You know to stay away from refined breads (read: white bread), because they undergo a process that strips them of key nutrients. But when it comes to the “better-for-you” kinds of bread—i.e., whole wheat, whole grain, multigrain, seven grain—there are so many options it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed in the middle of the bread aisle … and just buy whatever looks like it has the healthiest packaging. But looks can be deceiving. So which loaf is healthiest? It all comes down to one word: whole.
A whole grain contains three important things: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is full of fiber and acts like a shield, which protects the inside of the grain. The germ is where most of the key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants live, and the endosperm is where the carbs and proteins live. Refined grains are stripped of most of the bran and some of the germ, leaving it, well, less than whole and lacking fiber, vitamins B and E, heart-healthy fats, and about 75% of bread’s phytochemicals. Diets rich in whole grains have been shown to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, and may even help you stay slim.
Multigrain breads, seven-grain, nine-grain, or even 12-grain breads may be better than refined varieties, but they’re often not healthy as they sound. Why? All the “multi” or the number means is that the bread contains many different grains, like rye, barley or millet, but (here’s the kicker) those grains may not necessarily be whole.
Don’t be betrayed by your bread: When shopping, make sure that your bread is labeled as “100% whole grain,” “100% whole wheat,” or “an excellent source of whole grain.” Even better, look at the ingredients list and make sure the first item listed has the word “whole” in it, like whole wheat or whole oats.