When it comes to food debates, some people may be interested about the health score on a particular sandwich staple: Bread.
If you’re wondering about white bread, whole wheat or whole grain bread and which may be dubbed the “better choice,” experts are offering answers.
“When it comes to health, whole wheat bread is a better choice compared to white bread,” says Kate Ingram, a Connecticut-based registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of TheVitalityDietitians.com.
“This is because whole wheat bread contains more fiber and important nutrients from the bran and germ. These elements are good for digestion and keeping your energy levels steady,” she adds.
Mary Sabat, a Georgia-based registered dietitian nutritionist and an American Council on Exercise-certified trainer agreed, adding that whole wheat bread contains a higher nutritional content and has a lower impact on blood sugar.
Read on for the basics on bread.
The health specs of white bread
Like some other “white” or refined products (think pasta, rice, pizza dough), white bread is said to be lacking in the nutritional department.
“White bread is typically made from refined wheat flour, where the bran and germ layers have been removed. This process strips away much of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals present in whole grains,” says Sabat, adding that white bread tends to be low in dietary fiber and lacks the full spectrum of nutrients that’s found in whole wheat bread.
“It can cause quicker spikes in blood sugar due to its high glycemic index,” Sabat, who is also the owner of BodyDesignsByMary.com, agreed.
Ingram highlights that a typical serving of white bread — one slice, or if you’re weighing it, about 28–30 grams — contains around 70–80 calories, less than one gram of fiber and few vitamins and minerals.
If you’re looking to make a healthier sandwich, you apparently should reach for the whole wheat bread.
The health specs of whole wheat bread
Speaking of said healthier choice, whole wheat bread is made from whole grains, including the bran and germ, claims Ingram.
“This provides higher fiber content and more nutrients,” she says.
A standard serving of whole wheat bread (one slice) contains roughly 80-100 calories, around two-to-three grams of fiber and a better profile of vitamins and minerals compared to white bread, according to Ingram.
How exactly does that composition of bran, germ and endosperm in whole wheat bread translate to nutrition wins?
In addition to supplying more fiber and vitamins (like B vitamins) and minerals (like magnesium and zinc), says Sabat, it also contains health-supporting and disease-preventing plant compounds called phytonutrients.
“The fiber content in whole wheat bread promotes better digestion, helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and supports heart health,” says Sabat.
What to look for at the grocery store
It pays to scan bread labels before you buy to ensure you’re making a healthy purchase.
“When choosing bread, look for 100% whole wheat or whole grain on the label,” says Sabat, adding that you should avoid buying bread labeled as “wheat bread” or “enriched wheat flour,” as these terms often indicate refined grains.
If you’re not reading the word “whole” on the bread package, “it means the bread might not be made from the entire kernel,” according to John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s website.
Sabat says, “Also, be cautious of added sugars and artificial additives in the ingredients list.”
Ingram says to steer clear of breads with added high fructose corn syrup, trans fats or any ingredients you can’t read.
“The fewer ingredients the better, generally,” Ingram explains.
How to make whole wheat bread at home
If you prefer to bake your own bread, there are some things you can do to make it more palate-pleasing, Ingram says.
Ingram suggests experimenting with ingredients like honey or seeds such as flaxseed or sunflower seeds for extra flavor, texture and nutrition.
“Using natural sweeteners and healthy fats can make it tasty without giving up its health benefits,” she says.
“When you’re baking, remember to knead the dough well and give it enough time to rise — this helps achieve the desired texture and flavor.”
Are there any other healthy bread choices?
You apparently don’t need to limit your nutritious loaves to only whole wheat or whole grain bread: There’s also multigrain bread, sprouted grain bread, rye bread and sourdough bread.
“Multigrain bread combines different whole grains, seeds and sometimes nuts, providing a mix of nutrients and about 70–100 calories per slice,” says Ingram (fiber content for multigrain can vary but may be around two-to-three grams).
“Sprouted grain bread, made from sprouted whole grains, can be gentler on digestion and usually offers around 60–80 calories and three-to-four grams of fiber per slice,” she continues, adding that rye bread, “with its distinctive flavor and darker color,” is another option as it boasts more fiber and vitamins than other types of bread. Rye contains approximately 70–80 calories and two-to-three grams of fiber per slice, Ingram says.
Ingram also recommends sourdough bread, which is fermented naturally and “can be easier to digest and potentially gentler on blood sugar levels, with around 80–100 calories and one-to-two grams of fiber per slice.”
And for people with gluten-sensitivities or allergies, there are options for you.
“Gluten-free bread made from whole grains like brown rice, quinoa or oats can be a good option,” says Sabat.
Riffing on that sentiment, Ingram notes that such gluten-free breads use alternative flours like rice or almond flours.
Ingram says gluten-free breads vary in nutrition but generally have 90–120 calories and 1–2 grams of fiber per slice.
And then there’s oat bread, which is crafted from oat flour or whole oats and is high in digestion-friendly fiber with approximately 70–90 calories and 2–3 grams of fiber per slice, Ingram adds.
With whatever kind of bread you bake or buy, consulting a professional to establish what’s best for your body is key.
“Always remember that individual nutritional needs vary, and it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized advice,” says Sabat.