Let's face it, good bread is hard to find these days. Most conventional bread is made with high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, other added sugars, and is lacking in whole grains. There is an overwhelming selection of breads, buns, rolls, and the like, so it's daunting to take the time to make sense of it all, read labels, and pick the best one. Moreover, even "fresh baked bread" in your supermarket is not truly freshly made (it's actually made from a pre-made dough that will have similar ingredients to the processed breads on the shelves).
So, you've read the labels and omitted the breads with high fructose corn syrup. But now we're dealing with the whole wheat/whole grain issue. What exactly is whole wheat? What's the difference if I buy whole grain? Which is better?
Whole wheat means all parts of the wheat are included in the product; while often separated in the production process, they still remain. Do not confuse this with a product simply marked with "wheat flour" or "wheat"; this means that it is NOT whole wheat and that part of the wheat has been removed to produce the product. It is always best to try to eat foods in their most natural, complete state. So, my personal recommendation would be to always stay with whole wheat products.
But another important part about whole wheat products is how much of the product includes whole wheat. Often, you will see bread and other products marked with a "100% whole wheat" title. You may sometimes find "whole wheat" breads that are not 100% whole wheat. What I mean by this is that lots of healthy breads out there are made up of whole wheat, as well as other whole grains. What I also mean to stress here is that there are plenty of unhealthy breads that may contain whole wheat, or from 100% whole wheat! Why would you tout that your bread is 100% whole wheat, yet make it with preservatives and high fructose corn syrup?
Whole grain can refer to whole wheat products, as well as other grains that are whole grain, such as quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, and more. Again, going with the mindset that we want foods that are complete and as close to original as they occur in nature, you should definitely seek out whole grains in your breads, as well as other products, like cereals, pasta, etc. But please read your bread labels! Just like with whole wheat products, whole grain products can very well contain unwanted ingredients with those seeking a healthy bread.
What should I look for when reading a bread label? You want a bread that is as nutrient-rich as you can find, including being high in fiber and with little or no added sugars. Ideally, if a piece of bread has 100-140 calories and has benefits like 4+ grams of protein and 4+ grams of fiber (without HFCS and preservatives), you probably have found a good option. It's my opinion that mixing up many whole grains in one bread is more beneficial than buying bread with only one grain (i.e., 100% whole wheat). You will have a greater vitamin and nutrient pull from breads made from a variety of grains.
I will use the example of a loaf of Dave's Killer Bread that I have. It happens to be his spelt variety. This is a wonderful line of breads, as he states is "not on drugs". It is primarily available only in the West (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Idaho, Hawaii). It's starting to pop up more and more, which is great! I just found out today that you can also order on their website! His breads are similar to other lines, like Ezekiel. Here are the ingredients from his spelt variety:
Organic whole-grain spelt flour (wheat), water, Good Seed mix (organic whole ground flaxseeds, organic whole flaxseeds, organic sunflower seeds, organic unhulled sesame seeds, organic black sesame seeds), organic dried cane syrup (sugar), organic molasses, yeast, sea salt, organic rice bran extract.
Nutritional highlights include:
- 100% whole grain spelt
- 25g of whole grains per slice
- 4g of fiber per slice
- Certified organic
- 27oz loaf size
- Certified Kosher by Oregon Kosher
My first question for you is: do you know everything on that ingredient list? Maybe some of you have not heard of cane sugar. But my point is this: all those ingredients are real foods that you know! I urge you to go to that conventional food aisle and pick up a loaf of bread. Pick out the one that appears to be the healthiest, say, one that is marked 100% whole wheat. Read the ingredients. Can you identify them all? Are they familiar? My hunch is that it has preservatives or other additives that you are not familiar with.
Here's an example of a selection from the conventional bread aisle. It's a well known brand, Oroweat. I commend Oroweat for striving to be a mainstream brand that is eliminating high fructose corn syrup from their breads and offering a selection of whole wheat and whole grain items. But we still have problems here. I pulled the ingredient list from a randomly selected bread off their website, the "Country 100% Whole Wheat" bread. Here is what it has:
WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, WATER, SUGAR, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOYBEAN OIL, YEAST, WHEAT BRAN, SALT, ENRICHMENT (CALCIUM SULFATE, VITAMIN E ACETATE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D3), MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, CALCIUM PROPIONATE (PRESERVATIVE), DATEM, ETHOXYLATED MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, GRAIN VINEGAR, SOY LECITHIN.
Oroweat is certainly not the only offender. Like I said, pick any bread in that conventional aisle and you will see similar ingredients.
Unfortunately, buying bread that is truly good for you and your children is not inexpensive. I also know that a lot of children out there are not used to eating such hearty breads.
This is a lot of information to swallow! So, take in what I have outlined here. Go shopping, start reading labels. Then, look for my follow up article soon regarding the expense of these breads (and how to afford to eat healthy bread), as well as introducing these breads to your kids.