You asked, and we answered: a post devoted entirely to bread and the questions we all have about it. Bread is a staple in the American diet, so it’s no wonder we constantly obsess over it. It’s just sometimes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, when it comes to making healthier choices.
Not all bread is created equal
Most bread falls into one of two categories: refined (a.k.a. “white”) and whole grain. The difference between the two breads is how much of the original grain is turned into flour. A grain is considered to be whole if it contains all three of its original parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. Together, these give the grain rich nutrition and help with digestion.
Much of the grain is removed to make refined flour (often to allow for a longer shelf life) and important B vitamins and fiber (among other things) are lost. This leaves behind a high-carbohydrate flour that’s lighter in color, yet the resulting bread can still be labeled “whole-wheat.” “When you eat this bread by itself, it can cause spikes in blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry soon after,” says Coach Cassie. On the flip side, the fiber and added nutrients in whole grain bread contribute to better blood sugar balance and may keep you satiated longer. Just make sure the label says 100% whole wheat with at least 2-3 grams of fiber in every serving and no added sugars, preservatives or artificial flavors.
How do you tell if your bread is truly whole grain?
Words like “wheat,” “multigrain” and “bran” sound healthy, but that may not always be the case. (Multigrain, for example, simply means the bread contains several types of grains, which may or may not be whole.) The simplest way to tell if a bread is whole grain is to check the ingredients, which are listed in order of greatest weight by volume. If the first ingredient starts with the word “whole,” it’s likely a whole-grain product. If it just says “wheat” or if it starts with “enriched” it’s not. For more label examples and what they mean, check out the Whole Grains Council.
Scientists in California found that people burned 50 percent more calories digesting a sandwich on whole grain bread with real cheese compared to a sandwich on white bread with processed cheese, even though both sandwiches had the same amount of calories and ratio of bread to cheese. Similarly, in a randomized clinical trial of 81 adults, the group eating whole grains had signiﬁcantly higher concentrations of “good” gut microbes and improved their metabolisms over the six-week study, compared with the group eating reﬁned grains.
What are some nutritious whole grains to consider in addition to wheat?
- Rye has more nutrients per serving than other whole grains. It also has more fiber. But before you grab a loaf of rye bread from your bakery and rush off, consider that most rye bread in the United States is made with refined flour. Look for whole rye at the beginning of the ingredient list.
- Barley is another excellent, high-fiber option. Make sure you’re buying whole-grain barley instead of “pearled,” which means the bran and germ of the barley have been removed.
- Quinoa is a close relative of spinach and kale and is a seed rather than a grain. It’s high in protein contains healthy omega 3s. The high protein combined with fiber fills you up quickly and keep you feeling full until your next meal.
- Buckwheat is also high in protein and magnesium. Many people with celiac can tolerate it well.
What are sprouted grains?
Sprouted grains are whole grains that have been soaked and left to germinate. Sprouted grain bread can have more nutrients than regular whole grain bread and its hearty texture tends to be more filling as well. Just be aware that there’s no regulated standard definition of “sprouted grains,” which means there are a wide range of definitions. Again, it’s important to check the full ingredients list.
What are “intact grains?”
Intact grains are grains in their original form with the bran, germ, and endosperm in place without being ground or modified in some way. Examples include steel-cut oats, hulled barley, brown rice, bulgur, whole farro, wheat berries and quinoa (although technically quinoa is a seed). “For optimal health,” says Coach Sara, “choose intact grains over whole grain products made from ground flour.”
Can I still eat bread if I’m worried about carbs?
Yes, but in moderation is the short answer. Coach Kathleen suggests choosing products that support your low-carb goals like thin sliced Dave’s killer bread with just 12 grams of carbs and 60 calories per slice. Eating half a sandwich with soup or salad or enjoying open-faced sandwiches is another smart way to enjoy bread.
“You can still be healthy and include whole grain products in your diet with the right balance of nutrition,” Coach Sara says. “Just be sure to check the nutrition label and ingredients list and practice portion control.”
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