Of all the food myths my parents told me — and there were a lot — the one I never questioned was the idea that the crust is the healthiest part of the bread. My parents always said it was, and the crust was brown and didn't taste as good as the center, so of course my 7-year-old self believed it was the healthy part.
My parents believed it, my grandparents believed it, and 1,000 years ago back in Italy some great-great-great-grandmother of mine probably chased a kid through the hills shouting, "Eat your bread crust, it's good for you!" and they both probably believed it, too.
But it looks like that might not actually be the case.
CNN's Lisa Drayer, a nutritionist and health journalist, wondered if she was doing her kids a disservice by cutting their sandwiches into cute shapes, and thereby losing the crusts. Rather than pass on that bit of conventional wisdom about the bread crusts, though, she decided to ask some experts if it was true.
What the Experts Say
"It's a pretty common myth," said food scientist and registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It would seem to make sense that bread crust might have a different nutritional profile than the rest of the bread because it looks, feels, and clearly tastes different. The crusts of bread are brown because of the Maillard reaction, which is the chemical reaction that occurs when you expose the surface of food to heat, and it's why "browning" food makes it more delicious. That reaction does change the chemical composition of the crust of the bread and make it look and taste different than the inside, but it doesn't necessarily make the crust more healthful.
According Delbridge, research indicates that the Maillard reaction is responsible for the generation of a cancer-fighting antioxidant called pronyl-lysine in bread crusts, but also a carcinogenic chemical called acrylamide. (Acrylamide is also produced when you brown potatoes, meat, coffee, and more.) But it's not clear which effect is greater, or if either are happening at levels that might make a difference to people's health.
"Within the bread crust, there are cancer promoters and cancer fighters. It's like there's a battle going on. Who is winning the battle? I'm not sure. But anything happening or reacting is completely marginal," Delbridge told Drayer. He said he wouldn't personally have a problem with cutting crusts off bread for his kids, if that got them to eat more of the sandwich.
When it comes to the crust, parents shouldn't feel guilty if their kids won't eat it because it sounds like it probably doesn't make that much of a difference anyway.
The type of bread does matter, however. A lovely, homemade, whole-grain nut bread is likely nutritionally superior to a spongy loaf of white bread that's full of sugar and preservatives.
Did you hear this myth growing up? Do you tell it to your kids?