It used to be simple to buy bread. Now it requires concentration, patience and reading glasses! A few shelves in the bread aisle has morphed into a full-length aisle of cellophane-wrapped confusion. With catch phrases like “cracked,” “stone-ground,” “fiber”, and “whole grain,” even when you know a thing or two about nutrition, it’s hard to tell what is what. In fact, some breads with healthy-sounding names end up being nutritional disasters, while loaves with ho-hum names are terrific for you!
Whether you want to lose weight, eat healthy, or avoid processed foods with extra-long ingredient lists, look for a slice that is jam-packed with whole grains, fiber and flavor. To expedite your search, here’s what you need to know.
Three Parts of a Wheat Kernel
A wheat kernel is a whole grain containing three healthy parts. Before it is processed, the three parts of a wheat kernel include:
- Bran, the outer layer of the grain. It contains B-vitamins, trace minerals and dietary fiber. It is removed when wheat flour is processed (refined and/or bleached) into white flour.
- Germ, the part of the plant that sprouts to generate a new plant. It has B-vitamins, trace minerals, and some protein. It is removed when wheat flour is refined to become white flour.
- Endosperm, the inner part of the grain that contains protein and carbohydrates as well as small amounts of vitamins and minerals. This is all that is left when flour is refined to become white flour.
Remember: First Ingredient, Only Flour
By law, a food company must list ingredients in descending order based on how much they weigh in the product. This means that the first ingredient is the most prevalent ingredient in the product, and so on.
To make sure you are getting 100% whole wheat bread, look at the ingredients list—not the front of the package. “Whole wheat flour” or “100% whole wheat flour” should be the first ingredient and the only flour listed. Don’t fall for deceitful terms such as “wheat flour,” “unbleached wheat flour,” “multigrain,” “enriched,” or “stone-ground wheat flour.” These are just sneaky ways of saying refined white flour.
What “Whole Grain” Means
The term “whole grain” is in lots of food ads and on the front of food packages, from bread to crackers to cereals. But whole grain is NOT the same thing as whole wheat. When a label uses the words “whole grain,” this is what it means:
- The product contains all three portions of the kernel (germ, bran and endosperm).
- It contains 51% whole grain ingredients (or more) by weight per serving.
- The bread contains 3 grams of fat (or less), 1 gram of saturated fat (or less), and 20 mg of cholesterol (or less) per serving.
To tell if your bread contains a majority of whole grains, look at the listing of ingredients. “Whole grain” should be a part of the first ingredient, such as: “whole wheat flour,” “whole grain rye flour,” or “whole grain pumpernickel flour.” You can also check for the whole grain seal on the package.
“White Whole Wheat” and “Whole Grain White” Breads
Most wheat flour is made from a variety of wheat known as red wheat. White whole wheat breads made from a variety of albino wheat. White whole wheat flour is as nutritious as regular whole wheat flour, but bread made with white wheat flour has a milder taste and texture due to the characteristics of that particular type of wheat.
For picky eaters (including kids) who don’t like the taste of regular whole wheat bread, whole wheat white bread could be a good option. Be sure to read the ingredients label and nutrition facts to make sure you are getting 100% whole wheat flour—not white flour with some whole grains added.
Ingredients, Fillers and Sweeteners in Bread
All you need to make bread is flour, water, yeast, salt, and a little bit of sugar (to activate the yeast). But breads these days have long and complicated ingredients lists. These extra ingredients are added to help improve the taste, texture, shelf life or nutritional profile of the bread so consumers will find it more appealing.
Some fiber-rich additions (like processed oat, cottonseed, pea or wheat fibers) boost the fiber content. Other manufacturers use additional sweeteners (like sugar, corn syrup, or honey) to make their bread—especially whole wheat ones—taste sweeter. Often, high fructose corn syrup replaces sugar in many breads to reduce cost and prolong shelf life. Many breads are enriched with vitamins and minerals they appear to be more nutritious.
It is up to every individual consumer to decide whether they want a bread that contains corn syrup, preservatives, or other additives. But one thing we can all do is look for breads that have shorter ingredients lists and recognizable ingredients in general.
Bread Nutrition Labels: What to Look For
Besides ingredients, here are some guidelines for picking a loaf that is healthy and nutritious.
Look for these Nutrition Facts:
- Calories: 100 or fewer per slice
- Fiber: 2 grams or more per slice
- Sodium: 225 mg or less per slice
- 100% whole wheat flour as the first ingredient
Sources: SparkRecipes.com, Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian