By: Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD
You know whole grain has more nutritional heft than white, fluffy, overly milled breads, but it’s not always easy to pick a good loaf when you’re at the grocery store.
Because labeling laws are somewhat loose, a refined loaf of bread can masquerade as something more nutritious. Patrol the bread aisle and you’ll see terms like whole wheat, multigrain, seven-grain, 12-grain, all natural, organic and enriched, to name a few. Who wouldn’t throw up their hands trying to decide what to buy?
Here’s how you can easily decipher what to buy. Look for the term “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” on the package. Which is better? Either. Whole wheat is a whole grain.
Although different grains offer different benefits, many whole grain breads are primarily made with wheat. If you’re looking for a nice mix of grains, check your ingredient label. Primary ingredients should be listed first in order of the amount within the loaf (wheat, oats, flax seeds, barley, buckwheat, etc).
Be cautious of terms like “Wheat” or “Multigrain” that don’t mention a percentage. They sound healthy, but they’re probably made with partially or mostly refined white flour. Wheat flour is 75 percent white flour and only 25 percent whole wheat.
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“Enriched” is another clever term, which means the maker of the bread has added nutrients to an otherwise nutrient-free white bread.
Unless you find that 100 percent on the package and whole wheat listed as the first ingredient on the label, the bread is simply a refined loaf of bread with synthetic nutrients added to replenish those natural nutrients lost in the milling process.
You know it’s healthier, but do you know all the benefits of 100 percent whole wheat or whole grain? A number of studies have shown that eating whole grain foods within an overall healthy diet helps to lower your risk for many diseases, including:
Whole grains are also rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins and many other nutrients that help to lower blood pressure, reduce gum disease, strengthen the immune system and control weight.
Most other breads are made with grains that have been finely milled. The resulting flour is whiter and lighter — in more ways then one!
Not only does this refined flour look whiter and bake fluffier, it also falls short of many of the nutrients essential to optimum health. Whole grains begin as a whole grain kernel: bran, germ, endosperm.
The milling process mechanically removes the bran, which is the fiber-rich outer layer of the grain. It contains B vitamins and other minerals. Milling also removes the second germ layer, which is rich in Vitamin E and essential fatty acids. In the end, what’s left is the starchy center, which is ground into flour for various baking purposes.
Not only does refined flour lack all of those wonderful nutrients, high-starch foods like white bread can quickly raise your blood sugar levels, putting you at risk for diseases like diabetes.
That’s why you should consider nothing but the best: 100 percent whole wheat or whole grain bread.