Why does bread have a bad reputation?
You wouldn’t know it from all the recent sourdough bread baking, but bread is considered the enemy in certain low-carb neighborhoods. Its “unhealthy” reputation stems from the low-carb diet myth that all carbs are inherently bad. While it’s true that heavily processed, refined carbohydrates and sugary foods lack nutrients, not all carbohydrates or breads fall into this category, says Malina Malkani, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Westchester, New York. Bread can be part of a healthy diet.
In fact, depending on the bread, bread can be packed with nutrients. For example, whole-wheat bread is a good source of B vitamins, including folate, iron, magnesium, selenium and dietary fiber, according to the American Heart Association.
Another common belief about bread is that it causes weight gain. Research in the Food magazinethought that weight gain — and belly fat gain over time — is lower in people who consume more whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread.
Rely only on the ingredient and nutrition labels
One thing Lisa DeFazio, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles, is looking for is whole wheat or whole oats as the first ingredient on the list. “Be careful,” she says. “Wheat bread or multigrain is not always a whole grain product.” That’s why it’s important to look at the ingredient list rather than what it says on the branded packaging (Here’s the real difference between whole grain and whole grain.)
Look for a short list of recognizable or pronounceable ingredients, Malkani recommends. Double-check whether whole wheat or sprouted flours are the first ingredients, as the list is in descending order of predominance by weight.
Then look at the nutrition label. The healthiest breads contain more protein (about 3 to 6 grams per slice) and fiber (about 3 to 5 grams per slice) and less added sugars (less than 4 grams per slice), says Malkani.
Don’t buy bread based on the color
When buying healthy bread, keep the following in mind: the color of the bread is almost meaningless. Of course, whole wheat bread is darker than white bread. But manufacturers can add food coloring to give their processed bread a darker appearance and mislead nutrition-conscious shoppers who want healthy wheat bread, according to DeFazio. Again, be sure to check the ingredient label.
The healthiest bread brands
DeFazio and Malkani have a few favorite healthy bread brands. Those include: Food for Life Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Breads, Dave’s Killer Breads, Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Sourdough, Alvarado Street Bakery, Angelic Bakehouse, Vermont Bread Company and Franz Bakery.
Lindsay Upson/Getty Images
Healthy types of bread
100 percent whole wheat
Whole wheat is the first type of healthy bread that usually comes to mind. The flour used to make 100 percent whole-wheat bread is less processed and, according to Malkani, retains both the bran and germ of the wheat kernel. Whole grains, including whole grains, have been linked to a range of health benefits, including: reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain, according to the review of studies in the Food magazine.
Sprouted whole wheat
Sprouted bread is made from whole grains sprouted from exposure to heat and moisture, DeFazio says. This process increases the antioxidants of the grains. Malkani adds thathe sprouted grains sprouted grain breads also have a higher enzyme content. (Read about foods high in antioxidants.)
According to Critical Reviews in Nutritional Science and Nutrition, these grains contain more protein and more quality bioavailable nutrients than other grains and may be easier to digest. Most sprouted breads are high in fiber and protein, according to research in the journal nutrients. So swapping your white bread for sprouted whole wheat is an easy way to get more fiber in your diet.
The benefits of sprouted whole wheat bread can also extend to weight loss due to its lower carbohydrate count. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolismsprouted grain bread has fewer carbs, with 34 grams in a four-ounce serving, compared to 44 grams in 12-grain bread.
The sprouting process allows the grains to absorb more water, reducing the carbohydrate content. “Sprouting breaks down the starch in grains and reduces the carbohydrate content,” says DeFazio. As a result, “germinated grains don’t spike blood sugar like white bread.”
(Check out this cloud bread recipe, a carb-free bread option.)
Whole wheat sourdough
This bread is easier to digest than others, according to DeFazio, thanks to the prebiotics and probiotics created during the fermentation process. The fermentation process used to make whole-wheat sourdough bread helps reduce the number of phytates that bind to certain minerals and hinder their absorption into the body, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. As a result, Malkani says that whole wheat sourdough bread is digested more slowly in the body, helps stabilize blood sugar levels after meals.
Flaxbread uses whole-wheat flour and flaxseeds, according to DeFazio. “Flaxbread contains omega-3 fatty acids that are good for heart health,” she says. Bread made with flaxseed is an especially good bread option for vegans who need more healthy fatty acids in their diet.
These super seeds are also a good source of fiber, protein and antioxidants. A study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that eating flaxseed bread and other flax foods may be beneficial for digestive-related health problems.
Sprouted rye bread
Rye resembles wheat bread, but is darker and denser. Investigation food diary found that rye may be healthier in terms of making you feel fuller without affecting blood sugar levels. Like sprouted whole wheat bread, sprouted rye is a good source of fiber, especially when compared to regular rye bread. “Sprayed rye bread is high in soluble fiber, which slows the digestion of carbohydrates and decreases the insulin response,” says DeFazio.
One of the newest types of healthy bread in the supermarket world is oat bread, which contains both oats and whole wheat flour as main ingredients. If cauliflower can turn into a pizza, your favorite breakfast food can definitely turn into bread.
The best part is that there are already many benefits of eating oatmeal. Oats contain many nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and iron. Plus, its high fiber content may help lower cholesterol and lower high blood pressure, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Vascular Health and Risk Management.
Gluten-free bread has no grains such as wheat, rye or barley, according to DeFazio. Instead, gluten-free bread is a mix of gluten-free flours such as brown rice, almond, coconut, tapioca, potato or corn flour. Gluten-free bread is good for people who need to avoid gluten, such as those with signs of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
When manufacturers remove gluten, they add other ingredients to compensate, because they need the bread to be chewy and have texture, DeFazio explains. So gluten-free bread often has refined flours, added sugars, gums and tapioca starch that can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems.
DeFazio urges people without celiac disease and/or gluten allergy to opt for plain bread. Some people without these health problems mistakenly think: if they avoid gluten, they will lose weight, she says. Keep in mind that avoiding gluten doesn’t automatically lead to weight loss, nor is it necessarily healthier than other breads.
In short: what is the healthiest type of bread?
Bread is not the enemy. “Find a loaf of bread that you like and that is also healthy,” suggests DeFazio. If you dislike the taste and texture of one type of bread, move on and find another.
The healthiest bread option for you really depends on a few factors. Bread made with 100 percent whole grains is less processed and offers more health-promoting nutrients per calorie than bread made with refined flours. That alone makes it the best healthy bread option for most people, according to Malkani. Sprouted grain bread and whole-wheat sourdough are good choices for those with digestive issues, she adds.
Look for breads with whole grains and lots of fiber, but low in sugar. Using Malkani and Defazio’s tips and choosing a bread from one of the healthiest bread brands, you’ll be making a foolproof, tasty choice every time.