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Is Naan Bad For You?



Short answer

Naan bread can be a delicious part of a meal but often contains refined wheat flour, which is high in calories and carbohydrates, with a high glycemic index, contributing to rapid blood sugar spikes. It's low in fiber and nutrients due to the refining process. Commercial naan may include additives and preservatives that some may wish to avoid. Eating naan in moderation, paired with nutrient-rich foods, or choosing whole-wheat varieties when possible, can mitigate some health concerns. Portion control is important for managing calorie intake and blood sugar levels.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Naan Bread

Naan bread, a staple in South Asian cuisine, is known for its soft texture and delicious taste. It is traditionally made with ingredients like refined wheat flour, water, yeast, and yogurt, giving it a distinctive flavor and texture. Understanding the nutritional content of naan bread is crucial when considering its place in a balanced diet. Here's a detailed look into the nutritional profile of a typical piece of naan bread (about 60 grams or one serving):

  • Calories: Ranging from 180 to 300 calories per piece, with the exact count varying based on size and added ingredients like butter or ghee.
  • Carbohydrates: Approximately 35 to 40 grams, primarily from refined flour, which contributes to its high glycemic index.
  • Sugars: While plain naan generally contains minimal sugars, variants with added sweeteners can increase the sugar content significantly.
  • Fiber: Naan bread is low in dietary fiber, offering less than 2 grams per serving because it's usually made with refined, not whole-grain flour.
  • Protein: About 6 grams of protein, owing to the gluten in wheat flour, which can slightly contribute to daily protein intake.
  • Fats: Fat content varies widely, ranging from 5 to 17 grams depending on whether the naan is brushed with oil, butter, or ghee before baking.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Plain naan has limited micronutrients but may contain small amounts of iron, folate, and a few B vitamins inherent to wheat flour.

It's important to note that many store-bought or restaurant-served naan breads can have additional ingredients that alter this nutritional content, such as cheese, garlic, or herbs, which can contribute additional calories, fats, and sodium. Moreover, whole-grain versions of naan exist, although they are less common; these provide more fiber and potentially other micronutrients that are typically lost in the refining process of wheat.

For those managing specific health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood sugar levels, the glycemic index of naan is an important consideration due to its high carbohydrate content from refined flour. This index measures how much a food raises blood sugar levels; foods with a higher glycemic index, such as white flour bread products like naan, cause a more rapid rise in blood sugar.

When examining the role of naan in a diet, it is essential to consider these nutritional factors and how they align with individual dietary needs and goals. For a more wholesome option, seeking out or making naan with whole-grain flour can be beneficial for increasing fiber intake and possibly lowering the glycemic impact.

Lastly, moderation and variety are key elements of a well-rounded diet. Incorporating naan as part of a meal with additional proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats can help balance out its nutritional shortcomings and integrate it into a diverse and balanced dietary pattern.

Refined Flour vs. Whole Wheat: The Naan Debate

When it comes to naan, the primary ingredient that often determines its nutritional profile is the flour used in its preparation. Typically, naan is made using refined all-purpose flour, known also as maida in South Asian countries. The process of refining strips away the bran and germ from the wheat kernel, leaving mostly the endosperm. This impacts not only the nutrient content but also how the body processes the bread.

Impact of Refined Flour:

  • Glycemic Index (GI): Refined flour has a higher GI compared to whole wheat, meaning it can cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels. This might be a concern for individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes.
  • Fiber Content: The refining process reduces the fiber content significantly. Since dietary fiber is crucial for digestive health and helps maintain a feeling of fullness, naan made with refined flour may be less satiating and could contribute to digestive issues.
  • Nutrient Density: Refined flour is lower in essential nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals like magnesium, which are lost during the refining process.

Whole Wheat as an Alternative:

  • Nutrient Preservation: Whole wheat flour retains the bran and germ, making it richer in nutrients and dietary fiber compared to refined flour.
  • Health Benefits: Several studies suggest that a diet high in whole grains is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer due to its higher fiber content and nutrient profile (Whole Grains Council, 2020).
  • Glycemic Response: Whole wheat flour has a lower glycemic index, which results in a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels, thereby being potentially more suitable for individuals with blood sugar concerns.

While whole wheat naan might provide a more nutritious option, the traditional naan's soft, fluffy texture is partly attributed to the use of refined flour. For those looking to balance nutrition with authenticity, some naan recipes may involve a combination of whole wheat and refined flour.

Considering Gluten Content:

Both refined and whole wheat flours contain gluten, which can be problematic for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. The presence of gluten in naan should be taken into consideration based on individual dietary needs and health concerns.

