Choosing A Healthy Loaf of Bread

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Trying to find a good, healthy bread amid all the loaves in the bread aisle can be an overwhelming experience.  If you take the time to check out the individual bread wrappers, it can leave you even more confused.  Labels declare that one is made with whole wheat, or 7 grains, multi grain, white, whole grain, wheat or whole wheat bread.  Some even promise they are 100% natural (does that mean the others aren't?) Others are enriched with vitamins, calcium and even iron.  How do you choose a good healthy bread?

A little background info is in order.  Flours are made from kernels of starchy grains such as wheat, rye or oats.  The outside of the kernel is called the bran which is where most of the fiber in the grain is found.  Inside the bran covering is the starchy matter called the endosperm that is almost all carbohydrate.  At the base of each grain kernel is the germ, the mother-lode of nutrients.  Wheat germ, for example, is rich in protein, potassium, vitamin B1, B2, B3, iron, magnesium, folic acid, calcium, and zinc.  Wheat germ is also very rich source of vitamin E---a wonderful antioxidant.

The ABC's of Flour:

  • Wheat flour. Kernels of wheat are put through a process that takes off most of the bran and germ, leaving behind the starchy white endosperm.  Most white flour we use is 60% extracted, which means 60% of the bran and germ are removed. Very little fiber and nutrients remain.
  • White flour is wheat flour, according to our labeling laws. Since white four is made from wheat, you may see some white or brown breads labeled as wheat bread---they are both made from wheat! Bread made from white flour could be a healthier looking brown, just colored from molasses or coloring agents.
  • Whole wheat flour is made by grinding the entire wheat kernel into flour, leaving all the fiber of the bran and nutrients of the germ.  This is sometimes called graham flour or entire wheat flour.
  • Enriched wheat flour is wheat flour that has had some of the vitamins and minerals that were taken out during processing added back:  riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and sometimes calcium, iron and vitamin D.
  • Enriched flour is made like enriched wheat flour, though may be any type of grain or grain mixture since the type of grain is not stated.
  • Stone ground wheat flour tells us how the grain was ground. It does not tell us that the bread is made from the whole grain. On the other hand, if stone ground whole wheat is listed, it is a whole grain.
  • Cracked wheat is simply the whole grain that is broken, or cracked, into smaller pieces.  This is a whole grain. 

Our job is to locate whole grain breads which provide us with all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and antioxidants that are originally present.

  • Don't trust the big attention grabbing words on the wrapper.  They can mislead you into thinking the bread is better for you than it really is.
  • Look at the ingredients listed on the food label, which are listed from greatest concentration by weight to the least.  One bread in my cupboard lists: whole wheat flour, water, sugar, wheat gluten, yeast, raisin juice concentrate, wheat bran, salt, molasses, soybean oil... and nonfat milk.  There is more whole wheat flour by weight in this bread than anything else.  Nonfat milk is present in the least amount.
  • Choose a bread that has a whole grain listed as its first ingredient: whole wheat, whole wheat flour, whole oats, etc, with no white flour added.
Your goal should be to consuming at least 3 servings of whole grains each day.  One slice of whole grain bread, 1/2 cup of brown rice, or 1/2 cup of whole grain pasta is a serving.

Stay tuned!  We'll take a look at what whole grains do for our health in the next post.

To Your Health!