What are the most healthful types of bread?
Switching white bread for a more healthful version is a quick and easy way to improve the diet.
In this article, we explore the most nutritious types of bread, their health benefits, and where to find them.
Are some breads good for you?
Whole-grain bread is rich in nutrients.
Not all breads are created equal.
White bread contains refined wheat flour, a processed form of wheat grain. During processing, the flour loses the most nutritious parts of the wheat grain.
This includes the bran, which is the outer layer of a grain that contains B vitamins, minerals, and the germ. The germ is the core of a grain that contains vitamins B, E, phytochemicals, and healthful fats.
Whole-grain bread contains the bran, germ, and endosperm. This means it provides a lot more nutrition than processed white bread.
Also, white bread contains high levels of simple carbohydrates. This means the body breaks it down quickly, providing a spike of energy. Whole-grain versions, however, contain complex carbohydrates. The body takes longer to process them, making a person feel fuller for longer.
White bread also has a high score on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI scale is a measure of how quickly foods that contain carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI cause rapid spikes in blood glucose levels, which over time, can harm the body.
1. Whole-grain bread
Whole-grain bread refers to any bread made from whole-grain flour. This type of flour undergoes less processing than refined flour and contains more nutrients.
Manufacturers use highly processed refined white flour to produce packaged, pre-sliced white bread. The processing method removes some or all of the nutrients from the grain. Because whole-grain products do not undergo as much processing, the entire grain remains, which preserves its healthful qualities.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), along with fiber, whole-grain products provide nutrients, such as:
- thiamin, or vitamin B-1
- riboflavin, or vitamin B-2
- niacin, or vitamin B-3
- folate, or vitamin B-9
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is essential for digestive health. It helps to slow down food digestion, promotes stool softening and bulking, and regulates blood glucose levels after eating.
Most supermarkets sell whole-grain versions of most types of everyday bread products, including:
- whole-wheat bagels
- whole-wheat pita bread
- whole-grain muffins
- whole-grain tortillas
When choosing bread at the supermarket, look out for options that list 'whole' as the first word in the ingredients list. Most packaging ranks products by weight, with the most abundant ingredient at the start.
Products that contain the words multiseed, multigrain, 100% wheat, or unbleached wheat flour are not necessarily whole-grain. Some brands may say whole-grain on the label but still contain refined flour.
2. Ezekiel bread
Ezekiel bread contains sprouted whole grains.
Ezekiel bread is different from most other types of bread because manufacturers use sprouted whole grains. These breads have the same benefits as whole-grain bread and may also provide extra nutrients.
Manufacturers soak the whole grains when they are sprouting, so the grain starts to germinate. This process may increase the grains' nutritional content.
Ezekiel bread usually contains several different types of grains and legumes that provide a range of additional nutrients, such as barley, lentils, and spelt.
The nutrition values will vary between products. One slice, or 45 grams (g), of Ezekiel bread may contain the following nutrients:
- 140 calories
- 5 g of protein
- 3.5 g of fat
- 22 g of carbohydrate
- 4 g of fiber
Ezekiel bread may also contain the following nutrients:
However, manufacturers often find making bread with sprouted grains challenging because it is more difficult to maintain a good structure. Research says that many manufacturers may blend sprouted grains with other types of less healthful flour, or use short sprouting times of only 20 to 36 hours.
These processes may counteract any additional health benefits that sprouted grains offer.
3. Rye bread
Eating rye bread may help reduce the risk of diabetes.
Rye bread contains the flour of rye grains, which is a grain similar to wheat.
Rye bread has a similar nutritional profile to whole-grain wheat-based bread. It is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
Rye bread can be light or dark in color, depending on the manufacturing process.
As with other types of bread, it is best to choose whole-grain rye bread. However, some types of whole-grain rye brain still contain refined white flour, so it is important to read the ingredient list before buying.
The nutrition values will vary between products. One slice, or 36 g, of rye bread may contain the following nutrients:
- 90 calories
- 3 g of protein
- 1.5 g of fat
- 17 g of carbohydrate
- 2.02 g of fiber
Rye bread also contains a range of other nutrients, including calcium and iron.
It may also offer some other health benefits. Small-scale research has found that rye bread can help to control blood sugar levels after a meal.
Bread that contain refined flours has a lower nutritional value than whole-grain varieties. Whole-grain breads also have potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of diabetes.
Ezekiel bread is another healthful option. However, some methods that manufacturers use for making Ezekiel bread may counteract some of the potential health benefits of the sprouted grains it contains.
Rye bread may be beneficial for gut health and reducing the risk of diabetes, though scientists need to carry out more research in this area to support these claims.