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It’s a sandwich holder, a soup companion, and if you squish it just right, it can even double as a stress ball. What is it? Bread! 

Carbohydrates often rank high on the list of dietary restrictions, with bread often targeted as a prime offender. Despite its carb content, bread can still play a role in consumers’ balanced diets, unless they have a wheat or gluten allergy, in which case, alternative options should be sought. According to the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up 45%-65% of daily caloric intake, with half of those grains being whole grains. 

Bread can be enjoyed all throughout the day, whether it’s breakfast toast, sandwich filler, a dinner accompaniment or a hearty snack with avocado or nut butter. While the choices seem endless, opting for whole-grain bread is generally recommended. Whole grains offer fiber, vitamins and minerals, contributing to sustained satiety and minimizing blood sugar spikes.  

Ali Chernoff, RD, owner of her Vancouver-based private practice Nutrition At Its Best, said the No. 1 thing clients say to her regarding bread is they don’t eat it because they think it’s going to make them fat. 

“It’s not about eliminating things, it’s about what are you missing in your diet? Eliminating a food group is a red flag for a dietitian,” Chernoff said. “If you love bread, there are so many options out there for you to eat your bread.” 

Grace A. Derocha, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said she personally loves bread and joked that she wishes she could make a website that says, “Bread is not the devil and carbs aren’t evil.” 

When it comes to recommending bread options, health and wellness professionals and especially dietitians play a vital role in guiding consumers, clients and patients toward healthier choices. With the vast array of bread options available, from white to whole wheat to seeded varieties, it’s easy for clients to feel overwhelmed. With numerous healthy bread options available, the selection process for consumers can be overwhelming. Derocha noted that certain breads can be better suited for people with certain allergies and dietary restrictions. For example, there are vegan breads with no milk, eggs or honey for those on a vegan diet. Clients that are watching their carbs or may have diabetes can eat plant-based bread ingredients. 

To alleviate confusion, here are some breads to suggest to clients as recommended by EatingWell

Sprouted grain bread 

Sprouted grain bread is good for its high fiber and protein content, along with its lower sodium levels and absence of added sugars. Research in Food Science & Nutrition has suggested that sprouted grains enhance the nutritional profile, with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Sprouted grain bread tends to be denser and chewier, making it ideal for toasting rather than sandwiches. 

Chernoff said sprouted breads are her go-to.  

“If you really want to get a bang for your nutrition buck, I like things that are sprouted,” she said. “You get a good amount of fiber per slice.” 

Here are six recommended best sprouted bread brands from Good Housekeeping

Whole wheat bread 

While it may lack the extravagance of some bread varieties, whole wheat bread stands as a timeless, healthy choice. When choosing between different whole wheat bread options, prioritize those featuring whole wheat flour as the primary ingredient. If wheat flour is listed first instead of whole wheat flour, it’s not truly whole grain. It’s also crucial to assess the sugar and sodium content. Sodium intake shouldn’t exceed 2,300 milligrams per day, unless advised otherwise by a healthcare provider, and added sugar should contribute to less than 10% of total daily calories. 

Whole wheat bread can be found in various forms, including sandwich bread, naan bread and pita bread. Here are nine healthiest whole wheat breads according to Eat This, Not That

Sourdough bread 

Unlike conventional bread, sourdough is crafted through a process of fermenting flour and water, rather than relying on yeast. This fermentation method may enhance the availability of certain nutrients within the bread, and it typically contains no added sugar.  

“Sourdough had its moment during the pandemic,” Derocha said. “Everyone was like, ‘I’m going to make this!’” 

Moreover, sourdough appears to offer health benefits beyond its carbohydrate content. A study published in Ecology, Microbiology, and Infectious Disease suggests that sourdough possesses its own microbiome, comprising beneficial bacteria. When consumed, sourdough may influence our own gut microbiome, potentially improving digestion. 

White sourdough is better than white bread, but if clients can, they should go for whole wheat sourdough, Chernoff said. Multigrain is another great option. Anything with a high fiber content. 

“You want your food to digest slowly so the high fiber bread is amazing,” Chernoff said. 

