How To Choose A Healthy Bread

Healthy Bread

( One of the most overwhelming choices at the grocery store can be choosing a loaf of bread. Whole grain, whole wheat,  multigrain, what’s a person to do? Today we’ll run down what you need to know to choose the best bread for your health goals.

What’s in a grain?

A whole grain is made up of three parts; the bran, endosperm and the germ.

Bran: The outer layer that provides heart and gut healthy fibre as well as certain B vitamins and anti-oxidants.
Endosperm: The starchy food supply for the germ. In a plant it provides the essential energy for the plant to grow. In bread it provides most of the carbohydrate content.
Germ: The embryo of the grain containing the protein, B vitamins and and  small amounts of fats.

Go Whole or Sprouted Grain

True whole grain breads, where the entire seed is milled in to flour, have the best bang for the buck. All the best stuff- fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals- are largely clustered in the bran and germ. 

Photo Courtesy Oldways and the Whole Grains Council,

Sprouted grains contain all of the parts of the seed and seem to be more easily digestible than their un-sprouted  counterparts, giving your body better access to the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. If you have signs of intolerance to regular wheat products (like gas, bloating, or discomfort after eating) you may find your gut much happier with a sprouted product.

Bran and germ are both almost completely removed in white bread. But did you know that up to 5% of the kernel (including the bran and germ) can be removed from “whole wheat flour”. Remember those are the most nutrient dense parts of the grain!

What about “white” whole wheat breads?

It depends on the bread! Some breads are actually made with a type of white wheat (normal wheat is more reddish) that is milder and softer than regular wheat. These breads can still be whole grain- look for whole grain white wheat on a Canadian label to be sure.

Other breads may advertise being like white bread but containing whole grains- these are often a case of “too good to be true”. Typically the first ingredient (which always represents the most common ingredient by weight)  is regular wheat flour, followed by a “whole grain mix” and another fibre source like oat hulls. While this is a much better bet than a white bread for picky eaters because of the fibre content, its difficult to tell the actual proportions of whole grains compared to the unbleached flour. It may fall short on natural sources of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that whole grains provide.

What about multigrain?

Multigrain itself does not mean whole grain, all that it tells us is that there is more than one type of grain in the bread. Sometimes this means a mix of whole grains, but in others it’s just a few different types of refined grains. It’s a sneaky way for white breads to get a piece of the “healthy” market. Don’t be fooled, learn to read your labels.

Label Reading Rules:

The first thing to look at is always the ingredient list followed by the protein and sodium content. Look for the first ingredient to be:

  • whole grain whole wheat
  • sprouted whole wheat
  • or if you are on a wheat free diet follow the same pattern- for example whole grain whole rice or whole sprouted rice

Then compare protein and sodium. Go for the highest protein and lowest sodium after choosing a couple loaves with great ingredient lists.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • If there is any sugar it should be way down near the end of the list if on there at all
  • Minimal “extras” in the way of chemical additives and preservatives.
  • Ignore most of the rest- the percent daily values, grams of carbohydrates etc. Remember that whole and sprouted grains are naturally nutrient dense so you don’t need to worry too much about the minutiae of the numbers.

This sounds like a lot of work:

I swear, its not as time consuming as it seems. The first time you hit the store, you’ll probably have to spend several minutes comparing. But once you’ve found a great brand and type just stick with it. There’s no need to re-evaluate every time and your body will thank you! 

A note about how much bread:

As with so many things in life, even healthy whole grains can be too much of a good thing. That we are a carb-crazy culture is definitely to our detriment so don’t treat grains like a “free” food.

Remember fruits and veggies should comprise about half of what you eat (or more!) with protein foods and grains each taking up a quarter of your intake. If you’re small like me, one serving of starchy foods spread out over three to four times a day is likely enough; if you’re bigger or more active you can work your way up from there keeping the balance between food groups the same. 


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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.