In an age of low-carb diets, bread often gets a bad rap. But from leading academic institutions like Berkeley and Harvard to global health organizations like the American Heart Association, The World Health Organization, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics01386-6/pdf), all agree that the healthiest breads can be excellent additions to a well-balanced diet.
And what makes them great?
For one, the best breads to eat for health are rich in fiber. Fiber is incredibly important for good health and lowering your risk for many chronic diseases like coronary heart disease.
And even as some say the daily recommendations are too low, less than 5% of Americans still manage to eat the recommended amount of dietary fiber daily.
Learn more about dietary fiber, here!
But the healthiest breads also contain high concentrations of many vitamins and minerals critical to good health.
And despite their bad reputation among some dieters, the best breads for your health can even be effective part of your weight loss strategy.
When consumed in moderation, the best breads for weight loss are dense in satiation fiber that can keep you feeling full for longer.
However, it is still necessary to eat these breads in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet. And of course, not all breads are created equal in their health benefits.
Refined breads, like white bread, are stripped of much of their nutritive value. And when the fiber and much of the nutrients are removed, you are left with far less nutrition and a food item that has changed from promoting health to potentially hurting your health.
So when looking to buy (or make) bread, the healthiest breads will usually be made from 100% whole grain flours.
The healthiest breads have a high density of these nutrients. What does this mean?
It’s important to look at the nutrient density of foods, because ideally we should be consuming a moderate amount of calories.
If you consume more calories than you expend throughout the day, you’ll gain weight. So, eating a reasonable amount of calories is an important first step in a healthy diet.
Read more about why a healthy diet is important for health.
But within the calories you eat, you want to make sure these other essential nutrients are coming along for the ride!
This is also important for nutrients you might want to eat less of.
Micronutrients are important for a well-balanced diet. But it’s also good to keep your macronutrients in check, too.
Your intake of dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are important to keep within recommended balanced ratios.
Also important is the composition of these macronutrients.
For example, the American Heart Association suggests that less than 10% of your calories come from saturated fats.
Paratha, a traditional flatbread from India, is singled out on our list of the healthiest breads with a saturated fat ratio higher than 10% of its calories.
But fat is a critical and necessary component of your diet. Some fat is important.
And paratha, despite being relatively high in saturated fats, also has a relatively high concentration of oleic acid and linoleic acid, a monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acid, respectively, that are viewed as being heart-healthy fats.
With the exception of paratha, roti, and cornbread, most of the breads on our list have fewer than 15% of their calories derived from fats. And although they are low in fat, many do contain high concentrations of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats like linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
For example, whole grain bread meets your dietary reference intake (DRI) values for both of these heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats on a per-calorie basis.
To rank high our list of the healthiest breads, it takes more than just a high density of one or two nutrients.
The best breads to eat for health are dense in many nutrients.
Most of the healthiest breads on our list are excellent sources of magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, phosphorus, copper, and selenium - all minerals necessary for health.
And a few, like protein bread and whole grain bread, are even decent sources of calcium, too.
In addition to minerals, the healthiest breads are also good sources of several vitamins necessary to good health.
While the low fat content of most breads renders them low in the fat-soluble vitamins, many of the healthiest breads are high in B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, and folate.
And nutritious breads like whole grain and pumpernickel are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, shown to be good for eye health.
Taking all of this into consideration, whole grain bread ranks #1 on our list of the healthiest breads!
This perhaps unsurprising answer echos the recommendations from most health and nutrition organizations.
Whole grain bread is dense in fiber and many micronutrients, relatively low in sugar and sodium, and delicious!
What’s last on the list?
Well, without further adieu, here is a snapshot of our ranking of the healthiest breads from best to worst. Feel free view our interactive chart, here!
The healthiest breads have a heart-healthy carbohydrate profile. What does a heart-healthy carbohydrate profile look like?
Learn more about your macronutrient intake here!
Carbohydrates get bad-mouthed quite a bit, but they are an important class of macronutrients for your diet.
Chief among them is fiber.
As we discussed earlier, fiber is a healthy nutrient that should be consumed more by the average American (and by more and more of the rest of the globe, too).
Adding fiber to your diet can improve your cardiovascular health, improve insulin resistance, help with weight loss (more to come), and promote good gut health.
What are bad carbs, then?
While we can certainly tolerate a fair amount of sugar into our diet, we arguably consume far too much.
Fiber can help regulate sugar absorption. This is part of the reason why the healthiest fruits can contain large amounts of sugar but not be bad for you.
Some breads can contain a fair amount of sugar. And if they come with a low fiber content, they will likely come with a larger insulin spike due to more rapid absorption.
Therefore, the best type of bread for health usually comes with a combination of high fiber and low sugar.
One bread high in fiber and low in sugar is pumpernickel bread! Take a look at a snapshot of the carbohydrate content of each bread, below. Or view our interactive charts, here!
When people think of protein, meat usually comes to mind.
Yes, meats are great protein sources with good amino acid coverage. But the healthiest breads, along with other non-meat sources, can nevertheless be great sources of protein.
See the protein content in the healthiest nuts!
As calculated using the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score, high protein breads include whole grain, protein bread (no surprise there), and oat bran. On a per-calorie basis, these top the charts for high protein breads.
Compare the protein in the best breads below, or view our interactive chart, here!
The healthiest breads have been shown to help people reach their weight loss goals.
Despite being high in carbohydrates, the best breads are nutrient dense and full of fiber that can help you feel full for longer.
The best breads for weight loss, therefore, have two things in common:
This combo will help you keep calories down, while also helping to keep you fuller, longer.
Read about the best nuts for weight loss.
According to this ranking, the best breads for weight loss are roti, popular in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, whole grain breads, and pumpernickel. See more with our interactive charts, here!
Breads can be high in sodium (salt). Like most aspects of nutrition, salt is fine (and necessary) in moderation,.
But excessive sodium intake has been associated with an increased risk of hypertension, a condition that is linked to nearly half of all Americans and is a major contributor to global morbidity and mortality.
The healthiest breads, therefore, don’t overdo it on sodium.
The only two breads on our list that, on a per-calorie basis, contain less than the DRI upper limit for sodium, are roti and rice bran.
But another important way to view sodium is using the potassium-to-sodium ratio.
This ratio divides the amount of sodium by potassium, because potassium is hypotensive.
In other words, this ratio better reflects the overall hypertensive effect of the food and sodium it contains.
Roti and rice bran bread still perform well along this axis, but protein bread also performs much better.
See a snapshot of our analysis below. Or view our interactive charts, here.
Whole grain bread tops our ranking of the healthiest breads. But also high on the list are rice bran, wheat bread, and protein bread.
And many of the most nutritious breads rank high on our other rankings:
The healthiest breads, like whole grain, can be an excellent, nutritious addition to any well-balanced diet.
And while the others may not reach the top of the list, they each have a wonderful and unique flavor profile that can be consumed, like all things nutrition, in moderation.
Where does your favorite land on the list!
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