The Healthiest Breads: European Style, Wheat, Whole Grain, Sprouted or Gluten-free?
A staple of many of our diets, finding a healthy bread is an important factor in making healthy nutrition choices. On the shelves and bread aisle, there are a wide variety of breads to choose from. Below is our Paradise Foods Nutritionist’s guide to choosing a healthy bread for you and your family.
European Style – Prepared In-house & from Local Bakeries
Fresh baked bread once was nothing more than flour, yeast, water and salt. Today it is produced on a mass scale commonly with chemical or natural additives to improve the flavor, consistency and appearance. Chemical and natural preservatives are often added to extend the shelf life. Many local bakers tend to shy away from the use of chemical additives and preservatives. Grace Baking, Acme, Artisan Bakers, Metropolis, Semifreddi’s, Judy’s Breadsticks, Alvarado Street Bakery, Vital Vittles and La Boulange may use natural preservatives such as sourdough. Fresh local breads are available as both table breads and sandwich loafs.
Whole Wheat & Multi-grain – Vitamins, Minerals & Fiber make Healthy Bread
100% whole wheat bread contains the whole wheat kernel (the bran, the germ and the endosperm). The vitamins, minerals and fiber from the whole kernel make this a nutritiously superior bread to that of white and brown or wheat bread. Multi-grain bread may use flour that has been refined, similar to that of white or brown and wheat, losing much of the nutritional value. 100% multi-grain bread is not refined and contains the vitamins, minerals and fiber from the whole grain kernel, similar to 100% whole wheat bread. 100% multi-grain bread with a combination of spelt, kamut, barley, rye, oats and buckwheat tend to be dense. They have been found to slow digestion, leaving a feeling of fullness and satiety shortly after eaten.
White & Brown or Wheat – Nutritionally Inferior to 100% Whole Wheat or 100% Whole Grain
White bread uses flour with the bran removed. Brown bread, also referred to as wheat bread, uses flour with most of the bran removed, leaving enough for color. Depending on the baker, often coloring is added back in to create darker bread in color. The bran is where the many of the vitamins, minerals and fiber are stored. When these nutrients are removed many white and wheat breads are enriched with B-vitamins and iron in an effort to add some of the nutrition lost in the extraction process. Some brands may also add in the form of an isolated fiber such as oat or soy fiber. Isolated fibers may not have the same health benefits as intact fibers that are in the bran. Without intact fiber the body processes this refined form of flour quite quickly, similar to how the body processes sugar.
Sprouted – Similar Nutrition to Whole Wheat and Multi-grain
Sprouted 100% whole wheat or whole grain may be easier for some to digest because the whole grain kernel is soaked in water which may activate digestive enzymes. This may improve the absorption and utilization of the nutrients, but the sprouted bread in of itself does not provide a greater source of nutrition.
Gluten-Free – Whole Grain Gluten Free is a Good Alternative
Gluten-free breads are increasing in popularity as many people are living with celiac disease, wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity. Brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, corn, potato, amaranth, sorghum and teff are gluten-free whole grain flours often used in baking. Nut, seed and legume flours are used as well, such as almond and garbanzo. Nutrient-for-nutrient gluten-free breads tend to contain less overall nutrients than 100% whole wheat and whole grain breads; however they do contain essential nutrients for those who cannot tolerate gluten.
Jen’s preference is for whole grain European style bread with sourdough to naturally preserve the freshness. She enjoys the nutrient-rich lovesticks by Judy’s Breadsticks. These breadsticks are whole grain, vegan and have added nutrients from sesame and sunflower seeds. Her sandwich bread of choice is Alvarado Street Bakery Ultimate Kids Bread. It’s 100% whole grain with sprouted wheat berries and molasses, a great source of iron. Jen recommends Canyon Bakehouse Mountain White Bread as an excellent gluten-free option that is 100% whole grain and seems to please even the pickiest of palettes.
For Customers of Paradise Foods by Jen Martin, RHN, Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Nutrition Consultant
Understanding Healthy Bread Claims
Low Sodium - A single slice of most bread contains no more than 250 mg of sodium, but when consumed regularly or in large quantities, the sodium level is something to consider. Lower sodium is of increased importance for a diet that is moderate-to-high in processed or packaged foods, increased blood pressure or at risk for heart disease and stroke. Labels displaying “low sodium” claim the product contains 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
Low Glycemic - The glycemic index (GI) measures the amount of blood glucose that is produced by the consumption of carbohydrates. The more glucose produced, the higher the GI. A GI of 55 or less is considered low. Whole wheat and whole grain bread has a naturally lower GI than white, brown or wheat bread. Sourdough bread has also shown lower GI due to the fermentation. 100% whole grain flour-less, or sprouted breads, containing no added sugar are the most nutritious of the low GI choices.
Light - Breads that indicate they are light commonly have about 50 fewer calories per slice. The whole grain versions tend to be smaller and airier.
High Fiber - Wheat breads that offer more fiber should be examined to see if the added fiber is in the form of bran or an isolated fiber such as oat or soy fiber. Isolated fibers may not have the same health benefits as intact fibers that are in whole grain.
All Natural & 100% Natural - While this may be true, read the ingredient label to know what the bread does contain. Natural does not mean whole grain and may have ingredients such as natural sugars that are not necessarily healthy.
Whole Grain - Many bread packages are marketed as “Whole Grain”, “Good Source of Whole Grain” or “Made with Whole Grain” – Be certain to read the ingredient label as these may contain only a small amount of whole grain.
No High Fructose Corn Syrup - There is a lot of controversy over whether or not high fructose corn syrup has a worse effect on the body than other forms of sugar. In addition to high fructose corn syrup, also look for other sources of sugar including dextrose, sugar cane, sugar beets, maple syrup, dates, agave and honey.
Additives and Preservatives
- Potassium Bromate – Strengthens the dough but may be remnant if the bread has not been baked long enough or under the appropriate conditions. It is classified as a potential carcinogen.
- Sodium Stearoyl Lactate – Gives the bread a lighter consistency. Those who have a difficulty digesting lactose may have harder time digesting bread with this additive.
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils – Read the ingredient label to be sure it does not contain any type of partially hydrogenated oil or fractionated oil as these are Trans fats. These fats may increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, amongst other health problems.
- Calcium Propionate – Increases the shelf life. This preservative has been associated with sleep irregularity and hyperactivity in children.
- Food Coloring – Changes the appearance. Chemical food dye has been associated with hyperactivity in children.