Aisle by Aisle: Buying Healthy Bread

by in Grocery Shopping, Healthy Tips, June 15, 2009

Take a walk down the bread aisle at your market and see how long it takes to find a loaf without high-fructose corn syrup. It took me 30 minutes the first time I tried! Many packaged bread loaves have added ingredients that aren’t so healthy, even though their labels sport fancy words like “multigrain” and “unbleached flour.” Follow these tips to make sure you get the healthiest.

Nutrition Basics
Store-bought breads provide tons of B-vitamins and selenium and have around 80 to 110 calories per slice. Basic bread (without sugary glazes or lots of add-ins) is also low in fat with no cholesterol. The fiber content depends on the type and variety of bread you choose.

Whole Grain vs. Refined
All grains are made of three parts: the large endosperm (where protein and carbs are found), the germ (which contains fat and some B-vitamins) and the bran (outer layer with fiber and vitamins). When bread is “whole grain,” it means the entire grain is left in tact. When it’s “refined” or “milled,” the bran is removed, as is some of the germ. This is why white bread contains no fiber — it has no bran in it. Whole wheat and whole rye are some common whole-grain breads, but reading the label is key to making sure you’re getting the real deal.

Read the Label
If you buy the right bread, it’s an easy way to get some healthy whole grains, but don’t be fooled by fancy words on food labels. Make sure the first ingredient listed has the word “whole” — like whole rye, whole wheat or whole cornmeal. Be wary of product that say “made with whole grains,” “made with whole wheat” or even “multigrain” — this means only a small percent of the bread contains whole grains (not enough for any significant health benefits). Don’t be dupped by packaging that says “contains wheat flour” or “contains unbleached flour” — that doesn’t mean it’s whole grain either.

Hidden Ingredients
Finding bread without high-fructose corn syrup listed in the top 4 ingredients is tough. Finding bread completely free of the sweetener can be even more challenging. Sometimes you may also see cheese added to the mix. Read the ingredients carefully, especially if you have a dairy allergy.

Here’s a rundown of some common breads you can find:

  • Whole Wheat: Look for the words “100% whole wheat” on the package, and the ingredients should list “whole-wheat flour” as the first ingredient.
  • Multigrain: As the name implies, it’s made from many grains — this doesn’t mean that they’re whole grains. Even if the package says that it contains wheat — it may only make up 2 or 3% of the bread. If the label lists “enriched wheat flour” as the first grain, it’s not the real deal.
  • Brown Bread: Just because it’s brown doesn’t mean it’s healthier. Many companies add food coloring or molasses to create that brown color. Check the ingredients for the word “whole,” especially for brown breads like pumpernickel.
  • Potato Bread: This isn’t a good choice if you’re looking to up your fiber — it barely has any. Plus, potato flour is usually the fifth or so ingredient (“enriched wheat flour” is typically the first ingredient and there’s often dairy in there). Calories range from around 80 to 100 per slice, so watch your portions, too.

What To Choose
Aim for 110 calories or less per slice and at least 3 grams of fiber. If you have the time, bake your own — you can freeze extras for later. But so you don’t have to stand in the bread aisle for hours, here are some packaged breads we like:

TELL US: What’s your bread of choice?

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Comments (82)

  1. Mike says:

    I like Nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat.

  2. Bailey says:

    I like Dave's Killer Bread, it may be local to Portland. Anyone know?

    • Kevin says:

      Think it's just in the NW (WA and OR) Bailey…We have it in Costco ad Winco here in WA….Awesome bread and Great story about Dave…People CAN reverse their "choices" in Life.

      Orowheat "LIGHT" bread is good too…lots of fiber per slice and is a smaller sandwich for those who are looking to loose weight…..that is Nationwide in stores too……..

  3. Lauren says:

    I love Martin’s Whole Wheat Potato Bread, and I think it’s pretty healthy. Each slice has 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein. Also, it has no HFCS and the first ingredient is 100% stone ground whole wheat flour.

  4. Your article suggests that one should look for bread free of high fructose corn syrup, which as a fellow RD, you know is actually a simple sweetener that is handled by your body like sugar or honey. What is important to note is that this ingredient performs numerous functions besides sweetening that make it useful in many food preparations, and in most cases, like bread, using very small amounts. The Maillard reaction is just one example….And based on my calculation, Americans would need to eat 39 slices of bread in a single day to reach the recommended daily allowance of added sugars from high fructose corn syrup! Also, molasses is added to pumpernickel to make it brown on purpose. When I was in culinary school, I was surprised to find out that pumpernickel is essentially rye bread with molasses. I know that you probably mean that just because it is brown does not mean that it is healthier, but some breads are supposed to be brown.

    Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD

  5. Carolyn says:

    I have enjoyed reading your article. I am diabetic, and I love all types of bread period! What choices do I have, & how many slices can I eat a day?

  6. Tiffany says:

    Arnold’s 100% whole wheat sandwich thins no high-fuctose corn syrup either.

  7. HEATHER says:


    • seq707 says:

      California style contains soy and soon all breads will no longer contain soy
      and yes most have no flour however some do for example the raisin ….and you left out high fiber no salt and whole wheat …and kids bread

  8. HEATHER says:


  9. Annette Hoffman says:

    Ezekiel 4:9 is my bread of choice now that I’ve cut out all of the white stuff I eat. It’s an organic flourless, low glycemic sprouted 100% whole grain bread many times found in the freezer section but bought some yesterday at Trader Joe’s off the shelf.

  10. terri says:

    Pepperidge Farm’s Mulitgrain w/ Ancient Grains is delicious and doesn’t contain HFCS.

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