BREADS AND HEALTH: NOT ALL ARE CREATED EQUAL

Here are some tips about breads. In general, whole-grain content is far preferable to refined products. Obesity is common in this country along with complications of diabetes and other health ailments. As a result, people should look for ways to control their dietary habits and focus on dietary items that are raw and less refined. A worrying statistic indicates that nearly 60% of calorie consumption is from ultra-processed food; that is, extra ingredients that are placed into the food in order to make it taste better and sometimes to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product. These foods contain high amounts of sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, which can cause threats of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. By contrast, whole-grains possess far less risk for such maladies. One place to avoid such ultra-processed foods is in our selection of breads, as we discuss below:

Get 100% whole grain

If the label says “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain,” you’re there. Otherwise, check the ingredient list for “whole wheat” or other “whole” grains. Don’t be fooled by the term “enriched” or “wheat” or “unbleached wheat” flour. They’re all refined (aka white). “Sprouted grains” are typically whole. Satisfactory breads are made with grains that are all—or nearly all—whole.

Check the serving size

A serving of most breads is one slice. But some thinner or smaller loaves list two slices (like Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Thin Sliced or Silver Hills Sprouted Power Little Big Bread) or even three slices (like Pepperidge Farm Very Thin). Listed contents generally pertain to only one slice, and this must be factored in. Optimally, one serving should comprise 100 calories or less.

Skirt the salt.

Bread doesn’t taste salty, but two slices can easily rack up 350 to 400 milligrams of sodium before you add mustard, mayo, cheese, turkey, etc. Do not choose more than 120 mg of sodium per slice. Barely acceptable are those that can have up to 150 mg. If you need to watch every milligram, Alvarado St. Bakery, Food for Life, and Angelic Bakehouse make no-salt-added breads. In a sandwich, you might not notice their blander taste. Food for Life Organic Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain (75 mg of sodium per slice) and Angelic Bakehouse 7-Grain Reduced Sodium (65 mg) manage to cut salt but not flavor. Ditto for small slices like Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Thin Sliced (around 70 mg) or Silver Hills Sprouted Power Little Big Bread (90 mg).

Keep a lid on sugar.

Acceptable breads have no more than a few grams of added sugar (if that), so we needn’t set limits. just keep in mind that larger slices—Dave’s Killer Bread Organic 21 Whole Grains and Seeds, for one—can hit 5 grams of added sugar per slice. That gives a two-slice sandwich enough sugar to approach 20 percent of the Daily Value (50 grams). So keep your eye on labels to avoid such excesses.

Calorie Content

A healthy DASH diet, containing roughly 2,000 calories/day, piles on the fruits and veggies, so it leaves room for just four 1 oz. servings of grains a day. But many bread slices weigh in at 11/2 oz. (42 grams) or more. So that two-slice sandwich eats up three of your four grain servings. Fewer calories are found in “thin-sliced” breads from Dave’s Killer Bread, Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Brownberry, or Oroweat. None top 1 oz. per slice. And most are also low on sodium.

How to Know the Whole-grain Content of a Given Bread

In general, whole wheat is the safest choice. Beyond that, it’s not always easy to tell what kind of grains a bread has. For instance, a brown bread isn’t necessarily whole wheat — the brown hue may come from added coloring. If you’re not sure something has whole grains, check the product label or the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for the word “whole” on the package, and make sure it contains 100% whole grain or whole wheat appears among the first items in the ingredient list. The label “rye bread” is confusing. Just because rye’s dark color makes it look like a whole grain loaf doesn’t mean that it always is whole grain. To ensure you’re getting whole grain rye, look for whole rye or rye berries on the label. Many rye breads today are blends of light, medium, or dark rye flour blended with a higher protein flour, like wheat, for better rising. In general, pumpernickel bread is a type that consists of pure whole rye grain and is a good choice. Sourdough bread, per se, may be made from whole or refined grains, so one must study labels for contents.

Avoid Misleading Names

Some names and claims sound like they’re 100% whole grain. They often aren’t:

“Multigrain.” More than one grain? So what? Nature’s Own Perfectly Crafted Thick Sliced Multigrain, for example, still has more refined wheat flour than any other grain.

“Wheat.” Don’t judge a “wheat” bread by its color. Take The Cheesecake Factory At Home Our Famous “Brown Bread” Wheat Sandwich Loaf. It’s got more white than whole wheat flour. And the brown color might be explained by brown sugar or molasses.

“8g whole grain.” Grams don’t tell you what percent of the grains are whole. It could have 8g (or more) of white flour, too.

“Made with whole grain.” That usually means white flour mixed with whole grain. For example, only 32 percent of the grain in “Sara Lee White Made with Whole Grain” is whole, according to the label. Most other breads don’t even list such contents..

“Oatmeal.” There’s often some (or lots of) white flour, making this name meaningless.

■ “No Gluten” Unless you have a clear health need to avoid gluten, don’t bother. Most gluten-free breads mix in starchy, fiber-poor tapioca or arrowroot, which are counted as refined flour. For example, a loaf of Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain has more tapioca starch than brown rice flour. Exception: the main ingredient in Best Bite Food for Life Gluten Free Brown Rice Bread is organic brown rice flour. In general, most people should shun entirely the “no gluten label.”

SUMMARY

When choosing a bread, stick to whole grain content, try to limit sodium to less than 150 mg/slice, fewer than 100 calories/slice. Also it’s best to avoid breads made with the artificial sweetener sucralose or with non-trivial amounts of starches like tapioca or arrowroot. Except for a select few, the gluten-free label is also best avoided.

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