1] Choose 100 percent whole grain.
An intact kernel of wheat is made up of three parts: an outer coat of bran, an inner layer of germ, and starchy endosperm in between. When wheat is refined to make white flour, the bran and germ are stripped away, along with the lion’s share of the grain’s fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The simplest rule of thumb is to look for whole-grain bread.
2] Believe what you see.
Rachel Beller, MS, RD, founder of Beller Nutritional Institute in Beverly Hills, Calif., tells her patients to trust their eyes when choosing bread: “Check to see that you can spot actual grains or pieces of grainand not just on top. They make your body work harder to digest and prevent blood sugar from spiking.” Vegetarian and vegan nutritionist Dina Aronson, MS, RD, agrees: “Even whole-grain bread made from whole-grain flour is not as healthful as intact whole grains,” she says.
3] Know how to spot refined white flour in disguise.
“Wheat flour is just a code name for white flour,” says Peter Reinhart, Johnson & Wales baking instructor, founder of Brother Juniper’s Bakery, and author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. For that matter, so is unbleached flour and enriched wheat flour. Any time you see “enriched,” you know that you’re getting white flour incognito. Flour that has been refined (stripped of its bran and germ) has some B vitamins and iron replaced via chemical enrichment, leaving the newly refined flour deficient in other important vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
4] Watch out for partial promises.
Breads that are “made with whole grains” contain some whole grain but are usually made with refined white flour as well. Similarly, a “multigrain” label only tells you that the bread contains different kinds of grains. “But it doesn’t mean they haven’t been pulverized and refined,” Beller explains. And breads that say they are “whole wheat” may or may not be made with whole-grain wheat. “It just means they used some whole wheat in the bread,” she adds. “Check to see if whole wheat is the first ingredient.”
5] Give it a squeeze.
Give a loaf of bread a gentle squeeze before buying. If it compresses way too easily, keep moving. The denser the bread, the closer you’re getting to the whole grains you want. Truth is manufacturers have a tough time making nourishing bread that’s also soft and fluffy. So sometimes they rely on chemicals, which you also don’t want.