Bread has gotten a bad name in recent years due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, grain-free diets, and gluten-free diets. 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!).
Read on for what’s bad about most bread and my top picks for healthy bread.
What’s Wrong with Most Bread
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, even in brands that you think may healthy bread.
- 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 “healthy” 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).
What is 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 healthy unsprouted breads are the sourdough ones with flour, water, and salt as the only ingredients.
Whatever kind of healthy 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.
The Good Stuff
Traditional healthy 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 ingredients. To me, these are the very best healthy 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. My second choice for a sprouted bread is Alvarado Street Bakery, which uses just a tiny bit of soy lecithin in their breads.
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, and unfortunately, you’ll have to make it yourself!
My favorite gluten-free bread is Sarah Britton’s famous “Healthy Loaf of Bread,” and you can find that recipe here.
The Bad Stuff
The Bad Stuff should come as no surprise–don’t buy Wonder Bread ;).
The Sneaky Stuff
Here are some breads that SOUND like they could be healthful, but that contain those yucky ingredients I mentioned above (from soybean oil to artificial colors) and very little actual whole grains.
Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain (soybean oil, dough conditioners, and more)
Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat (I mean, you probably didn’t think Sara Lee was Good Stuff, right?)
Thomas’ 100% Whole Wheat (sugar, preservatives)
Udi’s Whole Grain Bread (sugar, maltodextrin)
Vermont Bread Company Organic Multigrain Bread (although this is the best of this list, with the only not-so-great ingredients being soybean oil and lecithin. But note that the first ingredient is white flour, making the “multigrain” claim pretty misleading!)
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. (And our readers get a free jar of avocado mayo when they join via the link I just provided).