In the quest for healthy eating, bread seems to be a food staple many struggle with.
And with so many choices lining the grocery store shelves, it can be difficult to know the nutritional difference each bread has to offer, and if the choice you are making is actually benefiting you in the way you hope.
Registered dietitian Andy De Santis breaks down each option and reveals which type of bread you should be reaching for if you want maximum health benefits.
Multigrain bread is often made from white flour and includes some added grains.
In order for a bread to be labelled “multigrain,” it must contain at least two different grains that each represent at least two per cent of the total product, De Santis says.
Grains can include barley, oats, wheat and flax, among others.
Multigrain is also low in fat, introduces more fibre into our diet, and includes 26 per cent of the daily recommended intake of manganese, Livestrong reveals. It also provides 12 per cent of your daily selenium intake, which is nutritionally essential for humans, the National Institute of Health says.
This type of bread is made with whole-grain flour.
“Technically speaking, whole-grain flour must include all parts of the original seed (bran, germ, endosperm) and be very minimally refined.
Make sure to look for the term “100 per cent whole-grain” on the label, the Cleveland Clinic warns, or “100 per cent whole wheat.”
Be cautious, however, of terms such as “wheat” and “multigrain” that don’t list a percentage on the package. This, the clinic says, often means the bread is made with partially, or mostly refined, white flour.
Eating whole-grains has been found to reduce inflammation in the body, which can help fight type 2 diabetes, a 2017 study out of the Technical University of Denmark found.
People have also been found to eat less when they consume whole-grains because it causes satiety and can help in weight loss, the same study found.
Any type of bread that is made through fermentation using yeast and lactobacilli (naturally occurring bacteria) is a sourdough bread. That naturally occurring bacteria is what actually gives the bread its taste.
The nutrition found within the bread depends on the type of flour that was used to make it, Healthline explains – wholegrain versus refined.
On average, however, its benefits resemble that of many other breads. But because of the fermentation process, the bread is considered to come with additional benefits.
For example, it makes it easier for your body to absorb the good amount of minerals like potassium, phosphate, magnesium and zinc – four nutrients often hindered by the presence of phytic acid in other breads (which is minimally present in sourdough bread), Healthline says.
Wholemeal is the British version of saying whole wheat, De Santis says.
Whole wheat, however, does not mean whole-grain. In Canada, whole wheat flour has some of the germ and bran removed (which contains nutrients and fibre), he adds.
According to the Telegraph, one slice of wholemeal bread provides about 15 per cent of an adult’s daily recommended fibre intake.
A product that is labelled “rye bread” contains at last 20 per cent rye flour, which may or may not consisted of the whole rye grain, De Santis says.
Eating rye bread can make you feel more full, which is great if you’re looking to lose weight, Livestrong says. It can also help with managing blood sugar.
This is not an official designation used on Canadian food packages, De Santis says.
“GI is short for Glycemic index, a measure of how much and how rapidly a given food increases your blood sugar after you eat it,” he says. “Less refined usually means lower GI.”
And the winner is…
According to De Santis, the healthiest option is whole-grain bread.
“Because whole-grains have been very minimally refined and have not had any healthy components of the seed removed, they are the best for us,” he says. “If we look at the scientific research, we understand that those of us who eat whole-grains tend to be at a lower risk of a variety of chronic diseases.”
Whole-grains are high in B vitamins like niacin and thiamin, minerals like zinc and iron, protein and antioxidants like phytic acid and sulfur compounds, Healthline says.
This type of bread can also lower your risk of heart disease between 22 per cent and 47 per cent, depending on the amount you eat, according to several studies. Whole-grains also lowers the risk of stroke and helps with digestion.
Breads to avoid
If you want the maximum health benefit from your bread, stay clear of breads that have had much of the original grain removed during processing, De Santis says.
This includes white bread, which is considered the least useful to us.
“Although they have some nutrients added back after process (i.e. enriched), they are still lower in fibre, nutrients and other healthy compounds that are contained within the whole-grain,” he says.
And despite the negative reputation bread has in general, De Santis says he fails to see a “downside” to any type of bread.
“The only real drawback I can see of eating too much bread is eating too many calories in total – if you happen to be a bread lover – and missing out on the benefits of enjoying other healthy whole-grain foods like oats.”