Bread has gotten a bad name in recent years due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, grain-free diets, and gluten-free diets. These days, gluten is basically a dirty word! While some of the criticism of wheat and bread is well deserved—I wouldn’t call most of what you see in the grocery store Good Stuff–I have found that for many people, totally giving up bread in order to be healthy is not necessary (and definitely not fun!).
I do think that there is such thing as healthy bread, and many people can include healthy bread in their diet. For health reasons, I have always been a promoter of whole grains rather than processed grains, so I don’t recommend eating a lot of bread. However, I’ll admit that I’m a bread lover. I eat specific kinds of bread sparingly and mostly avoid the white stuff. Good bread enjoyed with yummy spreads and toppings leaves me feeling healthy and content.
Read on for what’s bad about most bread, my top picks for healthy bread, and a fabulous recipe for super-delicious, super-nutritious bread that just happens to be gluten-free.
What’s Wrong with Most Bread
Have you ever looked at the label on a loaf of bread? Almost all of the bread you’ll find in most grocery stores, delis, and restaurants is a far cry from bread in its simplest and healthiest form. This is true for many organic breads, too.
A lot of bread, especially sliced sandwich bread with a long shelf life, includes unhealthy ingredients and additives. For instance:
- Highly refined flour—you’ll even find this in some “whole grain” loaves.
- Lots of added sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup—have you ever noticed how sweet some packaged breads are?
- Cheap, low-quality oils, such as soy and canola.
- Artificial preservatives—this enable a long shelf life, but I’d rather freeze or refrigerate my bread!
- Artificial colors to make bread look browner (because that’s healthier, right?) or yellow (hello, potato bread!), etc.
- Cellulose fiber, which is sneakily added to up the fiber content in bread and is often sourced from wood in a chemical-laden process—I’d much rather get my fiber from real whole grains!
- Industrial bread production involves a lot of other additives that we’d never use in our own kitchens, including dough conditioners (which are as gross as they sound)
For a fascinating dive into the best and the worst of bread, check out the bread chapter in Michael Pollan’s book Cooked.
Bread: Some Sneaky Stuff
Here are some breads that SOUND like they could be healthful, but that contain those yucky ingredients I just mentioned:
- Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain
- Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat
- Thomas’ 100% Whole Wheat
- Udi’s Whole Grain Bread
- Vermont Bread Company Organic Multigrain Bread (although this is the best of this list!)
The Evolution of “Healthy Bread”
So what is healthy bread? Well, it’s an ever-changing story. In the 40 years I’ve been following the health and wellness field, I’ve witnessed the evolution of what is considered to be “healthy bread,” and I’ve ridden every wave.
In the 1970’s, homemade whole wheat bread became popular as part of the backlash against Wonder Bread. Later, the standard for healthy bread shifted to bread made from freshly ground flour (and I bought a stone grinder, of course!). Then, yeast was out and sourdough was in. By the late 1990’s, flour made from soaked and sprouted grains was the key to healthy bread. (That’s when I started eating Ezekiel Bread and baking with sprouted flours.) Most recently, “healthy bread” is gluten free.
During all of these progressions, bakers and bread companies have produced bread that is healthy based on the standards of the day. All of these evolutions have been good, but it can be confusing for the consumer. Is bread healthy if it’s made with whole-grains? If it’s organic? If it’s thinly sliced? Sadly, not necessarily.
My Top Picks for Healthy Bread
After all these decades of watching bread evolve, here is my definition of healthy bread: Healthy bread is made from real, whole-food ingredients–sprouted when possible. Be wary of ingredients that you don’t recognize. My favorite unsprouted breads are the sourdough ones with flour, water, and salt as the only ingredients.
Bread can come in a lot of forms—store-bought, homemade, sandwich-style, moist and cake-like. Here are my top picks for different kinds of healthy breads:
- Traditional breads from local bakeries: In Vermont, where we lived for many years, there are many bakeries that make traditional European-style sourdough breads baked in a brick oven. Such bakers source their grains or flours very carefully and generally use top-quality i
ngredients. To me, these are the very best breads if you can find them (and if you don’t have issues with gluten).
- Sprouted whole-grain breads are great because they’re more nutritious and easier to digest that regular sandwich bread. Ezekiel Bread is my favorite in this category because it’s widely available and comes in a variety of flavors, from sesame to cinnamon-raisin. Because it’s made from whole grains and legumes, it’s a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and many vitamins and minerals. I like their sliced loaves because I can toast the slices easily and use it like any normal sandwich bread. It’s great for kids’ lunches.
- Manna Bread’s sprouted bread comes frozen in moist, dense loaves. You can find it in natural food stores or the organic section of some grocery stores. It is cake-like; in fact, their carrot-raisin loaf reminds me of carrot cake! Because of its dense consistency, it is better for a side dish or snack than a sandwich. There are a variety of flavors, from sweet to savory. I thaw mine and store it in the fridge. Aside from the fact that it’s delicious, I like that Manna Bread is made from sprouted grains, has simple ingredients, and is organic. It’s also yeast-free.
- Gluten-free bread made from real ingredients. Beware: Most gluten-free breads are not healthy. They tend to be made from highly refined carbohydrates and include many additives to make up for the lack of gluten. The good kind of gluten-free bread is made from normal, whole foods, like nuts and seeds. My favorite gluten-free bread is Sarah Britton’s famous “Healthy Loaf of Bread,” which is included at the end of this post.
Whatever kind of bread you choose, consider some of my favorite toppings and spreads: nut butters (like almond and peanut), seed butters (like tahini, which goes great with honey!), and organic butter or ghee.
Good Bread-Making Flours
For those of you who like to make wheat-based bread at home—it’s such a simple and fulfilling activity, and kids love it!—you can make your favorite loaf more nutritious and digestible by using sprouted flour. Organic Spelt Sprouted Flour is what I keep in my kitchen for making pancakes, waffles, muffins and even cake.
Another sprouted-flour bonus is that some individuals with gluten sensitivities can tolerate wheat that has been soaked, sprouted, or fermented.
A Healthy Bread Recipe
The gluten-free bread recipe below is adapted from one of my favorite blogs, Sarah Britton’s My New Roots . This recipe launched her into the blog stratosphere. It is not traditional bread because it’s not made with flour and leavening. It’s yummy and full of Good Stuff.
Healthy Loaf of Bread
Adapted from My New Roots, by Sarah Britton
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup flax seeds
- 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 4 tablespoons psyllium seed husks
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
- Whisk the wet ingredients together in a measuring cup.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is completely soaked and the dough becomes very thick.
- Put dough in a parchment-lined baking pan and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon.
- Cover the loaf and let it sit out on the counter for at least 3 hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaf on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan, place it upside down directly onto the oven rack, and bake for another 30-40 minutes. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.
Let the bread cool completely before slicing. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or store wrapped in the wonderful Bee’s Wrap that we sell in our store here at Gimme the Good Stuff.
To your health,
P.S. You’ll notice in this post that I’ve linked a variety of ingredients to Thrive Market. If you aren’t familiar with Thrive, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s a Costco meets Whole Foods meets Amazon model, with hard-to-find healthful foods delivered, for free, at steeply discounted prices.