When my hubby chooses bread he skims the packaging and if it looks good and says ‘wholegrain’ he’ll buy it. But just because it says wholegrain doesn’t mean to say it’s made with wholemeal flour. In fact it’s usually made with refined wheat flour with some grains added. So, since you don’t have the time or inclination to read the packaging and compare 50 products, here’s a few tips on what to look for next time you’re buying bread, and my top 5 picks.
1. Wholemeal flour, not wheat flour
Check the ingredients list. If wheat flour (ie white flour) is the first ingredient, put it back on the shelf. Wheat flour has been refined to remove the germ and the bran so you miss out on some of the health-promoting dietary fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins. Wholemeal flour should always be the first ingredient.
2. Added wholegrains and seeds
These boost the protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content. Multigrain bread has added wholegrains, but is usually made with white flour. You want wholemeal with added grains and seeds.
3. More than 7% dietary fibre
Dietary fibre promotes bowel health and reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. As it moves through our digestive tract, the bulk makes you feel full and satisfied. It also slows the glucose absorption rate and reduces insulin surges, which may lead to heightened insulin sensitivity and fat oxidation – good news if you want to shed body fat. Check the dietary fibre content by looking at how much fibre the product has per 100g (not per serve). Bread with at least 7g fibre per 100g is considered an excellent source of fibre (Food standard 1.2.7).
4. Less than 400mg sodium per 100g
High sodium intakes correlate with high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke, heart failure, coronary heart disease and chronic kidney disease. Bread contributes a large proportion of sodium to our diets (one slice contains 10% of the suggested dietary target for adults) so it’s important to select a brand that contains less than 400mg sodium per 100g.
5. Avoid additives, preservatives and emulsifiers
While mostly safe, it’s best to avoid these as some may have undesirable side effects in some people or be another term for something you want to avoid. For example, 471 found in some breads is mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids, which may contain unhealthy trans fat.
6. Low glycaemic index
High GI foods cause a surge in blood sugar that quickly drops, so it’s better to choose a low GI bread that releases glucose into the bloodstream slowly. Sourdough breads are often low GI, as are breads with added grains and seeds.
My top 5 healthy brands of bread
Other healthy choices
These products didn’t make my top pick list because they couldn’t tick off all the criteria, but they are worth a mention.