Expert Recommendations:

Nutrition experts often advise moderating intake of refined grains and opting for whole grains when possible. The dietary guidelines recommend that at least half of the grains consumed should be whole grains (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2020). Adapting traditional naan recipes to incorporate whole wheat flour can be a step toward a more health-conscious diet without abandoning cultural food practices.

In conclusion, while traditional naan made from refined flour may not be the healthiest option, transitioning to whole wheat naan can offer more health benefits, provided it aligns with one's dietary preferences and restrictions. It's important to consider these factors when determining if naan is a suitable addition to your diet.

Additives and Preservatives in Commercial Naan Varieties

Commercial naan, often found in supermarkets and convenience stores, may include a range of additives and preservatives to extend its shelf life, enhance its flavor, and improve its texture. Understanding what these substances are and their potential impact on your health is crucial.

Here are common additives and preservatives you might encounter in commercially-produced naan:

  • Calcium propionate: Used as a preservative to inhibit mold and bacterial growth. Some studies suggest that calcium propionate can potentially cause irritability, restlessness, inattention, and sleep disturbances in some individuals, especially children.
  • Potassium sorbate: Another preservative that helps prevent mold and yeast formation. While generally considered safe, excessive consumption can lead to skin allergies or irritation in sensitive individuals.
  • Sodium benzoate: This preservative prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi. High intake, particularly in combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), has been linked to increased hyperactivity in some children.
  • Sodium metabisulphite: Often used as a dough conditioner, it has been associated with allergic reactions and respiratory issues, particularly in those with a sensitivity to sulfites.
  • Azodicarbonamide (ADA): A chemical compound used as a bleaching agent and dough improver. While approved for use in the United States, it has been banned in Australia, Europe, and other countries due to potential health concerns, including respiratory issues and allergies.
  • Monoglycerides and diglycerides: These are emulsifiers that help oil and water to mix, resulting in a better dough consistency. They may be sourced from hydrogenated oils and could contain trans fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

In addition to these additives, commercially-made naan may be higher in sodium compared to traditional recipes, which could be a concern for those monitoring their salt intake. It is essential to read the ingredients list on the packaging to identify any additives or preservatives present.

Health-conscious consumers should be aware that while some additives are essential for food safety and preservation, others can be reduced or avoided. If you have specific health concerns related to additives, seeking out organic or preservative-free varieties of naan, or making the bread at home with natural ingredients, could be beneficial.

To further guarantee informed choices, consult the following reference from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): “Chemical Cuisine: CSPI’s Guide to Food Additives." It provides an in-depth analysis of food additives and their approved uses, as well as associated health implications.

Glycemic Index of Naan and Blood Sugar Control

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of foods is crucial when discussing blood sugar control. The GI is a numerical system that measures how much a specific food increases blood glucose levels in comparison to pure glucose. Foods with a high glycemic index cause more rapid spikes in blood sugar, while those with a low glycemic index result in a slower increase. For individuals with insulin resistance, diabetes, or those simply trying to manage their blood sugar levels, knowledge of the GI of various foods, including naan, can be instrumental in dietary planning.

Naan, a traditional Indian flatbread typically made from refined white flour, often has a high glycemic index. This is because the refined flour has been stripped of most of its fiber, a component that can help slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. However, the exact GI can vary depending on additional ingredients and preparation methods.

  • Plain Naan: Generally has a GI in the range of 70-80, making it a high glycemic index food.
  • Whole Wheat Naan: A variant made with whole wheat flour will have more fiber and thus, can result in a slightly lower GI.
  • Garlic Naan: The addition of garlic may influence the GI slightly, but not significantly enough to categorize it as low glycemic index.
  • Butter Naan: The presence of fat from butter can slow down digestion and potentially reduce the glycemic index slightly, but it remains a high-GI food.

Consuming high-GI foods like naan can lead to quick rises in blood sugar levels. For individuals concerned about blood sugar control, this can be problematic. Over time, regular consumption of high-GI foods can contribute to insulin resistance, increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes and associated health complications. It is important for these individuals to pair naan with foods that have lower glycemic index values and are high in fiber, protein, or healthy fats, to help blunt the blood sugar response.

For those actively managing blood glucose levels, it's advisable to consume naan in moderation and to be mindful of one's overall dietary glycemic load – the combined effect of all foods consumed during the day. Studies have shown that a diet with a lower overall glycemic load may help with glucose control in people with diabetes. Over time, this can contribute to better health outcomes and a reduced risk of chronic disease related to poor blood sugar control.

