Now that we know what whole grains are, it’s a little easier to look for (and find!) them on food labels. But the labels on some foods can be a little tough to decipher. And, unfortunately, it often comes down to flipping the package over to look at the ingredient list. Let’s look at breads, shall we?
I chose a brand that is sold locally here in the Midwest, but the general principles will be the same for any brand of bread you prefer to purchase.
Whole wheat bread
Here is the ingredients list from Aunt Millie’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread:
The first ingredient is whole grain wheat flour, which means it is the most abundant ingredient in this bread. There are no other grains (whole or otherwise) listed, which is why this bread can be called 100% whole wheat.
Here is the ingredient list from Aunt Millie’s Multi-Grain Wheat Bread:
Again, the first ingredient is whole grain wheat flour. But the only other whole grain listed here is whole grain oatmeal, and that one is pretty far down the list. There are other grains (enriched wheat flour, rye flour, and barley flakes)., but these are not whole grains.
So what about nutrition differences? There really aren’t that many between these two varieties of bread.
|Nutrition values per 2 slices||Aunt Millie’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread||Aunt Millie’s Multi-Grain Wheat Bread|
|Total Fat||2 grams||1.5 grams|
|Cholesterol||0 milligrams||0 milligrams|
|Sodium||180 milligrams||200 milligams|
|Total Carbohydrate||20 grams||25 grams|
|Fiber||3 grams||3 grams|
|Sugars||2 grams||3 grams|
|Protein||6 grams||5 grams|
What about regular not-whole-grain wheat bread? Let’s take a look at the ingredients from Aunt Millie’s Wheat Bread:
This one does actually contain some whole grains (whole grain wheat flour and oatmeal), but the first ingredient is enriched bleached flour.
Which takes us back to everyone’s favorite childhood staple, good old-fashioned white bread. Check out Aunt Millie’s White Bread ingredients:
No whole grains here at all.
But what about the nutrition? Surely white bread must be “nutritionally inferior” to wheat bread and 100% whole wheat bread, right?
|Nutrition values per 2 slices||Aunt Millie’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread||Aunt Millie’s Wheat Bread||Aunt Millie’s White Bread|
|Total Fat (grams)||2||1.5||2|
|Total Carbohydrate (grams)||20||28||29|
Actually, there’s not all that much difference.
The difference does come in when you look at the “micronutrients” – things like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron. The nutrition label lists these as a percentage of your recommended daily intake of each nutrient that you will get from this food (in our case, two slices of bread). Because the white and wheat breads are baked primarily with enriched flour, they actually have higher amounts of these micronutrients than the 100% whole wheat bread. (Remember, enriched means that some vitamins and minerals have been added back to the flour after it was processed.)
So what is better for you? That’s up to you, your taste buds, and your pocket book. The USDA dietary recommendations are that half of the grains we eat should be whole grains. Whole grains are the best sources for natural vitamins and minerals.
For me and my family, I choose whole grains when I can, but I’m open to the occasional PB&J on white bread. (Although I have changed which variety of peanut butter I buy most often.)
Do you choose whole grain bread? Why or why not? Check out this huge list of whole grain breads at the Whole Grains Council.