Choosing the Healthiest Bread (and Pasta)

When you go to the bread aisle at the grocery store the choices can be a little daunting.  I think most of us want to be healthier, but what kind of bread should you choose?  Understanding what bread is better  for you requires understanding the ingredients and how it is made.  Hopefully this will take some of the mystery out of bread.  Although I don't speak specifically to pasta, the same principles apply.  Check out the cheat sheet at the end!

White Bread:  White bread is made by taking the wheat berry and removing the bran and germ portions of it and leaving the endosperm.  The endosperm is primarily carbohydrates.  Most of the fiber is in the bran and the germ is rich in Vitamin E and complex B Vitamins so when these portions are removed, the nutritional value of the grain is greatly diminished leaving primarily only carbs.  Sometimes some of those vitamins/nutrients are added back in (and hence "enriched flour"), but only about 1/4th from what was in the original grain. The flour that results from the milling process is then many times bleached.

Another important ingredient in white bread is gluten. Gluten is a series of proteins found in wheat that is used as a food additive to make the bread chewier.  It helps hold it together.  However, gluten's glue like properties make it difficult for the body to digest much needed nutrients--not just the nutrients in the bread, but anything else you are eating with your meal.  The proteins themselves are also difficult to digest and if not digested, the proteins can trigger the immune system to start attacking the small intestine in some people.   That is why some people are intolerant to gluten.

Whole Grain:  With whole grain bread, they use the entire wheat berry and therefore it retains the fiber and all of the nutritional value.  Whole grain breads will typically also contain gluten. Even though you are getting more bang for your buck in the nutrition arena, you may still encounter some of the same issues as white bread because of the gluten.  If you choose this type of bread, make sure the first ingredient says whole grain.  If you want further reading on the tricky labeling of whole wheat breads go to Healthy Bread.

Multigrain:  Multigrain just means that they have used different types of grains to make the bread such as buckwheat, oat, barley, and flax.  However, just because it is multigrain, it does not mean they used the whole grain.   To know which one you are getting, look at the ingredients.  Multigrain will also typically contain gluten.

Sprouted Grain:  This means that the grain is allowed to sprout prior to baking.  The sprouting actually changes the composition of the grain for the better and increasing the vitamin content.  The fact that it is sprouted also improves the digestibility (the body treats it more like a vegetable rather than a starch) and gives the grain a protein that parallels the protein found in eggs and milk.  However, it is important to know that sprouted grain bread can also have gluten.  The sprouting does activate enzymes that help break down the gluten making it easier to digest, but a gluten intolerant person should be careful.  My favorite brand of sprouted grain bread is Ezekiel bread.

It helps looking at a simplistic version of the wheat berry's anatomy to see exactly what it is that we are eating. 

Gluten-Free Bread:  Gluten is what makes breads more palatable and help it stick together.  When manufactures make gluten-free products sometimes they add more fat and sugar to help it along so a gluten-free brownie does not mean it is healthier.  Again, look at the ingredients and compare
products. There are certain "grains" (these are really seeds) that are naturally gluten free such as buckwheat, millet, and quinoa.  This is a good place to start if seeking gluten-free products.

*A little note here about gluten, some circles believe that gluten is bad for everybody.  I am not one of those individuals.  I believe that the sprouting helps digest gluten better for a normal person. However, if you have celiac disease and/or are gluten intolerant, follow your doctor's recommendation.  


White Bread = BAD
Whole Grain= Better (unless you are gluten intolerant)
Multigrain = Better only if made with whole grains otherwise just as bad as white bread, but not good either way if you are gluten intolerant.
Sprouted Grain = Best (unless you are gluten intolerant)
Gluten Free = Best if you are gluten intolerant but check the ingredients to make sure you are not consuming excess fats or sugars.

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