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5 ways to choose healthier bread

5 ways to choose healthier bread

If you love bread, the tasty food can be part of your healthful diet. But you have to choose carefully.

If your grocery store bread aisle has lots of brands, types and claims, we have some guidance to help you find a healthy loaf of sandwich bread.

100% rule

It’s important to look for “100% whole wheat,” “100% whole grain” or “100% sprouted whole grain.” Whole grain means the entire wheat kernel – the husk (or bran), body (endosperm) and germ – is ground into flour. Sprouted whole grain may be easier to digest and a better source of vitamins and minerals, according to some experts. Both kinds of flour keep the nutrition of the grain.

Terms such as “wheat,” “natural,” “multigrain” and “whole wheat” can be misleading. Without that “100%,” you may be getting a lot of processed flour. Processing takes away nutrients. Sometimes nutrients that are taken out are added back in, but it’s not as good for you that way.

Five signs the bread’s good for you

If the bread meets these five tests, you’ll get more nutrition. The label should list:

  • 100% whole grain: Whole grain is the first ingredient on the label. (Ingredients are listed in order of how much the product contains, so the first three to five ingredients are the most important. Pay attention to them.)
  • 2 g of fiber per slice at a minimum. The more, the better.
  • 200 mg of sodium per slice at most.
  • Less than .5 g saturated fat, 0 cholesterol and 0 trans fats.
  • No more than 10-15 ingredients: Bread needs flour, water, yeast and salt. The longer the list, the more likely the loaf contains additives you don’t want and good bread doesn’t need.

Beware of misleading packaging

Now that you know what to look for, take a look at some bread-selling techniques you should beware of:

  • Thinking brown means it’s good. Many brown breads labeled “whole wheat” have caramel coloring or other artificial coloring to make them brown. That does not mean they’re healthful.
  • “Dough conditioners.” They’re added to make the bread stay soft. These additives don’t add nutrition and might cause health problems.
  • “Enriched” or “bleached” flour. Whole grain flour doesn’t need to be enriched by adding nutrients back in.
  • “Partially hydrogenated oils.” That’s code for “trans fats.” You don’t want them.
  • The “Whole-Grain” stamp by the Whole Grains Council (unless it also says “100%”). This just means “some whole grain in here.”
  • Sugar? The best-quality 100% whole grain breads typically do not use high-fructose corn syrup. If you want to reduce sugar intake (a good idea), check the label for words ending in –ose (like dextrose, maltose, sucrose). They’re all sugars. You’ll want to steer clear of them.

What not to buy

Below are the ingredients from a national brand white bread. It’s a good study in what not to buy. Notice the first three ingredients are wheat flour enriched (that means white), water and high fructose corn syrup.

You’ll see dough conditioners and additives, and more than 20 ingredients. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce it, you likely don’t want it in your bread.

White Bread Ingredients (31) Wheat Flour Enriched (Flour, Barley Malt, Ferrous Sulfate [ Iron ], Vitamin B [ Niacin Vitamin B3, Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1 { Thiamin Vitamin B1 }, Riboflavin Vitamin B2 { Riboflavin Vitamin B2 }, Folic Acid Vitamin B9 ] ), Water, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Contains 22% or less Wheat Gluten, Salt, Soybeans Oil, Yeast, Calcium Sulphate, Vinegar, Monoglyceride, Dough Conditioners ( Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Dioxide ), Soy Flour, Diammonium Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Yeast Nutrients ( Ammonium Sulfate ), Calcium Propionate, To Retain Freshness

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  1. Great article, thanks for providing the detail on what to look for in a brown bread.

  2. I want bread to taste good and have a texture that is pleasing to me. I don’t live on bread alone so I couldn’t care less how healthy it is or is not. I just plain don’t like the so-called healthy breads. To me they have a texture like hay (yes, I’ve chewed hay) and the taste is on the bitter side.

  3. Terrific article! Texture and taste improve as these ingredients are present. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have great selections.

  4. Great article!!!
    Good to know the difference between Whole Grain bread vs 100% whole grain, and also not to buy things containing “ose” like Fructose etc.
    How about added preservative?? Since I started eating bread w/o preservatives, I do not like any other bread which has preservative in it.

  5. Additionally, don’t be fooled by take out, sandwich shops using terms like “multigrain”, “whole wheat”, or “nine-grain”, that imply their breads are healthy. Recently, the franchisee of a large sandwich chain brought an appeal to the Irish tax court about their so-called bread. Every variety of the chain’s “bread” contained five times the amount of sugar allowed by Ireland’s definition of bread (i.e., two percent of the weight of the flour) to qualify as a staple exempt from value added taxes. According to the ruling, the chain’s bread is actually a confectionery or fancy baked goods; more like cake than bread. Their “bread” is not healthful food.

  6. Great info!

  7. Any suggestions for gluten free healthy bread

  8. We are on low carb diets, any suggestions for a low carb bread.

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About the Author

Amanda Motl
Amanda Motl

Amanda Motl, RD, CD, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes counselor at Aurora Medical Center in Summit, WI.