The vast variety of breads available in supermarkets and bakeries reflects the unquenchable appetite of Americans for this grain-based food. Breads labeled as “whole grain” appear to be a smart way to add fiber to your diet.
Whole grains improve regularity, slow digestion, reduce appetite, improve cholesterol, and prevent spikes in blood sugar — a major driver of obesity, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.
A whole grain bread uses the entire grain seed: the bran (an outer layer with fiber, antioxidants, and B-vitamins); the endosperm (the middle layer of starchy carbohydrates); and the germ (the inner core, which has vitamins, minerals, some protein, and a drop of oil).
Commercial whole grain breads differ in the relative amount of whole grain content in the product. A simple calculation, called the “10 to 1 Rule,” can guide you in choosing healthy whole grain breads: Using the nutrition facts on the label, identify the grams of total carbohydrate and fiber. Divide the total grams of carbs by 10. Is there at least that much fiber stated on the label? If so, it is considered a healthy bread.
But wait, there’s something more to consider before purchasing a whole grain bread. Andrew Weil, M.D., an expert in Integrative Medicine, states: “A true whole grain food retains all three parts of the seed intact. A recent government study linked the fiber found specifically in intact whole grains to a longer, healthy life, that is, a lower risk of death at any age from conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases and possibly some cancers.”
To make bread, the intact whole grain is ground into flour. Some of the physical properties that promote good health are less effective when whole-grain seeds are processed into flour.
There are many tasty, intact whole grains available, including: amaranth; barley; brown rice; buckwheat; bulgur; cracked wheat; farro; kamut; kasha; millet; oats; quinoa; rye; wheat berries; and wild rice. Use intact whole grains as side dishes or stuffing, in soups, stews, and salads — and as a hot, breakfast porridge.
Despite research reporting some differences in the positive effects of intact, whole grains as compared to processed (ground) whole grain flour, here’s the most important message: Aim for at least three servings of whole grains every day, including cooked, intact whole grains, whole grain cereals, and whole grain breads. Enjoy!
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.