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The Best Bread: Tips for Buying Breads

How to decipher labels and choose the healthiest bread.
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WebMD Expert Column

Every time you eat bread -- be it a bagel, an English muffin, or part of a sandwich -- you've got an opportunity to improve your diet. For most Americans, choosing whole-wheat bread products most of the time is the easiest way to eat more super-healthy whole grains. But when you're standing in front of the bread array in the supermarket, reading the various label claims, just how do you know which is the best bread to buy? 

Choosing the best bread can be confusing. Here are three bread myths that help make it that way:

Bread Myth No. 1: If it looks brown and has the word "wheat" in the name, it has lots of fiber and whole grain.

The Truth: The first ingredient listed on the ingredient label tells the story. If it's "wheat flour" or "enriched bleached flour" (or similar), that tells you white flour was mostly used, not "whole-wheat flour."

Bread Myth No. 2: Breads with healthy sounding names like "seven-grain" or "100% natural" are the best choices.

The Truth: Just because the name of the bread on the package sounds super-healthy, it doesn’t mean the bread actually is. Oroweat’s seven-grain and 12-grain breads, for example, list "unbleached enriched flour" as their first ingredient. Nature’s Pride 100% Natural Honey Wheat bread, likewise, is mainly made with "wheat flour," not whole wheat.

Bread Myth: Rye bread is a 100% whole-grain, high-fiber choice.

The Truth: The first ingredient listed on the label of most brand brands of rye bread, from Russian Rye or Jewish Rye to Dark Rye or Extra Sour Rye, is none other than unbleached enriched flour. The second ingredient is usually water, and the third, rye flour. That explains why most rye breads have only 1 gram of fiber per slice (one dark rye in my supermarket has less than that). So, rye bread isn't usually 100% whole grain (although there might be some enlightened brands out there I haven't seen yet). I wouldn't call them high in fiber, either.

How to Buy the Best Bread

Best Bread Tip No. 1: Go for 100%

Just "whole wheat" doesn't cut it. Neither does "made with whole grain," Look for labels that say "100% whole wheat" or "100% whole grain," and don't settle for anything less. If it’s 100% whole wheat, the first ingredient listed in the ingredient label will be whole-wheat flour or 100% whole-wheat flour.

You want whole grains because they're naturally low in fat and cholesterol free; contain 10% to 15% protein, and offer loads of healthy fiber, resistant starch, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and often, phytoesterogrens (plant estrogens). With all those nutrients in one package, it’s no wonder whole grains provide so many health benefits, including protection from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.

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