Bread has earned a bad reputation among dieters and health enthusiasts, but the truth is there are many different types of breads in existence, some of which have been eaten for thousands of years and offer a number of health benefits. While some types definitely have their drawbacks, the healthiest bread options can be beneficial additions to a well-balanced diet.
For centuries, bread was made with only three ingredients: flour, water and salt. Today, most commercially made breads found in supermarkets contain a dozen or more ingredients, some of which are problematic are digestion, not to mention that they’re low in nutrients and high in calories. The good news is the healthiest bread avoids these unnecessary additives and stick to the basics.
What is the healthiest bread you can eat? Below we cover the top healthiest bread options and their benefits, as well as tips for choosing the best types in stores and avoiding the worst.
Top 5 Healthiest Bread Options
1. Ezekiel Bread
- wheat berries
- malted barley
- sprouted rye
- sprouted barley
- sprouted oats
It’s free from preservatives, additives, and artificial flavors and colors, which is why it’s usually found in the freezer section of grocery stores. (Otherwise it would spoil quickly.)
Ezekiel bread is a type of sprouted grain bread that is prepared using traditional methods of soaking, sprouting and baking, which studies show make the grains and seeds easier to digest and their nutrients more absorbable. Reports suggest that sprouting also increases concentrations of crude fiber, which benefits our digestive systems by pushing waste and toxins out of the gut and regulating bowel movements.
Compared to processed breads that don’t contain sprouted grains, Ezekiel bread includes more protein, fiber, and absorbable vitamins and minerals, such as:
It supplies you with 18 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, including all nine essential amino acids. It also contains less harmful antinutrients, like phytic acid (known as a mineral blocker or enzyme inhibitor), making it easier on your digestive system compared to many other breads.
2. Sprouted Grain Bread
Which bread is best for weight loss? If dropping weight is one of your main goals, you want to opt for high-fiber, low-calorie breads, such as those made with sprouted grains.
Studies show higher whole grain consumption is linked to benefits like easier weight management, protection against type 2 diabetes and even enhanced protection against certain types of cancer.
As mentioned above, Ezekiel Bread is one type of sprouted grain bread, but it’s not the only type. There are many traditional breads made with sprouted grains that originate from different parts of the world, including those that use grains like rye, barley and oats.
Because these grains are rich in nutrients like fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, magnesium and selenium, breads made with them are also good additions to your diet.
Sprouted grain bread is considered a healthier alternative to white flour breads or even those made with unsprouted whole grains because the sprouting process enhances absorption of nutrients and digestion by partially breaking down the proteins and carbohydrates in the grains. During the sprouting process, beneficial enzymes are released that assist in this process.
Sprouted grain foods also have a low glycemic score, which can be beneficial for people who struggle with blood sugar fluctuations.
For the most benefits, opt for breads made with 100% sprouted whole grains that are high in fiber and low in added sugar.
3. Sourdough Bread
What makes real sourdough bread healthy? This is a traditional type of bread with a very long history that is made with only three basic ingredients: flour (preferably whole grain flour), water and salt.
For thousands of years, real sourdough bread has been made with flour that is slowly fermented with water in order to create a “starter,” an alternative to baker’s yeast that makes bread naturally rise and gives sourdough bread its signature tart taste.
Not only does sourdough bread stand out in terms of its flavor, but it’s also thought to have some nutritional advantages too, including more absorbable nutrients, such as selenium, B vitamins, folate, manganese, iron and others.
Fermentation is defined as “the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence.” When bread is made with a fermented sourdough starter, rather than with yeast, it winds up having a lower gluten content, lower antinutrient content and lower pH compared to regular refined bread.
Additionally, some research suggests that sourdough tends to have a lower glycemic index score and leads to greater satiety (fullness) compared to other white breads, perhaps because of its fiber (if whole grain), protein and carbohydrate digestibility and absorption.
4. Rye Bread
Is rye bread healthy? If you choose a traditionally made rye bread that is made with whole grain rye flour and is low in added sugar, then yes it is.
Rye seeds, also called rye berries, are grains high in fiber and beneficial compounds that have the ability to help fight against inflammatory markers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain and high blood pressure. Rye flour, when used in baking, contains much less gluten than wheat and barley, which means it’s a good choice for those who are sensitive to gluten’s effects.
Whole rye seeds/berries contain the grain’s endosperm, which holds potent starches as well as fiber and many nutrients — including phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin B6, niacin and potassium. It has one of the highest concentration of protective lignans and soluble fiber, which means that consuming this bread can help support digestion and make you feel full, in addition to having certain cancer-fighting effects.
