How to Pick a Healthy Bread at the Supermarket

These days, the bread aisle at the supermarket is crowded with choices far beyond the old white, whole-wheat, rye and pumpernickel. It takes careful label reading to know what you’re buying. But the good news is that your options for buying healthy bread are much better than they used to be. Even the “all-American” spongy white bread of yesteryear is less prominent on supermarket shelves. In its place you’ll increasingly find white whole-wheat, the new “wonder” of the bread aisle. This is indeed whole wheat, but from a different variety of wheat that has a softer texture and lighter color. Use my tips to make better purchasing decisions when shopping for bread.

  1. Be wary of breads that don’t have “100%” on the label. You’ve probably heard whole grains provide more vitamins, minerals and important nutrients than refined grains. It’s unfortunate but since there are no regulations on whole grain labeling, bread manufacturers can place healthy sounding words on their packaging that may mislead consumers, many times mixing a small amount of whole wheat with regular all-purpose flour.

Don’t be deceived by bread packaging that claims to be:

  • Whole grain, whole wheat or white wheat – it probably only contains a small amount if the package doesn’t say 100%
  • 100% natural – natural does not mean whole wheat or whole grain
  • 7-grain – it might have 7 grains but may contain a fair amount of refined flour as well

If you’re not a fan of regular whole wheat, look for 100% white whole wheat which is made with a different type of wheat that bakes up softer and with a milder flavor but still has the healthy components of traditional whole wheat.

  1. Look for a 10:1 carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio on the nutrition label. For every 10 grams of carbohydrates in a serving, there should be at least 1 gram of fiber. Thus, if there are 30 grams of carbohydrate in 1 slice of bread, that slice should contain at least 3 grams of fiber.
  2. Choose breads with little or no added sugars. Traditional homemade bread does not contain sugar but it’s added to many packaged breads to retain moisture, add softness and a mild sweetness. If you’re having trouble finding a loaf without added sugar, keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. The farther down sugar is listed on the ingredient list, the less the bread will contain.

When you look at the ingredient label, keep in mind sugar may be disguised as:

  • corn sweetener
  • (high fructose) corn syrup
  • (evaporated) cane juice
  • cane juice syrup
  • brown rice syrup
  • most words ending in -ose (dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose, glucose…)
  • honey
  • molasses
  • brown sugar
  1. Avoid all breads with trans fats. Whole grains contain healthy fats but some bread manufacturers are still adding trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are associated with increased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increased serum triglyceride levels, so we want to avoid these in all foods we eat. If you see the word “partially hydrogenated” anywhere in the ingredient list, put the loaf down and keep looking.

In general, the average slice of 100% whole grain bread will provide 80-110 calories, 3-5 grams of protein and  3-5 grams of fiber per slice. Take 2 and you’ll certainly have a solid foundation for a satisfying sandwich with healthy bread!

“How to Pick a Healthy Bread at the Supermarket”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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