Pre-meal bread is sabotaging diners’ diet attempts, study finds

March 26 2018

It has been a tradition in many restaurants for decades: a group of customers sit at a table and before ordering anything, a basket of fresh bread makes its way to the table.

The more ravenous members of the party will have no hesitation diving straight in, often coating their slice with butter or maybe dipping it in some oil.

But new research suggests they should resist the temptation, especially if they’re trying to maintain their weight.

Carb placement

A study conducted by a group of American researchers looked at the influence of carbohydrates, such as bread, orange juice and sugars, on hunger levels over time and how carbs fit into a larger meal.

Sixteen overweight or obese people were asked to change where and when bread and orange juice featured in a meal. One group would have the carbs at the start of the meal, followed by protein and vegetables.

The pattern was reversed for another group with protein and vegetables first and then the carbohydrates. Finally, a third group consumed carbs and other food groups simultaneously in a sandwich.

Blood samples were taken from the volunteers just before they ate, then again every 30 minutes for the next three hours with researchers assessing levels of ghrelin - a molecule known as the “hunger hormone” that makes the brain think the body is hungry.

A quick science lesson: when our bodies are in need of food, ghrelin levels rise and the brain is stimulated to crave food. When we eat, ghrelin levels drop for a period of time, rising again when the body requires more food.

The results

Results for the control group revealed a normal pattern of ghrelin cycling, with levels dropping and then slowly rising over the three hours but falling short of the levels needed for hunger.

The group that ate the carbs late in a meal displayed levels that were even lower than the sandwich after three hours. In short, this suggested that eating carbs later would mean individuals would feel full for longer.

However, the carbs-first group had an entirely different result at the three-hour mark with ghrelin levels spiking well above the initial time point when the meal began.

The carbs had somehow tricked the body into believing the amount of calories consumed wasn’t enough and the body should ingest more sooner than later. Although the individuals did not feel hunger at the final time point, the researchers felt this change could lead to feeling full for less time and more frequent eating.

So what use is all this info to restaurants and chefs? Well, any eateries offering sub-500 calorie dishes or healthy eating menus may wish to reassess how carbs feature, delaying carbs to much later in the course list or demoting them in a side dish.

You can read the full study at