Bread is one of the world's favorite comfort foods. There is nothing quite like eating some warm baked bread fresh out of the oven. Bread has been a staple food for centuries. In recent years, however, people have become aware that not all bread is the same. Some types of bread are healthier than others. Even among similar types of bread, the quality can vary tremendously based on how it was made, how fresh it is, and whether any chemicals or preservatives were added. In this article, we will explore the healthiest bread to eat and discuss some of the worst types of bread.
What Is Bread?
While most people know what bread is, not everyone knows what ingredients are in bread. Bread is a food made of flour, water, yeast, or another leavening agent that is mixed together and baked. The flour and water make a dough that rises and softens when heated. Bread has been a staple food for people around the world throughout history.
What Is the Healthiest Bread to Eat?
Not all bread is made the same. Some types of bread are better than others. We'll explore different types of bread and their pros and cons. Still, in general, the healthiest kind of bread will be the one that is made freshest and made with the purest ingredients (and least added chemicals and preservatives).
The healthiest type of bread may vary from person to person as well. For example, some people are sensitive to the gluten protein found in wheat and rye and would benefit from gluten-free bread. For others less sensitive, a healthy whole wheat bread may be the healthiest option as wheat is rich in protein, B vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients. Below are our top picks for the healthiest types of bread.
1. Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is one of the healthiest types of bread available. It is made through a fermentation process that uses naturally occurring yeast and bacteria to make the bread rise. This fermentation process breaks down and reduces the amount of phytic acid in the bread. Phytic acid is a compound that binds to certain minerals and impairs their absorption. Because the amount of phytic acid has been reduced, the nutrients in sourdough bread are more bioavailable.
Sourdough bread is also considered easier to digest than other forms of bread because it contains a good balance of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that are broken down by bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that feed on prebiotics. So, eating sourdough may be easier to digest and contribute to a healthy gut, especially when it is fresh and homemade.
Sourdough bread is one of the only bread options for people on a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon.
People that struggle with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth are encouraged to follow a low FODMAP diet. In addition, many people with other gut health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Chron's disease also find that a low FODMAP diet helps with their digestive symptoms.
Sourdough's fermentation also impacts its effect on blood sugar. The bacteria in sourdough may help decrease the rate at which starch is digested, making sourdough bread a food with a low glycemic index (GI). GI is a way to measure the impact that food has on your blood sugar. Sourdough bread is also low in calories, making it the healthiest bread for weight loss.
Sourdough is one of the healthiest types of bread to eat because not only is it delicious, but it is easy to digest, the nutrients in it are more bioavailable than other bread, it has a low glycemic index, and people that are on a restrictive diet like the low FODMAP diet can also enjoy it. The healthiest sourdough bread will be one that is homemade or made locally with quality ingredients. At the end of this article, we'll share a homemade sourdough bread recipe so you can make your sourdough bread from home.
2. Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
Sprouted whole grain bread is another healthy bread option. Sprouted bread is made from whole grains that have started sprout from moisture and heat exposure. Many seeds and grains contain compounds that inhibit digestion and reduce the bioavailability of nutrients within them. This is likely an intelligent action that plants have created to prevent their seeds from being destroyed when consumed, which allows them to pass through the digestive system of another creature so that the seed can be spread to other locations. This is great for the plant looking to propagate and spread to new areas but not so great for the creature looking to receive the nutrients contained within the seed.
We need to reduce the anti-nutrient compounds that cover the seed to get more of these important nutrients. We do this primarily through fermentation (as in the case of sourdough bread) or through sprouting.
When a seed is sprouted, it reduces the number of anti-nutrients like phytic acid. As a result, it increases the amount and bioavailability of nutrients within the seed.
For example, studies have found that bread made with 50% sprouted wheat flour had over three times as much folate as bread made without. Sprouting also breaks down some of the grains' starch, decreasing their carb content. Additionally, sprouting has been shown to increase the antioxidant content of grains. Sprouted bread also tends to be higher in fiber and protein than non-sprouted bread.
