How Do You Know Which Type of Bread Is the Healthiest Option?
A nutritionist helps you decode labels and make smart choices.
Bread is a foundational part of most of our diets. Bread may also be the most villainized grain in our diet due to trends and fads in the world of weight loss. The good news is that bread, when consumed in moderation, can have a place in a healthy diet. Knowing what to look for on a label (and in the loaf) is the key to making the best choice.
As a nutritionist, I recommend choosing breads made with whole grains—they're higher in fiber, which means that they'll be more satiating and filling (so that you don’t keep reaching for additional slices!), and will help maintain steady blood sugar levels. But be careful: Labels like "multigrain," "nine grain," "wheat flour,” and "made with whole grain" can be misleading, as these qualifiers alone do not guarantee that a product contains whole grains. In fact, multigrain just means that there is more than one type of grain (refined or whole) present. On the front of the package, look for labels that say "100 percent whole grain," which signifies that all of the bread's grain ingredients are whole grains. In the ingredients list, look for whole grain ingredients listed first, including whole wheat, whole grain berries, oats, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, and bulgur.
When reading a food label, fiber is one of the main things to pay attention to. Dietary fiber comes from plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes. It is important for our digestive health and helps with regular bowel movements. It also helps to keep you feeling fuller longer, and it has been shown to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. As consumers, we are told that to look for darker color breads as it may be an indicator of more whole grains. However, this is not necessarily a predictor as many food companies add caramel color or molasses to darken the appearance of their breads.
If you like to buy bread at a bakery, often the loaf won't have a nutrition label or ingredients panel. On the plus side, it will probably be fresher and free from preservatives like extra sodium or sugar. Ask for recommendations on which loaves are made with a higher percentage of whole or sprouted grains (sprouted grains are whole grains that have begun to sprout; they're considered beneficial for their high fiber content, low glycemic index, and bioavailability of micronutrients). If you're not a fan of breads made from whole grains, you might still be in luck: sourdough bread, which is leavened by wild yeast cultures that give it a distinct tangy flavor, is a great option. Because of the fermentation process, sourdough tends to contain more minerals and antioxidants than regular bread, and some research points out that sourdough is easier to digest (due to its prebiotic content) and has a better effect on blood sugars because of its lower glycemic index.
When it comes to our daily diet, breakfast and lunch are the main meals that typically include bread. Start your day off with an open face egg sandwich with a few slices of avocado or an avocado and egg toast, which provides the perfect balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. If you enjoy a sandwich at lunch time, I recommend that you use the half now, half later strategy. Essentially, you are going to split up your sandwich between lunch and your mid-afternoon snack. Not only does this redistribute your caloric intake, but it also gives you the opportunity to add vegetables or a soup on the side to fill you up with each half. And if you enjoy bread at dinner, and especially when dining out, make bread your carbohydrate at this meal.