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How do I Pick the Healthiest Bread on the Shelf?

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When I walk through the bread aisle on a supermarket tour, I always take time to explain to my client how to choose the best loaves of bread in the market. It reallly is difficult to understand what do the manufacturers mean when they say “cracked wheat”, “stone ground whole wheat, “whole grain” “multigrain”, “stone-ground,” and “whole grain”. Don’t believe what you read on the front of the label. They key is to look at the list of ingredients and specifically for the first few ingredients. The first ingredient means that this bread has the most of that item such as 100% Whole Wheat.

Let’s learn about the whole wheat kernel before it’s processed. The kernel is made up of three main parts as listed below.

1. Bran is the protective outer shell of the grain. It is mostly made of fiber and but also provides B-vitamins and trace minerals. It’s removed when wheat flour is processed (refined and/or bleached) into white flour.

2. Germ is the part of the plant that provides nourishment and it has B-vitamins, trace minerals, and some protein. It’s also removed when wheat flour is refined to become white flour.

3. Endosperm is the starchy inner part of the grain but is low in vitamins and minerals. This is all that’s left when flour is refined to become white flour.

Don’t believe what you read on the front of the label. They key is to look at the list of ingredients and understand that the first ingredient should be 100% whole wheat or whole wheat flour. If it says “wheat flour”, “unbleached or bleached wheat flour”, “multigrain”,or “stone ground whole wheat flour” don’t buy it. Again, these are all forms of refined wheat flour which is white bread that I call paste and glue. Many times I go into classrooms and take a few slices of Wonder enriched wheat bread and roll up the slices into a ball and stick it on the classroom wall. Many students tell me that that wad stays on the classroom wall for weeks. Imagine what it does to your waist.

Additives and Sweetners

If you have made bread you know that all you need to make bread is flour, water, yeast, salt, and a little bit of sugar (to activate the yeast). When you look at all the ingredients on your bread label you will see items that are all preservatives and additives that add to shelf life, texture and taste. You will also see fiber-rich additions like processed oat, cottonseed, pea or wheat fibers that are synthetic and boost the fiber content. Bread would not be enjoyable is there was not a sweetner added. Often you will see such sweeteners like honey, molasses, maple syrup,sugar or corn syrup. Often high fructose corn syrup replaces sugar in many breads to reduce cost and prolong shelf life. Understand that enriched on bread labels means that they took out the nutrients in the germ and sprinkled some vitamin A, D, E and K so that it can be called enriched.

So, now that you have been well informed you can make the best choice of bread for you and your family. You can decide whether you want a bread that contains corn syrup, preservatives, or other additives. But the one thing to do is to look for breads that have shorter ingredients lists and ingredients that you recognize.