3. 100% Whole Wheat
100% whole wheat bread (mainly made from organic whole wheat) is another great healthy option. It is essential to make sure that the bread you are purchasing says "100%" as some companies will market bread as whole wheat to seem healthier when it contains refined flour and a bunch of other added ingredients. Only "100% whole wheat" bread is made entirely from whole wheat, yeast, salt, and water.
What makes a grain "whole" is that the entire grain—including the germ, endosperm, and bran—is kept intact. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, as the brain's outer layer is naturally high in fiber and contains many nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and proteins. In addition, the outer bran can make a significant difference in the health benefits of grain. This is why brown rice is so much more nutritious than white rice.
4. Oat Bread
Oats are a highly nutritious food. Oat bread is a healthy bread option made by combining oats, whole-wheat flour, yeast, water, and salt. You get the added benefit of eating oats and whole wheat with oat bread.
Oats are naturally rich in essential nutrients like zinc, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins and are a great source of fiber. Oats have also been linked to lower cholesterol levels and help to regulate blood sugar and reduce high blood pressure.
However, like many types of bread, not all oat bread is the same. Some oat bread only contains a small amount of oats and many other unhealthy ingredients like added oils, added sugars, and refined grains. When shopping for oat bread, make sure that it is made primarily of oats and whole wheat flour and contains few other ingredients.
5. High-Quality Gluten-Free Bread
Gluten is a protein in many grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. It is common in many foods, like bread, cereal, pasta, and pizza. People with celiac disease have an immune reaction triggered by eating gluten. Gluten can trigger diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, low blood count (anemia), and osteoporosis in people with celiac disease. However, some people with celiac disease may also not show any symptoms.
Even people that do not have celiac disease may feel some adverse health effects from eating gluten. Gluten is considered to be a pro-inflammatory compound, meaning that it can cause inflammation in the body. Some people tolerate gluten better than others.
For those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, gluten-free bread is their healthiest bread option. These breads are made without gluten grains like wheat, rye, or barley. While the exact ingredients in gluten-free bread depend on the type, they are often made from a mix of gluten-free flours like almond, coconut, brown rice, tapioca, or potato.
Not all gluten-free bread is healthy, however. Many gluten-free breads contain refined flour, added sugars, and other unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. If you are going to eat gluten-free bread, make sure it is made with good ingredients and doesn't contain harmful chemicals or preservatives. You can also learn how to make your gluten-free bread at home.
What Is the Least Healthy Bread to Eat?
The worst type of bread to eat is white bread. To make white flour, nutrients like fiber, protein, and other essential vitamins and minerals are removed. Other breads that you should avoid are breads that are made with refined grains or contain unnecessary additives, such as:
- Whole wheat bread (different from 100% whole wheat bread)
- Cinnamon raisin bread (unless made fresh from scratch with good ingredients)
- Butter bread
- Texas toast
- Hawaiian sweet rolls
- And essentially, any bread that contains unhealthy ingredients
How Do You Know If Bread Is Healthy or Not?
The way to tell if bread is healthy or not is simple: read the ingredients! Far too many people skip over the ingredients list and do not consider what the product is made of and what they are putting in their bodies. In general, look for minimal ingredients and 100% whole-grain or sprouted flours listed as the first ingredient, with limited other ingredients after that. Make sure there are no added sweeteners, chemicals, or preservatives. Additionally, aim to buy organic options whenever possible.
Bread sitting on the shelf for a long time may also develop microscopic molds called aflatoxins. These will be present in the bread before you see the more noticeable green mold form. For this reason, try to get bread when it is as fresh as possible and store it well in a cool, dry place such as the refrigerator. Of course, the best option is always to get freshly baked bread or to make your bread at home.
Make Sourdough Bread from Scratch with This Homemade Sourdough Recipe
To start making your bread from home, try making simple sourdough bread. To do so, you need to make a sourdough starter. The starter is a symbiotic community of lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast. Both yeast and bacteria feed on the carbs in flour when hydrated with water, allowing time to ferment. We'll share a homemade sourdough starter recipe below and how to make sourdough bread from scratch.
The whole process will take around seven days from start to finish:
- It would help if you created your starter with whole wheat flour to jumpstart fermentation.
