It’s worth the trip and a few extra bucks to find a loaf made with the right ingredients.
Bread has gotten a bad rap over the years, because mass-produced loaves often swap whole grains and wholesome ingredients for bleached flours and chemical additives. The last few decades have also seen a rise in popularity of low-carb and gluten-free diets, which have attributed to the demonization of what has otherwise been considered a dietary staple.
While the bread aisle now has more whole grain options than before, even breads made with whole grains are instead laden with refined sugar, added salt, and vegetable oils to improve the flavor and mouthfeel. So where can you find healthy, quality breads made with simple, wholesome ingredients?
“I would encourage people to skip the bread aisle and look for a freshly baked loaf within the in-store bakery,” said Jonathan Davis, senior vice president of research and development at La Brea Bakery. “Taking a look at the ingredients is something all consumers should do before buying bread. Ingredients give consumers insight into how the bread will taste, so it’s important to know more about how the bread was made.”
Fortunately, the days of having to choose between a loaf of flimsy, artificial bread or a frozen one made from obscure ancient grains are behind us. Bakers are once again making bread like our ancestors did—with nutritious grains, fewer ingredients, and using natural fermentation techniques.
Davis said consumers are also now beginning to understand the health benefits of eating bread made the right way, with the right ingredients. There are a few things you need to look for when shopping for bread, so you don’t end up compromising on nutritional value or flavor.
The Number of Ingredients
One of the best ways to find a wholesome bread is to make sure it is made with minimal, high-quality ingredients. Bread should be made from flour, water, yeast, and maybe a little salt; if you’re seeing a long list of other ingredients, you’ll probably want to pass.
Sugar Content of the Bread
Sugar is often an additive that shouldn’t be there. Sugar is not an essential ingredient for bread, and while not necessarily a bad ingredient in small amounts, it can transform bread into a sneaky sugar bomb. For example, many whole-grain breads you can find on grocery store shelves are made with 4 to 6 grams of sugar per slice, meaning your otherwise healthy sandwich could pack an extra 12 grams, just from the bread alone!
Want to ensure your family is eating wholesome bread? Make it yourself!
Honey is often the bread sweetener of choice, and as long as it doesn’t make a big impact on sugar content, don’t sweat it. However, it is best to make your everyday bread one without added sugar.
The Grains in Your Bread
A lot of breads tout that they’re made with whole grains, but that means they can also be made with refined grains. You want to ensure your bread is either labeled “100% Whole Grain” or the ingredients list is clear from refined or bleached flours. Whole wheat, rye, oats, millet, and flax are some high-fiber options that pack in some extra protein, vitamins, and minerals.
The exception here is sourdough. It’s not typically made with whole grains, but the natural fermentation process it undergoes helps make sourdough a healthier choice than other white breads.
The one thing you may want to watch out for, however, is the potentially high sodium content of breads across the board. Even bakery breads can be notorious for being one of the highest salt-containing foods. While sodium is an essential nutrient and recent research shows it may not make as big of an impact on heart disease as we once thought, our dietitian says it’s still important to stay within the recommended limit of 2300 mg per day. Be on the lookout for breads containing less than 100 mg per serving.
The bottom line: Making a stop at the bakery section of your favorite grocery store, or even adding a stop at your local bakery, are the best ways to find the healthiest (and tastiest) loaves of bread. These beautiful, crusty loaves are a far cry from the stark white sandwich bread you may have grown up with, and trust us, that’s a good thing.