Navigating the bread aisle: How to make the healthiest choice

With all the labels you see in the bread aisle — “Made with whole grains,” “100% whole grain,” “whole wheat” — it’s difficult to know which kind is actually the best for you. Make your next grocery trip slightly less confusing with these tips.

Whole-grain bread contains more nutrients than bread made with refined grains and enriched grains because whole grains are just that — whole. They haven’t had their bran and germ — the nutritious parts of the grain — removed through a processing method known as milling.

Refined grains have been stripped of the bran, germ and fiber in order to make the texture more appealing and to extend shelf life. Enriched grains have also been stripped of these nutrient-rich parts but have had some nutrients added back in — unfortunately this doesn’t include the fiber lost during processing.

A diet high in whole grains promotes better weight management and has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. Additionally, all that fiber makes you more, ahem, “regular” and is associated with lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as a reduced risk of diabetes and diverticular disease, and lower blood sugar.

According to the Mayo Clinic, healthy adults should be aiming for at least three 1-ounce (28-gram) equivalents of whole grains a day as part of a balanced diet. That’s about one slice of whole-grain bread.

All the labels manufacturers have slapped on their breads have made it confusing as hell to know which kind will actually benefit our health and which packaging is just trying to deceive us.

Here’s the best advice we can give you: Unless the labels say “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain,” ignore them completely and flip to the list of ingredients on the bag. If “whole wheat flour” is first on the list, it’s a winner. If the first ingredient is “wheat flour” or “enriched bleached flour,” put it back on the shelf. “Whole wheat flour” and “wheat flour” are not synonymous; wheat flour contains 25% wheat and 75% white flour.


Whole wheat bread: Whole wheat bread contains high amounts of manganese and selenium, plus insoluble fiber, which can help prevent colon cancer. Usually — not always, but usually — the darker the wheat bread, the more whole grains.


White whole wheat bread: If your kid is a picky eater and insists on white bread, trick them with white whole wheat bread. It contains the exact same nutritional benefits as whole wheat bread but is made with white wheat instead of red wheat, so it lacks that brown color and has a softer texture.


Oat bran bread: If you prefer wheat breads with a lighter taste, oat bran could be just what your sandwich needs — just make sure, as always, that you check that No. 1 spot in the ingredient list for whole grains. Oat bran bread is a good source of thiamin, manganese and selenium.


Rye bread: You can’t have a Reuben without rye — and thankfully it’s actually a healthy choice of bread. The germ and bran usually remain during processing, so the nutrients aren’t extracted. Livestrong suggests looking for “unbolted” rye flour in the ingredient list to ensure you choose the whole-grain variety.

A 2009 study published in the journal Nutrition found that participants who ate rye bread felt sated for longer than those who ate wheat bread. Another study indicated an association between consumption of rye bread and a drop in cholesterol levels among men at risk of heart disease.

Rye bread is a good source of thiamin, folate, manganese, selenium and antioxidants.


Multigrain bread: It’s called multigrain because it’s usually made with a mix of different flours — this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. If the label doesn’t mention whole grains, multigrain bread could be just as lacking in nutrients and fiber as any other bread made with refined grains. Check the ingredient list.


Pumpernickel bread: Made with coarsely ground whole-grain rye flour, pumpernickel bread actually gets its dark color from the bran and germ — so it’s a nutritious choice if you’re looking for something a little more exciting than your usual whole wheat bread. Pumpernickel bread is a good source of selenium and a very good source of manganese.