The bread aisle in the grocery store can seem like an endless sea of bagel flats, multigrain slices, and whole-wheat rolls (with an old-school loaf of Wonder bread thrown in the mix). While it's clear that not all bread is created equal, it can be hard to know how to make the healthiest pick. "It’s a good idea to arm yourself with some information beforehand—that way you know what to look for and what different terms actually mean," says Katie Cavuto.
The truth is, there's no need to fear this carb. Bread can be an incredibly nutritious addition to your diet, says Keri Gans, and author of The Small Change Diet.
Just follow these go-to rules next time you're in aisle five:
WHOLE IS KEY
When choosing bread, always opt for the whole-grain option. Whole-grain products use the entirety of the grain. This includes the endosperm, germ, and bran, which provide fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals for your body, says Keri Glassman.
Hate the taste of whole wheat? Don't panic."You basically want to be looking for the word 'whole,'" says Gans, a spokesperson for Arnold Bread. She recommends scoping out ingredients like whole barley, brown rice, whole oats, or whole flax for a different flavour, but all the same nutrients.
FOCUS ON FIBRE
You've heard it before and we'll say it again—fibre is crucial to your diet. It helps keep you full, encourages healthy bowel movements, and improves gut health. "See how many grams of fibre there are per slice, and ideally, you're going to want anything over three grams," says Gans. The fibre comes from the endosperm that's left intact in whole grains. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, you should aim for 25 grams of fibre per day, and half of your daily grain intake should be whole grains.
LESS INGREDIENTS MEANS BETTER BREAD
"The absence of artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives is important as well," says Cavuto, who's also a spokesperson for Arnold Bread. She recommends avoiding hard-to-pronounce additives and partially hydrogenated oils. Try reading the ingredients out loud. If you can't pronounce it or understand what it is after a quick Google search, toss it. "Learn to read food labels," Gans says. She says to chuck a brand that's giving you trans fats or high fructose corn syrup, too.
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AVOID REFINED GRAINS
Refined grains, like white bread, use only the endosperm of the grain and remove the bran and germ. This means you're consuming carbs, but not getting as many nutrients. "I would recommend avoiding white bread, because you have so many other options," says Glassman. Bonus: Whole grains give you super doses of micronutrients like B vitamins and trace metals like iron, zinc, and copper that you won't find in a stripped grain, says Gans.
LOOK FOR LABELS THAT SAY 100 PERCENT WHOLE-GRAIN
Breads can label themselves ‘whole grain’ even if only 51 percent of the ingredients qualify, according to Cavuto. That's why it's important to examine packaging for the “100 percent whole grain” stamp. If you see that, it means your loaf contains 16 grams of whole grains per serving, says Cavuto.
And when it comes to choosing between organic or conventional breads, you can save your money and skip the organic. It’s not a make-or-break factor when it comes to bread.