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Nutrition Smack Down: Healthy Bread

June 03, 2024

From pumpernickel to sourdough, bread is a staple in any household. But are some types of bread more healthy than others?

Before you make your next sandwich, here’s what a dietitian has to say.

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Whole wheat

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that whole wheat is one of the healthiest types of bread.

“The word ‘whole’ indicates that the grain is less processed,” says Jamie Allers, MS, a registered dietitian with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute. “This means that all parts of the grain are included, offering more vitamins, minerals and fiber.”

But read the label carefully. “100% whole grain” suggests that there are no refined flours included, while “made with whole grains” could indicate a mixture.

“That’s why it’s so important to read the ingredient list, and not just rely on the front of the package. This will also allow you to see if the bread you choose is high in salt, added sugars or even high fructose corn syrup,” she adds.

> Related: Nutrition Smack Down: Whole Grains

Rye

With many different types of rye bread available, its health benefits vary.

“There’s light, dark, and marbled rye, and pumpernickel is technically a rye bread as well, so it’s hard to make generic claims about it,” says Allers. “Dark rye and pumpernickel tend to be made with whole grains, while light rye is made with processed flour. Marbled rye falls somewhere in between.”

High in fiber and vitamin B, darker ryes tend to be more filling and nutrient dense than white bread. But labels are important here too – some ryes are high in added sugars from sweeteners like cocoa or molasses.

Sourdough

Unlike most bread, sourdough isn’t made with baker’s yeast. Instead, it’s made with a starter that ferments over time and produces a natural yeast.

“Some research indicates that this fermentation process makes the nutrients in sourdough bread more accessible for the body,” says Allers. “These include calcium, phosphorus and iron.”

And it isn’t just the nutrients that fermentation helps with.

“Although it doesn’t eliminate gluten, this process can make sourdough easier to digest than other options.”

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Italian

Typically made with refined flour, Italian bread is comparable to most white breads.

“These tend to be low in fat and cholesterol,” says Allers. “Like with any bread, sugar varies depending on the added ingredients.”

Unlike whole grain bread, Italian is typically lower in fiber and protein, meaning it might not keep you full as long.

“The great thing about Italian bread is it often has ‘enriched’ flour, meaning some of the vitamins that were removed during the refining process were added back in. These include iron and B vitamins,” she notes.

Sprouted

Made with whole grain seeds that are soaked and sprouted, this type of bread is becoming increasingly popular.

“This sprouting process can help make certain vitamins and minerals easier for the body to absorb,” says Allers. “They’re also high in fiber in protein, helping you feel full longer and offering a boost of energy.”

But just because bread is made with sprouted grains doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier.

“Not all of these are higher in fiber or other nutrients than regular whole grain bread. Others may not contain only sprouted grains, they could have a mixture,” she notes.

Like always, read the labels closely to be sure you’re getting plenty of the nutrients you need.

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