Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
Scrutinize the label for ingredients, fiber, carbs, calories and sugar.
To pick the healthiest, most nutrient-dense bread, Mendell suggests checking both the nutrition facts and the ingredients:
- Make sure the first ingredient is 100 percent whole-grain or whole-wheat, not enriched or refined, flour.
- Each slice should have at least 2 grams of fiber.
- Slices should have no more than 15 to 20 grams of carbs.
- A good portion size is around 80 to 100 calories.
- Ideally there should be 0 or only 1 gram of sugar per slice—and watch out for artificial sweeteners like stevia or sucralose, "which just don't belong in bread," says Mendell.
Whole grain will give you a lot more bang for your bun.
A whole grain consists of three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. When a grain is refined into white flour, the bran and the germ are removed—stripping away naturally occurring protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
"Food manufacturers are required by law to add back in a few B vitamins and iron, and that's what's called 'enriched flour,' " says Mendell. "It sounds healthy, but it's not."
Buy your bread fresh, if possible.
For fewer preservatives, dietitian Rachel Fine, founder of To the Pointe Nutrition, recommends getting fresh bread from a local baker, or buying the Ezekiel brand in the frozen section of the supermarket.
Incorporate bread into one meal per day.
Mendell recommends including bread in just one meal per day to make sure you're getting enough variety in your diet. For a balanced meal, combine bread's carbohydrates with lean protein and healthy fat.
Breakfast idea: Toast a piece of whole-grain bread and have it with avocado and an egg.
Lunch idea: Eat a turkey sandwich with avocado, baby spinach, tomato and cucumbers.
Mid-performance idea: Fine says a piece of white bread (paired with a bit of protein) can give you a quick boost backstage because it releases sugar into the bloodstream quickly.