Although were suckers for a good bakery or homemade loaf, the pre-sliced, squishy bread that comes in plastic bags is convenient and cheap. It also makes excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. But some bread is good for you (nutrients!), while some breads wear a false health halo. Did you think multi-grain was a good thing? Think again.
We spoke to a nutritionist to figure out how to buy the healthiest supermarket bread.
Wheat vs. Whole-Wheat vs. Multi-Grain vs
Wheat can look like the gorgeous, crusty sourdough loaf at your local bakeryor it can be highly processed, squishy, pre-sliced, reduced-calorie, preservative-packed bread. If something simply says wheat, it is an enriched product that has been stripped of beneficial nutrients. Some nutrients are added back but it is not the same as a whole-grain product, says Carrie Motschwiller, a registered dietitian and wellness manager in New York City. For maximum nutritional benefits, the word whole should be somewhere on your package. Still, its better than a candy bar!
This one sounds healthy, but its often just smoke and mirrors. Multi-grain is typically not the best choice and not an actual whole-grain product, says Motschwiller. Remember that unless the word whole is on the label, theres no guarantee that the grain contains all of its components. Multi-grain just means theres more than one type of grain (so, for example, non-whole-wheat and corn). Although your multi-grain bread could contain essentially nutritionally-lacking flour, at least youre getting more than one variety of stripped-down grains?
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A kernel of wheat contains three parts: the germ, endosperm, and bran. White bread is stripped of the endosperm and bran (and, subsequently, most of the nutrition). Whole-wheat is made from flour that contains all three. That said, many commercially-produced whole-wheat flour breads are made by separating the elements, grinding them, then Frankensteining them back together, rather than grinding it all at once. The words single-stream milled indicate that all elements of the wheat kernel were kept together from start to finish, but this is rarely on bread packaging, though stone-ground is often a good indicator that the kernel wasnt separated when ground. Alternatively, Bobs Red Mill is widely available and keeps the whole grain intact.Mmm, fiber.
Same deal as whole-wheat, except this label typically denotes a bread thats been made with a combination of wheat and other grains, like barley, rye, or spelt. Most store-bought bread (excepting gluten-free) contain at least some wheat, although you can sometimes find bread thats 100% rye, spelt, etc. Whole grains are your friend, unless, that is, you cant digest them. Says Motschwiller, It is recommended (per dietary guidelines) to make at least half the grains you consume whole grains. Whole-grain flour can simply be whole-wheat, but if it contains many different grains, all the better. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Frequently found in natural and health food stores, sprouted breads are kept in the freezer or refrigerated section. Were fans of the Ezekiel brand. Sprouted breads typically contain the entire grain (kernel, really) after they have been germinated, explains Motschwiller. Motschwiller adds that wheat is usually only one of many ingredients in this bread: Often legumes and other grains are used, as well such as barley, oats, lentils or even soy. Sprouted bread is, by necessity, whole-grain (you cant sprout processed flour), so it comes with all of the same benefits. Studies have shown that sprouted grains contain less gluten regular grains, but its debatable whether they boast greater nutritional value. Ezekial 4:9 is a popular and widely-available brand of sprouted bread, as is Daves Killer Bread.Whole-grains are key, and some folks say sprouted = easier to digest. Youll have to test that theory on your own.
What to Look forand Avoid
Bread made from whole grains will contain fiber. You want at least 2 grams per servingideally 3-4. Fiber isnt just important for, uh, regulation. Motschwiller explains that it can help keep you fuller longer. The recommended daily intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
You may know this by its other name, trans fat. Any product that contains trans fat must include the information on the ingredient label. Note, we said ingredients not just nutrition facts. By law, food companies are allowed to list 0 grams of trans fat if it contains less than .5 grams per serving, Motschwiller explains.