Is it possible to eat bread and still be healthy? The answer is yes! Sure, it’s nice to swap a burger bun with a bed of lettuce once in a while, but if you don’t want to give up your favorite carb, it is possible to find a nutritious option.
“While ‘bread’ is almost synonymous with ‘utterly unhealthy,’ it doesn’t have to be eliminated from your diet completely. In fact, if you like toast or sandwiches and feel satisfied after eating them, it may keep you on track with your wellness goals and [help you feel] more empowered to choose nutritious options without feeling deprived,” explains Jessica DeLuise, M.H.S., P.A.-C., founder and host of Eat Your Way to Wellness. DeLuise goes on to say that bread can be an excellent vehicle for adding nutrient-dense ingredients such as veggies, microgreens, chicken, kale, pesto, and lettuce to your meal.
Finding the right bread can be tricky. Knowing that all breads aren’t evil is important when selecting the right one for you. The best option is baking your own bread, though this is not a realistic option for most people.
When you’re food shopping, you should be aware of what goes into the bread of your choice. Jenna Werner, R.D., founder of Happy Slim Healthy, emphasizes that going in with some education can help alleviate the often overwhelming supermarket experience. Knowing what to look for is important: “My number one tip would be to get comfortable reading the food labels and scanning ingredients,” Werner says.
Below are a few tips from experts to consider the next time you want to buy bread.
Look for Quality
Look for breads that provide a balance of protein and complex carbohydrates. Tina Martini, a naturopathic chef, says, “Look for good-quality, organic, non-GMO grains. They contain phytonutrients called lignans. These powerhouse plant nutrients protect our hormone receptors form damage.”
The fewer the ingredients, the better. “You can make bread using only four ingredients: whole-grain flour, water, yeast, and salt,” notes Dr. Teri Joy, founder of Poise Productions.
Pay Attention to Sugar
When it comes to sugar, pay close attention to the labels. Sugar contributes to additional calories and can result in excessive weight gain. “Sugar disrupts gut microbiome by feeding yeast and poorly beneficial bacteria, and it can also increase the risk of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” DeLuise explains.
Make sure you’re buying high-quality bread. “I always advise people to look for the standard certification logos that reflect organic, non-GMO verified, and GMP. Additionally, if you are someone who suffers from digestive issues, choosing gluten-free (GF) options are ideal,” says Serena Poon, a celebrity chef and nutritionist.
Go for Ancient Grains
Opt for ancient grains, Joy advises. These include quinoa, amaranth, spelt, and kamut. Ancient grains largely contribute to your overall health, especially heart health. “A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition examined ancient-grain bread varieties and their potential beneficial health effects compared to modern bread in 45 clinically healthy subjects. After eight weeks, subjects who ate the ancient-grain bread experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and blood glucose compared to those who ate modern bread with no health benefits,” Joy says. You can find ancient-grain breads at natural food stores and in many supermarkets, either in the natural section or the freezer area.
Watch Out for Hydrogenated Oils and Sodium
Keep an eye out for hydrogenated oils, which are poor-quality oils used in manufacturing to keep baked items moist. DeLuise says they contribute to cardiovascular disease and neurological disease and can cause general inflammation.
Sodium can really sneak up on you. One slice of some store-bought breads can contain more than 200 milligrams of sodium, which can contribute to the 2,000-milligram daily sodium maximum recommended by the American Heart Association. “Sodium causes our bodies to retain water, which increases volume, leading our CV system to work harder to circulate blood, increasing blood pressure,” DeLuise explains.
The Different Types of Breads
Whole Grain or Whole Wheat
Always look at the first ingredient, Poon suggests. “No matter how the bread is described, be it healthy, 100% natural, whole grain, or whole wheat, the first ingredient listed on the label really tells you the story behind what’s inside the bread.” Find labels that say “100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain” instead of “enriched, bleached, or unbleached flour” as an ingredient. Whole grain is a great option because it’s naturally low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber.
Sprouted bread is made from whole grains that have been able to sprout, or germinate, before being milled into flour. A particular and popular kind is Ezekiel bread. It is substantial in texture and loaded with sprouted grains and legumes (lentils). “The challenge with sprouting is the possibility of mold being present. For this reason, when I am working with someone who has cancer, they are not to eat sprouted bread unless we make it from grains and legumes that we have sprouted,” Martini says.
When grains are sprouted, their bioavailability (this is the proportion of a substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body and is thus able to have an active effect) increases. Access to nutrients such as vitamins B and C increases dramatically and easily. Soluble fiber also increases and gluten decreases, which is why this works well for those looking to reduce gluten in their diet.
When purchasing a sprouted bread, select the one with the farthest expiration date from the time of purchase. You should try to eat it within three days of purchase, but if you can’t, freeze it immediately. “The health department instructs us to never store bread in the refrigerator. Bread is either on the countertop or in the freezer. Mold grows in the fridge. This can trigger immune malfunction as well as asthma and other allergic responses,” Martini says.
Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. The taste isn’t for everyone due to its sour presence. Organic sourdough bread has an abundance of ready-to-absorb nutrients. It’s not always found in the healthiest section of the market, but more options—including organic—have become available over time.
If you love bread, you don’t have to give it up! With these tips in mind, your next grocery-store experience won’t leave you second-guessing your bread selection.