• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences: Navigating the bread aisle

Sandwich bread is usually one of the first items to go on the grocery list. But with all the options in the bread aisle, it is easy to become overwhelmed trying to choose the healthiest option for you and your family. Words commonly seen on bread labels include natural, multi-grain, whole grain, whole wheat, enriched and no added sugar.

The list doesn’t stop there; what does it all mean?

It is easiest to think through this if we go back to the basics. The USDA’s MyPlate encourages us to make half of our grains whole grains each day. Our sandwich bread is an easy place to do this. However, you need to know what you are looking for. Breads that say 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat are your best option. From this label, we know that the bread is made entirely with all parts of the grain kernel, whether it be wheat or another common grain such as oats or barley. What’s most important in this case is 100 percent whole, not that it is says grain or wheat. With many people looking for whole grain/wheat options, you can now find store brand 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat options at comparable prices to white bread. Benefits of selecting this bread include more fiber, increased vitamins and minerals naturally found in the grain kernel and a more controlled rise in blood sugar compared to white bread.

Some breads will say multi-grain, wheat, white wheat, or honey wheat. These labels do not mean that the bread is made with whole grains - it may have been made with no whole grains at all. Just because a bread is brown does not mean it is a whole grain product or any healthier than a white bread. Other breads may say they were made with whole grains. This means that a combination of grains was used and only a small portion may be whole grains. Remember, 100 percent whole grain items will have the most nutritional bang for your buck. In this case, you must look at the nutrition facts label. If whole grains or whole wheat is listed as the first ingredient, it means over half of the grain used in making the bread was whole, but is most likely not 100 percent of the grain.

Bread may be a hidden source of sodium and added sugar in the diet. Again, comparing the nutrition facts label between products will be helpful. A healthier option would be the breads that now say made with no added sugar. Enriched is a term used to show nutrients were added back into a food during processing. This word is rarely used to describe a whole grain product. Finally, the word natural has no true definition from the Food and Drug Administration. It should mean that the food comes straight from the earth, but we know this isn’t the case for manufactured foods such as sandwich bread, so it really has no value on a bread label.

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