Low-carb and gluten-free followers spend a lot of time avoiding the bakery section of the grocery store. But news flash: Bread does a body good! … If you differentiate the good from the bad. Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet and can help you lose weight, not to mention reduce your risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Your daily bread can also be a great source of complex carbohydrates—the good carbs your body needs as fuel—as well as protein, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids.
Traditional bread is made from a few simple ingredients: flour, liquid, yeast, salt. But as a shopper, you’re faced with a great variety of products, featuring different flours and other ingredients, such as seeds, nuts, and sweeteners, added to improve flavor, texture, and nutrition benefits. Big manufacturers often sneak in a lot more than that, things like dough conditioners, preservatives, colorings, emulsifiers, and bleaching agents (listed only as bleached flour) that you don’t really need.
When you look for simple ingredients, it’s easy to pick a loaf of delicious, nutritious bread. Here are the six best types of bread you can feel good about buying.
These hip grains are soaked in filtered water and left damp in order to sprout, before dehydrating and grinding them into flour. They’ve been around for a while but only recently popped up in grocery stores nationwide. Are breads made from germinated grains nutritionally superior? Simply put, yes. Sprouted grains and the flours made from them are easy to digest and the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in them are easier for your body to absorb. Scientists are still discovering the health benefits of sprouted grains, but you can’t go wrong. One to try: Ezekiel bread is simply good and good for you!
Basic whole-wheat bread is high in fiber and here for all of your everyday sandwich needs. Go for 100 percent stone-ground versions, as they have the vital wheat bran, which provides insoluble fiber (known to play an important role in preventing colon cancer). Additionally, whole wheat is one of the higher protein grains and gives you a variety of B vitamins and trace minerals required for health, including chromium, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc.
If whole wheat is good, more whole grains must be better, right? It seems like once you choose a really good five- or seven-grain bread, up pops a 12 or even greater competitor! More isn’t necessarily merrier, however, and there is no magic number or perfect combination of grains. Oat, wheat, rye, barley, corn, spelt, amaranth, triticale, teff, millet, and quinoa—the list goes on, and they all offer great benefits. Next time you’re confronted with the number conundrum, let your taste and good sense be your guide. A final note—as with whole wheat, do check for 100 percent whole grains, since some bread makers sneak in refined white flour.
Adding seeds to bread not only creates delicious texture, it packs in nutrients. From poppy and pumpkin seeds to flax and chia, you’re getting beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and more vitamins, minerals, and protein. Slice for slice, the calories may be slightly higher than other breads, but it’s a positive trade off when it comes to nutrient density.
Hang onto your tuna: Here’s where 100 percent whole grain makes a big difference. According to the Whole Grains Council, compared with wheat, whole-grain rye can help lower weight, improve insulin response, regulate appetite, satisfy longer, and may reduce inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of health conditions that put a person at risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes). The key is choosing the real stuff, such as Mestemacher’s Whole Meal Rye Bread. This classic German rye is “baked to a traditional recipe since 1871,” boasts three ingredients, and has no preservatives. Try this or other whole-grain rye breads, but keep an eye on sodium—traditional rye contains a good amount of salt.
Gluten-free breads have come a long way! Notorious for being loaded with sugar, salt, and highly processed carbs from refined grains and starches, gluten-free breads finally have some real contenders. Consider the 7 Ancient Grains loaf by Three Bakers, made from organic brown rice flour with amaranth, sorghum, millet, teff, and flax. While still falling short as a significant protein source, with only 3 grams per 2 slices (versus 8 to 10 grams per 2 slices of Ezekiel bread), this particular bread does offer important micronutrients, such as iron, and is one of the better commercial options in the sodium department (1 slice has 140 mg, which is considered a low-sodium food).
The bottom line: The slice is right when it’s 100 percent whole grain and not loaded with unnecessary additives. Keep an eye on salt and sugar, selecting the lowest sodium option, and avoiding added sugars. (Multi-grain breads are the exception to the sugar rule, where small amounts of added sweeteners such as honey, molasses, or sugar benefit the flavor and help retain moisture.) Instead of feeling guilty about bad carbs, make buying great breads a regular habit to reap health benefits and help trim your waistline.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.