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Bread is Back!

Not too long ago, "carb" became a four-letter word. But now, gourmet-bread chains are popping up everywhere, and grocery bread aisles bulge with new choices. So what's the story? Can you have your bread and eat it too?

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Not many things in this world smell better than a loaf of fresh bread. However, in recent years, dieters turned their noses up at bread because it's the ultimate carbohydrate-containing food—the one everyone thinks of when they hear the word "carbs." Carbs were tabbed as a culprit behind expanding waistlines. Trend followers found the next best things to sliced bread, using lettuce leaves for taco shells and ordering burgers without buns. But now, bread is seeing a new popularity.

Beyond the Bread Ban

Sure, the low-carb and no-carb diets were popular, but they were very difficult to follow for any length of time. Essentially, low-carb diets worked because they often cut calories. And if you take in fewer calories—regardless of where the calories come from—you'll lose weight. Carbs still get a bum rap, though. "When you take away the carbohydrates, it's like taking away water from someone hiking in the desert," says Judith Wurtman, PhD, an MIT researcher who has studied the relationship between food and mood for the past 20 years. "If fat is the only alternative for a no-carb or low-carb dieter to consume to satiate the cravings, it's like giving a beer to the parched hiker to relieve the thirst—temporary relief, but ultimately not effective."

Staging a Comeback

"Clearly the anticarb craze is over," says Mani Niall, known as the chef to the stars, author of Sweet & Natural Baking and Covered in Honey, and founder of Mani's Bakery in Los Angeles. "Many bread-theme food chains have opened, and at bakeries, I've heard bread sales have increased by as much as a third recently." Here are smart ways to help put bread back into your diet.

Go for whole grain.

Choose bread products that list whole grain as one of the first few ingredients on the label—such as "whole wheat," "whole grain oats" or "whole rye." You can't go by color—bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Your goal should be to eat three servings daily of foods made with whole grain, amounting to at least 48 grams of whole grain. For more information, check the MyPyramid Food Guidance System (www.mypyramid.com).

Keep it fresh.

If you prefer fresh breads, Niall has a simple secret for keeping it fresh longer. "Split the loaf in two. Put one half in the freezer and eat the other. It'll keep for weeks in a freezer without being harmed."

Top with flair.

"Along with dipping it in a little olive oil, honey, or tomatoes, bread made with creative toppings can be livelier and have more moisture," says Niall. Try serving bruschetta-topped bread with sautéed greens and a touch of low-fat cheese, or layer pear slices with a bit of feta cheese and a drizzle of honey.

Navigate the menu.

Here are some smart choices for bread when you're on the run.

  • Honey multigrain baguette
  • Whole wheat bagels or bagels made with whole grain
  • Seven-grain rolls
  • Sprouted whole wheat bread
  • Oatmeal bread
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