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How to Pick the Best Breads

Diabetics and people who are trying to lose weight or control cholesterol should avoid all forms of ground-up grains, and that includes bread. For everyone else, bread is a perfectly satisfactory food.

Breads have been made for thousands of years, in virtually every culture, to wrap, sandwich, or accompany other foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When ground-up grains were used shortly after milling, there was no need to remove anything or to add ingredients to keep them fresh. Only in our recent history have we turned bread into junk food by removing the germ and fiber from the grains.

The best way to assure that you are getting a bread that is made from whole grains, with nothing removed, is to bake your own bread made from flour you grind yourself, or buy from local bakers who grind their flour fresh every few days (these are hard to find.) Not many people are going to be able to do that. So here are my rules for picking the best of the commercial breads:

1. Avoid any bread that is made with partially hydrogenated oils. Read the list of ingredients and if it contains the words "partially hydrogenated", put it back on the shelf. Partially hydrogenated oils are totally unnecessary for making good-tasting bread. Most manufacturers have responded to public pressure and removed them, but check the label to be sure. More on trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils)

2. Get as much whole grain flour as possible. This isn't easy to tell, because regulations allow bread makers to use the words whole wheat even if portions of the grain have been removed. Words like stone ground, multi-grain, seven-grain or cracked wheat sound healthy but don't tell you anything. Generally, breads that list whole wheat as the first ingredient are better than those that start with enriched flour of some sort.

3. Pick breads with higher fiber content. 2 grams of fiber per slice is better than 1 or 0 grams. One caution: breads promoted for their fiber content may have added pea fiber or some such ingredient; that's adding sawdust, not an indication that you're getting the whole grains. Check the list of ingredients on these breads.

4. Sprouted grain breads may cause a lower rise in blood sugar than breads made with flour, but no good data is available. The bread dough is made from whole grains that are sprouted by soaking them in water, then mashed, instead of using ground dry grains ((flour)) plus water. They usually have all the nutrients of the whole grains since nothing is removed in the sprouting process. There vitamin content of the grains is increased slightly in the sprouting process. However, these breads still cause a higher rise in blood sugar than cooked whole grains that have not been mashed into a dough.

5. Added seeds are a bonus. Many breads include seeds in the dough or as toppings. This is an easy way to add caraway seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds or other whole seeds to your diet.

6. "White whole wheat" breads are made with flour ground from a variety of wheat that has a white outer covering, not brownish-red. That's why the flour is pale in color rather than light brown. So nutritionally it is equivalent to bread made from ordinary (brown/red) whole wheat. HOWEVER, when you grind ANY grain into flour, you lose a major benefit of whole grains -- see WHOLE Grains are Better than Any Flour.

6. Watch out for breads that taste too good. Nothing is more seductive than a loaf of freshly baked bread. A reasonable portion is 1-2 slices. If you eat the whole loaf in one sitting, or the whole basket of rolls in a restaurant before dinner comes, you'll get into trouble.

Checked 4/4/12

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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