What healthy breads can you add to your diet?
With so many varieties of bread available, it can be hard to spot the healthiest and tastiest options.
Here, we’ll take you through some top choices — from wholegrain to sourdough and Ezekiel — so you'll feel equipped to decipher food labels and find a healthy bread that you like.
Healthy breads can provide plenty of nutrients, but everyone responds to these foods differently.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, and the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut. From this, we’ll provide you with personalized nutrition advice.
How to pick a healthy bread
Not all breads are equal, when it comes to quality. Their flavors and nutritional values vary widely, depending on the ingredients and how the breads are made.
The healthiest breads are minimally processed and contain nutrient-dense ingredients, like whole grains.
These breads can be a great source of helpful compounds, like fiber, prebiotics, polyphenols, and micronutrients, including zinc and iron.
Ultra-processed breads — like most white breads — are made with refined flour. These are less healthy.
Lots of processing strips away most of the healthy nutrients in the breads' ingredients. These breads also tend to contain preservatives and additives that aren’t good for your health.
It can be difficult to wade through all the labels in the bread aisle. So, here are our top tips for when you’re at the store:
Look for “whole grain,” “whole wheat,” or “whole meal” on the label.
If a loaf contains 6 grams of fiber per 100 g, it’s rich in fiber.
Choose breads with plenty of intact grains, like oats, barley, and quinoa, as well as seeds, if you can eat these.
Watch out for mass-produced sourdough breads. Instead, opt for authentic sourdoughs when possible, or bake your own.
Avoid ultra-processed breads. These tend to have long lists of unfamiliar ingredients.
Next time you’re at the store, look for the following options to find a healthy bread you like.
1. Wholegrain bread
Wholegrain bread is minimally processed and made with flour from fully intact grains.
This means that the grains had all three of their main parts:
the fiber-rich outer layer (the bran)
the starch-based middle layer (the endosperm)
the nutrient-packed core (the germ)
Fiber serves as food for the bacteria in your gut and can help keep you fuller for longer.
You might find wholegrain flatbreads, tortillas, bagels, naans, pitas, and other types — but the proportion of whole grains matters.
Look for products that are 100% wholegrain. On the label, whole grains or whole wheat should be in the first ingredient, and there shouldn’t be any flour that isn’t wholegrain.
In general, it’s a good idea to steer clear of breads with ingredients lists that seem overly long.
2. Multigrain bread
The “whole” in “wholegrain” means that manufacturers use the entire grain. The “multi” in “multigrain” refers to how many types of grains they use.
But multigrain breads aren’t always wholegrain. Be sure to double-check the label to see if the grains are whole or not.
The healthiest multigrain breads are rich in fiber and aren’t ultra-processed.
3. Dark rye bread
Dark rye bread is nutrient-dense and has a heavy texture. To make it, manufacturers use flour milled from whole rye grains, similar to the whole wheat grains in wholegrain bread.
Light rye bread is made with refined rye flour and has a lighter texture. Dark rye is a better choice, since it’s less processed and usually contains more fiber and nutrients.
Pumpernickel is one type of dark rye bread. Different types and brands contain different amounts of rye. Try to find options with wholegrain rye as the first ingredient.
As with other breads, the fewer ingredients, the better.
4. Authentic sourdough bread
Authentic sourdough has a distinctive, acidic, tart flavor, a chewy crust, and a soft middle.
Making sourdough involves using a traditional live starter that contains lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts. The fermentation process is long. This is why you might pay a premium for authentic sourdough.
This type of bread is nutritious and may help regulate blood sugar levels. Plus, the live starter “pre-digests” some of the carbohydrates in the dough, such as fructans. This can make authentic sourdough easier to digest for people with irritable bowel syndrome.
White sourdough is healthier than white bread made with commercial yeast. But the healthiest sourdoughs are made with wholegrain flour, sourdough starter, water, and a little salt.
Intact grains, herbs, spices, or nuts and seeds can also give the breads distinct flavors.
But be careful — there’s no legal definition of sourdough. This means that manufacturers can use “sourdough” on labels, regardless of whether the bread is authentic.
Many sourdough breads also contain ingredients such as additives, preservatives, food dyes, and commercial baker’s yeast.
5. Flaxseed, or linseed, bread
Flaxseed, or linseed, bread, has up to five times the amount of fiber of white bread, depending on how much flaxseed is in the recipe.
The amount can vary tremendously — some have only a token sprinkle, and others are nearly entirely flaxseed.
Opting for a loaf with flaxseed as one of the first ingredients is a great choice.
Since these seeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed bread is not only beneficial for your gut, but good for your heart, too.
6. Ezekiel, or sprouted grain, bread
Ezekiel bread is flourless, and it’s made from whole grains or legumes, such as lentils or soybeans. It can also include ingredients like oats, rye, or brown rice.
What makes it unique is the use of sprouted grains. Allowing grains to sprout may make them more digestible. This can mean that it’s easier for your body to absorb the starches, protein, and minerals in the grains.
Sprouting also increases the numbers of antioxidants, and this may be beneficial for your gut microbiome.
The exact changes depend on the sprouted grain or legume and the time and temperature of the sprouting.
Making authentic Ezekiel bread can be challenging because maximizing the nutritional quality requires long sprouting times and high temperatures. As a result, these breads tends to be pricier than standard wholegrain breads.
You might see a variety of sprouted grain breads at the store. There’s no universally recognized definition of “sprouted,” and no regulation, so manufacturers can use the term freely on packaging.
Some products contain a combination of sprouted grain and regular flour. And the grains might not have sprouted long enough to offer the most nutrients.
So, make sure to check the ingredients, and go with products that primarily contain sprouted grains or legumes.
The list above will hopefully help you find a healthy bread that you enjoy. No single bread is best for everyone.
ZOE research has shown that we all respond to foods differently — blood sugar and blood fat responses vary between people who have had identical meals.
Ultimately, choosing the best bread for you means understanding how your body responds to different types of food.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses. With this information, we’ll provide you with a personalized nutrition program that can teach you how your body will respond to different breads.
You’ll learn which are best for you and how to conveniently work them into your diet.
Bread can be a good source of nutrients if you know what to look for — some are healthier than others. It depends on how they’re made and what they contain.
Breads that don’t have heavily processed ingredients are typically more dense in nutrients and better for your overall health.
Wholegrain and dark rye breads are less processed than white breads, for example, and they tend to have more nutrients.
Ezekiel breads and authentic sourdoughs are also great options.
Overall, pay close attention to ingredients labels, and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
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