When making decisions regarding naan and blood sugar management, individuals should consult with healthcare professionals like dietitians who can provide personalized advice. They may recommend making homemade naan with healthier alternatives such as whole-grain flours and adding fiber-rich ingredients which can moderate the glycemic response.

Portion Size and Caloric Intake Considerations

One of the key factors to consider when determining whether naan can fit into a healthy diet is portion size. Naan is traditionally served in large, flat pieces that can vary in size, but often they are quite substantial. Understanding the implications of naan's size on one's caloric intake is critical for maintaining a balanced diet.

A typical serving size of naan bread can range from about 1/4 to 1/2 of a large naan. Depending on the ingredients used and the method of preparation, a single serving can vary significantly in calories. On average, a serving size might contain anywhere from 100 to 300 calories, but full pieces can easily contain over 400 calories. To put this in perspective, consider the following comparisons:

  • A medium slice of white bread contains roughly 70 calories, which means two slices provide 140 calories – often significantly less than a serving of naan.
  • A cup of cooked white rice contains about 200 calories, comparable to the lower end of a naan's calorie range but occupies more volume in the stomach, potentially leading to a greater feeling of fullness.

It's essential to account for these caloric considerations, especially for those monitoring their intake for weight management or specific dietary goals. The calorie density of naan can contribute to inadvertent overeating if one is not mindful of portion sizes. Consuming larger portions of naan can lead to consuming more calories than intended, which over time could contribute to weight gain if not balanced out by other dietary adjustments or increased physical activity.

Moreover, for individuals with dietary restrictions such as diabetes, controlling portion size is important for managing blood sugar levels, as naan is typically high in carbohydrates. One serving of naan can contain from 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, requiring thoughtful integration into a carb-controlled eating plan.

It’s also worth noting that when naan is consumed as part of a larger meal, which often includes additional sources of calories like rice, sauces, and meats, the overall caloric intake of the meal can escalate quickly. Hence, it is advisable for those concerned with calorie consumption to either share the naan with others or save a portion for another meal to avoid excessive caloric intake.

When enjoying naan, consider the following tips to manage portion sizes and caloric intake:

  • Limit yourself to one small piece of naan and fill the rest of your plate with lower-calorie, nutrient-dense options like grilled vegetables or lean protein.
  • Opt for whole wheat naan, which can sometimes offer more fiber and might contribute to a greater sense of satiety, possibly preventing overeating.
  • Pay attention to any additional high-calorie accompaniments such as butter, ghee, or cheese that naan might be served with, as these can quickly increase the calorie content of the meal.

Ultimately, naan can be part of a balanced diet when consumed mindfully. Monitoring portion size is not just about controlling calories; it also allows one to enjoy a variety of foods while maintaining a healthy and sustainable eating pattern.

Frequently asked questions

The fat content in naan bread can vary, especially if it's brushed with oil, butter, or ghee. High fat intake, particularly from saturated fats, can be a concern for heart health. Opt for naan that uses minimal added fats, or choose lighter versions made with heart-healthy oils and minimal butter or ghee.

Diabetics can include naan in their diet in moderation and with caution. Since naan typically has a high glycemic index, it should be consumed in small portions and paired with low-GI, fiber-rich foods to minimize blood sugar spikes. It's best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

To make naan a healthier option, opt to use whole grain flour such as whole wheat to increase the fiber content, which can aid in digestion and help to lower the glycemic index. Additionally, you can reduce or eliminate high-calorie toppings like butter and ghee, and serve with plenty of vegetables and lean proteins.

No, naan bread is not suitable for a gluten-free diet as it is typically made with wheat flour, which contains gluten. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid traditional naan and instead look for gluten-free alternatives made with flours that do not contain gluten.

Ask a question about Naan and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood sugar levels
  • restlessness
  • inattention
  • sleep disturbances
  • skin irritation
  • allergic reactions
  • respiratory issues

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • insulin resistance
  • type 2 diabetes
  • coronary heart disease
  • complications from high sodium intake
  • potential impact of additives

Ingredients to be aware of


  • contributes to daily protein intake
  • small amounts of iron, folate, b vitamins

Healthier alternatives

  • whole wheat naan
  • homemade versions with natural ingredients
  • other high-fiber, low-gi carbohydrates

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Stonefire Ancient Grain Naan

  • Rich in ancient grains
  • Convenient mini size
  • Versatile snack/meal
  • No artificial preservatives
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-15-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-15-2024

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