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What to Consider When Choosing Bread at the Grocery Store

Nisha Patel, MD, a culinary certified doctor, shares factors to consider when choosing the right kind of bread.

Bread is a commonly consumed food and many individuals likely purchase their bread from the grocery store bread aisle (or the freezer aisle).

With the numerous brands of bread and package claims, it maybe confusing to choose a more healthful bread.

Before you read on, I tried to make this post practical and I know it may be hard to satisfy all of these criteria but I am hoping to make it easier for you when you are grocery shopping.

 



First off, I want to start with a quick review of what is the difference between a whole grain vs a refined grain.

A whole grain contains all three original parts of the grain, the bran, germ and endosperm.

A refined grain usually has the bran and/or germ removed, leaving only the endosperm.

According to the Whole Grains Council, refining a grain removes about a quarter of the protein and anywhere from one-half to two-thirds or more of a variety of nutrients.

The front of a package of bread is usually covered with a number of eye catching claims, including “100% natural”, “multigrain”, “no high fructose corn syrup,” “no artificial preservatives”, “no artificial colors or flavors” or “no trans fat”, the list goes on.

As tempting as it is to choose a bread based on the front package label claims, I strongly urge you to first look at the nutrition label and ingredients. These front of package claims don’t tell us much about the nutrient density of the bread.



When I choose a bread,

I look for the varieties where the very first ingredient listed is a whole grain. Examples of the way this may look on the ingredient list: whole grain (name of grain), whole wheat, whole (other grain), stoneground whole (grain), brown rice, oats, wheat berries ect. Also, I choose breads that are made with 100% whole grains, this is one of the few claims that is often listed on the front of the package that I find helpful.

Words that NEVER describe a whole grain include wheat flour, enriched flour, degerminated corn meal, bran or wheat germ. I can’t tell you how many reviews of breads I have read where consumers confuse “wheat flour” with “whole wheat”, trust me I used to as well. Do not get distracted by the color of the bread, even if its brown, it doesn’t mean its from a whole grain, the coloring can be achieved with added ingredients.

 

As tempting as it is to choose a bread based on the front package label claims, I strongly urge you to first look at the nutrition label and ingredients. These front of package claims don’t tell us much about the nutrient density of the… Click To Tweet



So what is the deal with “multigrain breads?” When a package claims that their bread is multigrain this does not automatically mean their bread is made from all whole grains. Multigrain can include several whole grains, several refined grains or a mix of both, so read the ingredients.


Each slice of bread should have AT LEAST 2 grams of fiber or more.

Try to avoid breads with added sugar if possible. Many breads have varying degrees of added sugar.

 

Try to avoid breads with added sugar if possible. Many breads have varying degrees of added sugar. Click To Tweet



Try to avoid breads with saturated fat. Thankfully most breads don’t include any.

Look for breads with less than 150 mg of sodium per slice. Most breads I saw were within this limit.

Make sure when you are comparing the nutrition information of different breads that the serving sizes are equivalent for comparison. For example, some brands list the nutrition information for one slice vs two slices.


According to the Whole Grains Council, there is no “regulated definition of what constitutes a sprouted grain”. Sprouted grains mean the seeds of the whole grain are harvested after they have sprouted vs before sprouting. You may see bread made from sprouted grains. Sprouted grains are generally considered whole grains.

When you read the word “stone ground” on bread, all this tells you is how the flour was made, tells you nothing about it being whole grain unless the word whole grain is attached to it.

 



On a final note:


I just want to say that technically many packaged breads do fall into the category of “ultra-processed” foods using the NOVA food classification system. R

ecall that the NOVA food classification system classifies foods according to their degree of processing, but NOT their nutrient content.

Many of us purchase store brought bread because of its convenience factor and I made this practical post to help guide you on what to look out for. With that said, I would not place packaged 100% whole grain bread in the same category as sugary sweetened soft drinks in regard to healthfulness.

I wanted to make this distinction because I do emphasize limiting ultra-processed foods as much as possible because many of the foods included in this category are calorie dense and nutrient poor (sugary/salty snacks, cookies, ice cream, soda/sugar sweetened beverages, pre-prepared packaged meats, sugary breakfast cereals, pastries/desserts ect).

If you are able to find freshly made 100% whole grain bread, that’s awesome, but I know that is not available to everyone so hopefully the above tips help!

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