Did you always ask for the crusts cut off sandwiches when you were a kid? There’s just something about the crusts that disgusts children, and I’m sure many a parent has absolutely loathed hearing that request when making lunches or snacks in a hurry. In fact, cutting the crusts off sandwiches, be it white bread, whole wheat, or even sourdough bread, is so popular that recently, CNN‘s Lisa Drayer asked the experts if bread crusts were more nutritious (or any different) than the rest of the slice, or if it’s just all in the head of picky eaters everywhere.
You see, I was always told that the crusts were the healthiest part of the sandwich and as an early bread lover, I didn’t mind those crusts. No matter what kind of bread dough or the crisp crust, I’d eat all those carbs happily. However, Drayer wanted to know if tossing the cut crusts out was a bad idea just in case they really were healthier than the rest of the bread. In one simple answer from Wesley Delbridge, registered dietician nutritionist and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we have ours: “I would say the answer is not necessarily. If you ask parents, a large percentage will say the bread crust is healthier… but it’s a pretty common myth.”
So why does bread crust look different if it’s not healthier than the rest of the loaf? Well, because it has the most exposure to heat when baked, no matter at what oven temperature or baking process. This chemical reaction is known as the Maillard reaction, or nonenzymatic browning, and it gives those parts of bread a different flavor, texture, and color. This creates the crust and nothing more. However, some bread companies will add caramel coloring to emphasize the browning in baked bread.
Do you remember the previous studies two years that touched on the connection between cancer and carcinogenic chemicals, citing toast as the prime example? Maybe you more recently remember the story about coffee in California needing a warning label about cancer. All of this stems from the Maillard reaction.
Delbridge, in his interview with CNN, touched on the fact that the Maillard reaction can form the cancer-fighting antioxidant known as pronyl-lysine in bread crusts. By that same token, it also creates a carcinogenic chemical known as acrylamide (the chemical in coffee that prompted a major lawsuit). Delbridge admits that with two opposite elements in bread crust, it’s difficult to know if the effect works toward cancer prevention or cancer-promoting results in human intestinal cells.
So for now, enjoy that crusty loaf of bread with the crispy crust but consider swapping out white bread for a whole grain bread variety, one with less sugar, if you’re concerned about your health. After all, even gluten-free bread has crusts, so even the small amounts of it can’t hurt. Enjoy the crunchy crusts, and if you must cut the crusts off, save them for your own DIY breadcrumbs. Use a food processor for fine crumbs and just toast lightly before you add to a mix.