Bread is like a modern-day curse word. When you're trying to clean up your eating habits, it's typically the first thing to go. But we love bread, so we did some dirty work to find out just how bad it is for you, really. Turns out, it can be part of a healthy diet. At least, if you opt for the right kind.
It sounds simple enough. Yet choosing the best bread isn’t always straightforward. There are plenty of options
to confuse us that sound wholesome. So which ones are actually good for you? From sprouted, to whole wheat and multigrain, to gluten-free and more, these are the ones we think are the best (and worst) choices you’ll find in the bread aisle.
1. Sprouted Grain
If you've had Ezekiel bread, you've had the sprouted grain kind. It's definitely in the running for healthiest bread, but does it stand up to its reputation? Yes, it does. Sprouted grains convert some of their starch to protein, vitamins, and minerals, so breads made with them tend to be more nutrient dense than non-sprouted breads, including 100 percent whole wheat, explains registered dietician Isabel Smith. More protein and less starch fills you up more too. That’s not all. There’s a good chance that any sprouted bread you pick up will be made from more natural ingredients than the others—so you may not have to spend as much time deciphering the package label.
Per slice: 80 calories, 5g protein, 14g carbs, 1g fat, 4g fiber, 0g sugar
2. 100 Percent Whole Grain
Bread made with 100 percent whole grains (like whole wheat) falls behind sprouted grains, but it’s still a great choice, Smith says. Unlike breads made with only partly whole grain, these breads are free of refined grains or flour, so they’re still a good source of protein and fiber.
That’s not to say that all 100 percent whole-grain breads are created equal. Some have more added sweeteners than others, and they can still contain synthetic preservatives and stabilizers. Your best bet is to choose breads with less than 3 grams of sugar per slice and make sure the sugar comes from natural sources such as honey, molasses, or cane sugar, Smith says. Steer clear of those made with potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide (both are linked to the C-word), as well as high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Bleh.
Per slice: 81 calories, 4g protein, 14g carbs, 1g fat, 2g fiber, 1.5g sugar
Multigrain means that a bread is made with multiple types of grains (such as wheat, barley, and millet), but those grains don’t have to be whole. Usually, multigrain loaves are made mostly with refined grains, making them lower in fiber, protein, and nutrients than whole grain and sprouted breads, Smith says. But because they likely contain a little bit of whole grain, they’re still better than the Wonder Bread that used to fill your school lunches.
Per slice: 75 calories, 3g protein, 12g carbs, 1g fat, 2g fiber, 2g sugar
Though they might sound healthy, most gluten-free breads are made with refined grains and heavy starches such as white rice flour and potato starch. Chemical composition and starch digestibility of different gluten-free breads. Segura ME, Rosell CM. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2012, Feb.;66(3):1573-9104. They also tend to pack extra fat and sugar to improve the texture and flavor. So in general, they tend to be lower in protein, fiber, and nutrients, and higher in calories than some other types of bread, Smith says.
There are some exceptions. Breads made with lower-starch flours such as almond, coconut, and quinoa flour are better gluten-free options. “But they still tend to be fairly low in protein, fiber, and nutrients, so read the label,” says Smith. Bottom line, unless you have celiac disease and *definitely have to* avoid gluten, you might want to consider sprouted bread before falling for the gluten-free trend.
Per slice: 109 calories, 1g protein, 18g carbs, 3.5 g fat, 1g fiber, 3g sugar
5. Sourdough and Rye
Like white bread, both sourdough and rye are made with refined flour—so they don’t offer much in the way of protein, fiber, or nutrients. Rye’s one plus comes from caraway seeds. “They contain digestive benefits, antioxidant properties, and help to add a little bit of fiber,” Smith says. But the amount of caraway seeds in certain brands might not be enough to do you any good.
And because sourdough bread is made with white flour, it’s low in fiber and protein—and won’t keep you full for very long, says Smith. If you enjoy the flavor of sourdough and rye, go ahead and enjoy them occasionally but don't expect to get your health fix. There’s no definitive proof that they're better for you than white bread.
The Bottom Line
Sprouted-grain or 100 percent whole-grain breads deliver the best nutritional bang for your buck. Check your labels before you purchase. Your best options are ones that deliver at least 3 to 5 grams of protein and fiber per slice, and no more than 3 grams of sugar per slice. Avoid any breads with potentially unsafe additives, sweeteners, preservatives, or fats.
And let’s be honest: If you feel like jumping into a pillowy slice of white bread or a crusty white baguette once in a while, it's all good. But if you can’t imagine eating anything but a sandwich for lunch every day or can’t say no to your ritualistic avocado toast, then you might want to shoot for these better options.