avoid charring your slice, whatever you do!) The bigger winner, however, is the quality and type of bread you choose. Opting for nutritious toppings to take your toast to the next level doesn't hurt, either.

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Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer

Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor from San José, Costa Rica. She received her master's degree in communication and journalism from The University of New Mexico, emphasizing well-being, sustainable fashion, health communication research, and graduating Summa Cum Laude. A former professional dancer, she's earned multiple academic and accredited certifications in performance design, positive psychology, doula training, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, mindfulness, innovation leadership, and integrative health. Her work has appeared at top consulting brands and organizations across Latin American and the US, including Byrdie and Albuquerque The Magazine. She currently lives between Costa Rica and New Mexico.