- You will continue to feed it with regular white flour to cultivate the wild yeasts and friendly bacteria.
- You will know that your starter is ready to use when it has doubled in size and has plenty of bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture.
To make it, you'll need:
- 3/4 L jar
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup water
Then, to feed the starter each day, you'll need:
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup water
On day 1, combine 1⁄2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1⁄4 cup warm water in a large jar. Mix with a fork until it is smooth. Cover the jar with plastic wrap or a lid, and let it rest in a warm spot (about 75-80 F) for 24 hours.
On day 2, check to see if there are any bubbles. Bubbles are a sign of fermentation. If no bubbles are present, wait another day.
On day 3, whether there are bubbles or not, remove and discard approximately half of your starter from the jar with a spoon. Next, 1⁄2 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of warm water, then mix it with a fork until it is smooth. Then, cover and let it rest in your warm spot for another 24 hours.
On days 4, 5, and 6, you will repeat the same feeding process outlined on day 3. Remove half of the starter, and feed it with 1⁄2 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup warm water. As the yeast develops, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form throughout the culture. When the starter falls, it is time to feed it again.
On day 7, your sourdough starter should have doubled in size. Again, you should see plenty of bubbles. The texture will be fluffy and spongy and should have a pleasant but mildly sour smell. At this point, you can transfer your sourdough starter to a new clean jar.
Now, to make it into bread, you will need:
- 150g/5.35 oz sourdough starter
- 250g/8.80 oz warm water
- 25g/.90 oz olive oil
- 500g/17.65 oz bread flour
- 10g/.4 oz fine sea salt
Start by whisking the starter, water, and olive oil in a large bowl, then add flour and salt. Mix everything with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. Then, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean damp kitchen towel. Let it rest for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then, shape the dough in the bowl into a rough ball.'
After this, allow the dough to rise by covering it once again and letting it rest in a warm spot. It is ready for the next step when the dough has doubled in size and no longer appears dense (which can take between 3-12 hours).
Next, you will set up a workstation on your counter with one surface lightly floured and another half left clean. Remove the dough from the bowl, and place it onto the floured section, so it does not stick. Cut the dough in half to make two loaves, or leave it whole for a single loaf if preferred.
To shape it, move your dough to the non-floured section and fold the dough over from the top toward the center. Turn it slightly, then fold the next section of dough over and repeat until you have come full circle. Once you are happy with the shape and appearance, it is time to let the dough rise again (this time, it only needs to rise for about 30 minutes to an hour).
Cover the bottom of your Dutch oven with parchment paper or cornmeal to prevent sticking. Place the dough inside and cover with the lid of the pot a very damp cloth to let it rise again. The dough will be ready when it has become slightly puffy.
Now, Preheat your oven to 450º F. Before transferring the bread to the oven, make a small cut in the center of the dough about ¼ inch deep. Next, place the dough in the oven on the center rack with the lid on, reduce the temperature to 400 F, then bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid, and continue to bake it uncovered for an additional 40 minutes or until it is a deep, golden brown color. If you'd like, you can also take the internal temperature of your bread to ensure it is done (it will be down when the internal temperature reads about 205-210º F.
Lastly, remove the bread from the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing. Then, enjoy! You've made your very own sourdough bread.
Bread is delicious and nutritious food that has been eaten for centuries. However, not all bread is the same. In modern times, with the increase in industrial food production, the quality of many foods has gone down significantly. Unfortunately, many corporations have prioritized profit over health, adding poor quality ingredients and toxic preservatives in foods so they will last longer. If we aren't mindful of what we buy, our health can be at the mercy of these toxic ingredients.
When it comes to the healthiest type of bread, making your own or buying some fresh from a local bakery that uses quality ingredients is best. If you buy bread from the store, check the ingredients and ensure that they contain mostly 100% whole grains or sprouted grains with minimal other ingredients. Also, avoid bread with added sugars and other unnecessary additives.
Bread is a wonderful food when it is made right. By understanding what the healthiest bread to eat is and what bread is best to avoid, you can continue to enjoy this fantastic food. In addition, you can be confident that the bread you eat benefits your health instead of harming it.