grainBy Michael R. Williams, RD

One quick glance down the bread aisle and you’ll find shelves stocked with all different types of bread. With each type, there will be different brands, different flours and different prices. On each bag, you’ll likely see a list of healthy sounding claims like “Made with Whole Grains” or “Heart Healthy.” Finally, there will be an ingredient list, which is almost hidden and microscopic, and may include up to 15 strange-sounding ingredients.

The bread aisle is one of the most popular, yet confusing places in the grocery store. Below is a quick breakdown of some of the most common store bought breads.

Whole Grains – Whole grains are not a type of bread. Instead, they are an important characteristic of healthy bread. Research has linked whole grains intake with lower rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It is recommended that they should be at least half of your daily grains. Whole grains include the three parts of the grain: the endosperm, germ and bran. Each part contains different nutrients that are important to maintaining health. There are many types of whole grains including wheat, rice, corn, barley and rye.

Whole Wheat – Whole wheat bread is one of the most popular. It is made from a red wheat strain, which gives it a dark color and a rich flavor. Look at the label for the first ingredient to say “whole wheat flour.” If it just says “wheat flour” or the bread is called “wheat bread,” then it is not a whole grain nor as healthy.

Whole White Wheat – Although it looks like white (refined) bread, it is nutritionally similar to whole wheat breads. The difference is it is made with an albino strain instead of a red wheat strain. Remember to look for “whole white wheat” on the ingredients list.

White (refined) – This is one of the most common. Compared to a whole grain, white bread is refined meaning it has the germ and bran removed. The process leads to losses of fiber, iron and B vitamins. While some nutrients are added back (enriched), white bread has very low fiber, and therefore quickly spikes blood sugar. All around, it is an unhealthy choice.

Whole Rye – The whole grain version of rye is whole rye bread. Look for the first ingredient to be “whole rye flour.” Unfortunately, this bread is not easy to find. Most store bought rye breads are actually white bread with rye seeds, an unhealthy choice.

Multi-Grain – Multi-grain bread is made from many types of grain. This does not mean it is always a whole grain. Look for the claim “100% whole grain” or “whole” flours on the ingredients list.

The most nutritious breads will have the word “whole” in the ingredients. Be careful of misleading slogans like “Made with Whole Grains,” which does not mean it contains 100% whole grains. Instead, look exactly for “100% Whole Grains.” Even easier, the Whole Grains Council has created a 100% Whole Grain stamp. Keep an eye out for this stamp and finding the best store bought breads will be a breeze.