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How to Choose Healthy Bread in 3 Simple Steps

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Dougal Waters via Getty Images
Dougal Waters via Getty Images

Choosing a healthy bread can be tough in today's crazy world of food. Some people advocate low carb, or eating paleo or going gluten-free but where does this leave bread? If you chose to eat bread, there are three things to look for to make it a healthy loaf.

1. In general, healthy bread should be made from a whole grain flour. Read the ingredient list and look for words like "whole grain whole wheat flour" or "whole grain rye flour." Flour made from oats, beans or pulses and quinoa tend to be whole grain. But beware! Whole wheat is not the same as whole grain. Although whole wheat sounds like it is made from grinding up the entire grain (be it wheat or rye, for example), it actually isn't. The label "whole wheat" means up to 5 per cent of the kernel of the grain can be removed.

2. Take a peek at the sodium levels. Unless the bread is a specialty no-salt bread, it will contain sodium. Salt is added to bread dough for both the taste as well as for its role in gluten development. Sodium helps the dough be more strong and stable. For every 70 grams of bread, an ideal amount of sodium would be a maximum of 275 milligrams but amounts up to 320 milligrams are OK.

3. Fibre is your friend. Bread made from whole grain flour tend to be naturally the richest in fibre. Look for breads that contain 3 grams of fibre or more per 70 grams of bread. Sometimes inulin, a type of fibre that has an easy to mask flavor, is added. This can make breads made from refined flour high in fibre. The problem is that inulin may not help us feel full or lower cholesterol levels like naturally occurring fibre from whole grains do. Read the list of ingredients to find out if your bread contains inulin to boost the fibre content. To be fair, inulin is not a bad added ingredient since it is a prebiotic and thus feeds the good gut bacteria. It just may not be exactly the same as traditional, natural fibre found in whole grain foods.

Sugar is not something you typically have to worry about in bread. This may come as a shock to some since many people believe that bread, once digested, turns into sugar. Although there is some truth to this, it is an oversimplified way of thinking. Bread needs some form of sugar to feed the yeast which leavens the bread. Sometimes fruit juice is used (instead of white sugar or molasses) so the manufacturers can claim that "no sugar is added". Regardless of the type of sugar used, there is usually very little in each slice. One to 3 grams of sugar per slice is typical and if there are fruit in your bread, like raisins, you can expect to have more sugar. Let's go back to the digestion of bread and why it is said that it turns to sugar once digested. Sugars are not the only nutrient that contributes to raising blood sugars. Starch and other carbohydrates (save for fibre) all are broken down into sugar to be digested. So even though your bread maybe sugar free, it will still raise your blood sugars since it contains starch from the flour. This is not a bad thing! It is completely natural and is why our body requires carbohydrates.

Fat is also something that tends to be quite low in bread. Some exceptions include sweet bread or bread with added high fat ingredients like chocolate and nuts. Fat helps to keep the bread moist so a little bit can help improve its palatability. One to 2 grams of fat per slice is typical so changing to a no-fat bread will not have a great impact on your health.

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