Nutrition: Choosing Healthy Breads

Nutrition 5

Click play above to hear this episode of The Nurse Practitioner Show, Episode 026 Health Bit: Choose Healthy Grains

While shopping in the supermarket for that staple product, bread, there’s tons of options. But, what are the best options? What’s the differences between white bread, whole wheat bread and whole grain bread? What makes a bread nutritional versus “just a filler?”

When choosing healthy breads, look for:


 Ensure 100% Whole Grain as the 1st Ingredient on the Label

Whole grain bread provides nutrition from all 3 parts of the whole grain kernel: the endosperm, germ, and bran.

Ensure that the label states it is 100% whole grain. Otherwise, the bran and the germ of the kernel has been removed during the refining process. Grains that are not 100 percent whole grain typically have the bran and the germ removed during the refining process, leaving only the endosperm of the kernel. When grains are refined with removal of parts of the kernel, such as the bran and germ, 25% of the grain’s protein is removed along with 17 other nutrients.


Avoid Refined Breads

Popular refined grains includes white flour, white rice, parboiled rice, cream of wheat, and degermed cornflour. Refined grains offer little nutritional benefit.

An example of a refined grain is white bread, which is basically sugar. It is enriched or bleached wheat flours, and has had the protein and important B vitamins removed from the grain’s kernel to make it taste better for consumers to purchase. Due to the sugar content of white bread, it is not a healthy choice, particularly for diabetics. Consuming white bread will cause a sudden rise in glucose (blood sugar) followed by a sharp decline in glucose, causing the a strong need for the pancreas to produce more insulin to transport sugar into cellular membranes for energy. When these sugars are not used for energy, it is stored as fat. Sudden rises and falls in blood sugar levels increase one’s risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and fatty liver disease.


 Replace Refined Grains with Whole Grains

Try to replace refined grains with whole grains:

  1. Replace white flour (enriched flour or all-purpose flour) with whole wheat flour
  2. Replace white rice with brown rice
  3. Replace parboiled rice with wild rice
  4. Replace cream of wheat with oats
  5. Replace degermed cornflour with whole grain cornmeal

Some may ask “what is the best whole grain?” Just as it is best to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, it’s better to eat a variety of grains, as well. Each type of grain may be stronger in one particular nutrient than another. Eat a variety of grains for a wide range of nutritional benefits. The top nutritional benefits of consuming grains are protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and B vitamins – thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and folic acid (B9).

100% whole grain can be from any type of whole grain kernel:

  • amaranth
  • barley
  • buckwheat
  • corn
  • millet
  • oats
  • quinoa
  • rice – brown and colored rice (not white, as it is refined)
  • rye
  • sorghum, also known as milo
  • teff,
  • triticale
  • wheat, including varieties such as spelt, emmer, faro, einkorn, Kamut®, durum and forms such as bulgar, cracked wheat, and wheat berries
  • wild rice (it’s actually not rice, but an aquatic grass)

Many people ask “what is the difference between whole grain and whole wheat?” However, this is similar to asking “what is the difference between a vegetable and a carrot?” Wheat is one type of grain. Ensure the package states it is 100% whole grain, such as wheat. If it simply states “whole wheat,” rather than “100% whole wheat,” only the endosperm of the kernel was left intact for consumption.


Read the Nutritional Label to Ensure the Grain Contains:

  • Fiber ≥ 3 grams, or 1:10 ratio of 1 gram of Fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrates
  • Protein ≥ 4 grams
  • Sugar ≤ 1 gram
  • Trans Fat and Saturated Fat 0 grams
  • Sodium (salt) ≤ 180 mg, preferably less than 150 mg
  • kcal < 110 per slice

A benefit of consuming grains includes fiber. Fiber helps prevent colon cancer and heart disease, helps you feel fuller longer and thereby decreasing satiety, and maintain a healthy weight.


Avoid Breads With Added Sugar

Sugar can be disguised on labels as:

  • corn sweetener
  • (high fructose) corn syrup
  • (evaporated) cane juice
  • cane juice syrup
  • brown rice syrup
  • most words ending in -ose (dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose, glucose…)
  • honey
  • molasses
  • brown sugar

Avoid If the Packaging Refers to Enriched Flour, Degerminated (Corn Meal), Bran or Wheat Germ

These packaging labels never refer to whole grains. When grains are refined, many times the nutrients are removed and then added back in later, except for the phytonutritians. These breads are referred to as enriched foods.


Avoid If Label Does Not Specify 100% Whole 

If it does not state 100% whole, the whole kernel is not in the grain. When grains are refined with removal of the bran and germ, 60% of the grain kernel’s vitamins, minerals and photochemicals are removed, eliminating the full nutritional benefit of the grain.


 Gluten-Free Grains for Celiac Disease and Gluten-Sensitivity

Some people have wheat allergies, gluten intolerance or an autoimmune disease causing gluten intolerance referred to as Celiac Disease. Gluten is a protein found in grains: wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. However, not all grains contain gluten. So, if one needs to consume gluten-free grains, there are still plenty of grain options:

  1. amaranth
  2. buckwheat
  3. corn
  4. millet
  5. oats
  6. quinoa
  7. rice
  8. sorghum
  9. teff
  10. wild rice.
Use caution with oats if needing to be gluten-free. Although oats are gluten-free, they typically are contaminated with wheat during growing or processing. Some companies do offer pure uncontaminated oats.
Hope this clarifies the distinction between the types of grains, and how 100% whole grains are the healthy option. Please share your comments or questions below.

A special thanks to Gebauer’s Pain Ease for sponsoring this episode of The Nurse Practitioner Show™.

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