Pumpernickel is a type of dark brown bread that originated in Germany. It’s traditionally made using methods of fermentation and long, slow baking at a low temperature, which is partially what gives it its dark color.
Traditionally, this type of bread been made with coarsely ground rye flour and rye grains, sometimes combined with whole wheat flour or some white flour. The healthiest types contain mostly rye and whole wheat, giving it a higher fiber content and lower glycemic index score.
Old-fashioned European/German pumpernickel is unique because it’s slowly baked for up to 24 hours at a low temperature. It’s traditionally made with sourdough starter that has been slowly fermented, rather than with instant/baker’s yeast, which contributes to its taste and also enhanced nutrient availability.
Whole grain pumpernickel is high in resistant starch and fiber, plus manganese, selenium, phosphorus, B vitamins and copper.
Pumpernickel is similar to other traditional brown breads made with whole grains that stem from Europe, including Rugbrød, Schwarzbrot and Jewish rye bread. Some types contain added sugars and other ingredients, such as molasses (a type of brown sweetener), caramel, coffee or cocoa powder to enhance the color, but the best types are low in sugar and additives.
How to Choose Healthy Bread
When choosing healthy breads, look for those made with whole grains that ideally have been sprouted. Breads made with sourdough starters are also preferred over those made with instant yeast.
Read ingredient labels when purchasing bread so you know what you’re buying. Opt for those made with whole wheat berries, rye, barley, oats and other grains.
While some honey or molasses may be added to improve the taste and color, choose breads generally low in sugar with three grams or less per serving.
Here are ingredients you may come across in the healthiest breads:
- wheat bran
- hard red wheat
- brown rice
- apple cider vinegar
- olive oil
- herbs, such as rosemary and thyme
- sea salt
Sprouted grain breads, especially sourdough breads, can also be found at farmers markets and traditional bakeries. Ask about the preparation methods to make sure the grains were sprouted first and that what you’re buying is truly “whole grain.”
Sprouted flour is prone to growing mold over time, so it’s recommended to freeze your bread within two to three days of making it. Otherwise store it in the refrigerator to prolong freshness.
Some of the most popular brands of sprouted breads to look for in stores include:
- Food For Life (this is the company that makes Ezekiel 4:9 bread)
- Alvarado Street
- Manna Bread
- Sha Sha Co.
- Everfresh Organic
- Silver Hills Bakery
While the breads above can be included in a balanced diet, still be sure not to over-consume grain products in general. For the most benefits, consume whole grains in moderation with other nutrient-dense foods, like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, proteins, and sprouted nuts and seeds.
Breads to Avoid
Now that you know some of the healthiest bread options, what bread should you avoid?
“White bread” is the nickname for types that are refined, made with bleached white flour and lacking nutrients, including fiber, protein and other minerals.
White flour goes through a lengthy process that “strips” away natural nutrients. Consuming lots of white bread:
- won’t fill you up
- is easy to consume
- often contains unhealthy additives and chemicals
- generally lacks nutrients, making it “empty calories”
- generally is thought to raise your risk for weight gain and issues like type 2 diabetes
Commercial white bread is also typically high in gluten to give it an appealing texture, but it makes it difficult to digest properly and certainly isn’t the healthiest bread option.
Note: While whole grain and sprouted breads are thought to be better choices for people with mild sensitivities to wheat or gluten compared to white flour products, those with moderate to severe gluten intolerances or celiac disease should still avoid these breads. Grains like all types of wheat, barley and rye naturally contain gluten, even after being soaked and sprouted, so they aren’t safe for people with gluten allergies.
- What is the healthiest bread to eat? Healthy breads include those that are made with sprouted whole grains.
- Sprouting grains helps diminish levels of enzyme inhibitors and releases nutrients to be more easily absorbed.
- Benefits of whole grain brown breads include providing you with fiber, resistant starch, plant lignans, and nutrients like manganese, iron, B vitamins, folate, selenium and phosphorus.
- Sourdough whole grain breads also have lower glycemic index scores and tend to make you feel fuller, since they impact your blood sugar less drastically.
- What bread is most unhealthy? Breads made with refined white flour offer little health benefits — plus they are easy to overeat, raise blood sugar levels and can be difficult to digest due to high gluten content.
- Usually the healthiest bread to eat is bread with fewer ingredients that are all-natural and sprouted.