Here are 14 ranked sourdough bread brands from Tasting Table

Seeded bread 

 Seeds stand out as one of the most nutrient-rich foods available, packing a wealth of essential nutrients — including fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — into their small form. Research indicates that seeds may contribute to lowering cholesterol levels and play a role in combating conditions like diabetes and cancer. Additionally, seeds impart a satisfying crunch to bread, appealing to those who enjoy texture in their meals. When purchasing seeded bread, it’s important to ensure it’s crafted with whole grains. 

Try this no-knead three-seed bread recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen

English muffins 

Although not classified as bread, English muffins are commonly found in the bread aisle. English muffins are slightly smaller compared to bread, making them ideal for those with lighter appetites or monitoring their carb intake. Despite their size, they serve well as toast or sandwich bases. Just like with bread, opt for whole-grain English muffins and scrutinize the labels for excess sodium and added sugars. 

Here’s a list from Sporked of best English muffins, including gluten free

Similarly, bagels can be a good option as well. Clients often tell Chernoff they think bagels are “way too much bread.” In return, Chernoff tells clients to look at the serving size; most bagels are equivalent to slices of bread. 

“If you prefer to have a bagel versus two slices of sprouted bread, go for it,” she said. 

Banana bread 

There’s no singular path to healthy eating, and indulgences like banana bread can absolutely find a place in a balanced diet. While some banana breads may be laden with sugar, butter and refined grains, quick breads, such as banana bread, often shine when crafted with whole grains, healthy fats and a touch less sugar. Check out this banana bread review from Choice on pre-made vs. baking mix supermarket banana bread

What else to recommend 

Flavors and nutritional profiles can vary widely based on brands’ ingredients and production methods. The healthiest bread options are those that are minimally processed and packed with nutrient-rich ingredients, such as whole grains. These bread varieties serve as excellent sources of beneficial compounds like fiber, prebiotics, polyphenols and essential micronutrients like zinc and iron, according to research project Zoe

On the other hand, ultra-processed breads, like many types of white bread, are typically crafted using refined flour, making them less nutritious. Extensive processing often removes most of the beneficial nutrients present in the bread’s ingredients, while also introducing preservatives and additives that may be detrimental to health. 

  • Seek out labels that mention “whole grain,” “whole wheat,” or “whole meal.” 
  • Look for loaves with at least 6 grams of fiber per 100 grams, indicating a rich fiber content. 
  • Opt for breads containing intact grains like oats, barley and quinoa, as well as seeds, if suitable for the consumer’s diet. 
  • Exercise caution with mass-produced sourdough breads; consumers should prioritize authentic sourdough options whenever possible, or consider baking their own. 
  • Steer clear of ultra-processed breads, which often feature lengthy lists of unfamiliar ingredients. 

The best tip to tell clients is to read the ingredient list. The bread packaging could say whole grain on the front, but the ingredient list on the back could say it contains white flour. It also of course matters what’s on top. Chernoff had a client who was putting honey on bread, adding sugar. 

“I’m not here to judge, I just need to know what the heck is going on,” Chernoff said. “We need to balance out the meal around the bread. We want you to eat not just one food group at a time.” 

Derocha said as long as consumers are getting enough fiber in, almost any bread can work, but of course it depends on specific dietary needs. A grocery store should have a good variety of breads on hand to give consumers options to eat themselves, serve up to their family or friends or have for when guests visit. 

“Everyone’s preferences are a little bit different,” Derocha said. 

In conclusion, bread stands as a versatile and beloved staple in many diets, offering not just sustenance, but also comfort and enjoyment. Despite concerns over its carbohydrate content, bread can be a valuable component of a balanced diet, especially when opting for whole-grain varieties rich in fiber and nutrients. With a plethora of options available, from sprouted grain to sourdough to seeded varieties, consumers, clients and patients can explore and experiment while keeping health considerations in mind. Health and wellness professionals, particularly dietitians, can offer valuable guidance in navigating the bread aisle and making informed choices. By prioritizing whole-grain options, scrutinizing labels for added sugars and sodium and complementing bread with nutritious toppings, clients can continue to enjoy this timeless culinary delight while supporting their overall health and well-being. So, whether it’s a slice of toast at breakfast or a sandwich for lunch, embrace the joy of bread and savor each delicious bite. 

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