Man may not live by bread alone, but he should at least get some dietary value out of it if he’s going to spend time chewing, digesting and evacuating it. But even that may be too much to ask, since most breads available at your local supermarket are nutritionally worthless.
While most people have finally clued in to the fact that plain white bread boasts the dietetic value of couch stuffing, few are aware that wheat breads are equally empty. “How can that be,” you ask, “when it’s got the word ‘wheat’ right in the name?”
On paper, the word “wheat” implies good health, but when it comes to most commercially processed breads, that’s simply not the case. Any health benefits conferred by wheat depend on the form in which it’s eaten, so those benefits are minimal if the wheat used to make your bread has been processed into bleached (or unbleached, for that matter) flour. Technically, plain white bread is “wheat bread” too.
To be clear, 100% whole wheat bread is extremely healthy, loaded with essential and high in fiber. Unfortunately, most of the mass-baked breads you’ll find for sale aren’t 100% whole wheat&emdash;not even close. They’re versions of the wheat grain stripped to approximately 60% of their original form and turned into flour. Worse still, the 40% that’s removed includes the healthiest parts: the bran and the germ of the wheat grain. So how do you pick the right bread?
DON’T BE FOOLED
Just like car dealers who use the term “previously owned” instead of “used,” lousy bread manufacturers have baked up a few of their own catchphrases to fool you…
“Wheat Flour:” This is what’s left after all the good stuff is removed. Most every commercially processed bread uses either bleached or unbleached flour as its main ingredient. During the factory process of making flour, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost.
“Enriched:” Enrichment is the process of replacing all of the vitamins and minerals that were removed during extraction. Except that nutrients added to flour later don’t compare to the ones that occur naturally.
“Stone-Ground:” This is another healthy-sounding technique that, in reality, just describes how the flour was milled. Stone–ground flour is pretty much the same as wheat flour, which means it’s pretty much worthless too.
“Multigrain:” Your bread can have 72 different types of grains, but it won’t mean squat if none of them is whole.
The Rye Lie: On its own, rye flour is loaded with healthy fiber. Unfortunately, most rye breads sold in stores are made with a combination of rye and unbleached, enriched flour, explaining why most rye breads are low in fiber—less than a gram per slice.
Sour D’oh!: Just like rye and wheat breads, sourdough can offer a variety of benefits, including easy digestibility and a mild effect on blood sugars. Yet bread companies have again found a way to spoil a good thing by adding bad things—namely enriched flour and fructose.
YOUR BEST BET: GO 100%
To be confident you’re getting the most from your bread, make sure the first ingredient is always either “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” This way you’ll know the most nutritious parts of the wheat have been left intact. Since the health benefits include protection from stroke, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, it only makes sense to keep your bread whole.