How to Choose Healthier Store-bought Bread

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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How to Choose Healthier Store-bought Bread

Photo by Chiots Run 

Peanut butter & jelly, turkey and cheese, roast beef with horseradish -there’s something for everyone when it comes to sandwiches. But with hundreds of different packaged breads to choose from in the grocery store, leaving with a healthy loaf can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the bread aisle to help you choose healthier store-bought breads.

1. Be wary of breads that don’t have “100%” on the label. You’ve probably heard whole grains provide more vitamins, minerals and important nutrients than refined grains. It’s unfortunate but since there are no regulations on whole grain labeling, bread manufacturers can place healthy sounding words on their packaging that may mislead consumers, many times mixing a small amount of whole wheat with regular all-purpose flour.

Don’t be deceived by bread packaging that claims to be:

  • Whole grain, whole wheat or white wheat – it probably only contains a small amount if the package doesn’t say 100%
  • 100% natural – natural does not mean whole wheat or whole grain
  • 7-grain – it might have 7 grains but may contain a fair amount of refined flour as well

If you’re not a fan of regular whole wheat, look for 100% white whole wheat which is made with a different type of wheat that bakes up softer and with a milder flavor but still has the healthy components of traditional whole wheat.

2. Look for a 10:1 carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio on the nutrition label. For every 10 grams of carbohydrates in a serving, there should be at least 1 gram of fiber. Thus, if there are 30 grams of carbohydrate in 1 slice of bread, that slice should contain at least 3 grams of fiber.

3. Choose breads with little or no added sugars. Traditional homemade bread does not contain sugar but it’s added to many packaged breads to retain moisture, add softness and a mild sweetness. If you’re having trouble finding a loaf without added sugar, keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. The farther down sugar is listed on the ingredient list, the less the bread will contain.

When you look at the ingredient label, keep in mind sugar may be disguised as: 

  • corn sweetener
  • (high fructose) corn syrup
  • (evaporated) cane juice
  • cane juice syrup
  • brown rice syrup
  • most words ending in -ose (dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose, glucose…)
  • honey
  • molasses
  • brown sugar

4. Avoid all breads with trans fats. Whole grains contain healthy fats but some bread manufacturers are still adding trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are associated with increased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increased serum triglycride levels, so we want to avoid these in all foods we eat. If you see the word “partially hydrogenated” anywhere in the ingredient list, put the loaf down and keep looking.

In general, the average slice of 100% whole grain bread will provide 80-110 calories, 3-5 grams of protein and  3-5 grams of fiber per slice. Take 2 and you’ll certainly have a solid foundation for a satisfying sandwich!

Got a favorite brand of whole grain bread to recommend? Share it in the comments below! 

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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