Nutrition Action Healthletter
September 1997 — U.S. Edition

Flour Power -- A Guide to Buying Bread

By Jayne Hurley & Geneva Collins

September 1997 — U.S. Edition

Ah, September. Your kids show off their spiffy new lunch boxes while you scramble to think of what to pack in them. Office brown-baggers face the same dilemma yearround.

Sandwiches are the universal answer. Don't believe us? The average American ate almost 54 pounds of bread in 1995. Granted, that's far below the 160+ pounds the average European eats, but it's still quite a hunk of dough.

Of course, not all breads are created equal.

Some are made from 100 percent whole grains, with all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals intact. They're the ones that may help cut your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The rest are all or largely refined white flour -- which has been stripped of most of its nutrients.

That includes rye bread, pumpernickel, oatmeal, raisin, French, Italian, honey wheat, wheat, crushed or cracked wheat, multi grain, sunflower, olive -- you name it. (You wouldn't know that from looking at our chart, though, which is heavy on whole -- or mostly whole -- grain breads.)

Don't get us wrong. Refined flour breads aren't bad for you. They're low in fat, have no cholesterol, and supply some fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. But staff of life they ain't, despite their names.

Take Wonder Fat Free Multi-Grain bread. "Wonder 1-Grain" (refined white flour) is more like it. There's more yeast than any of the other grains. And Pepperidge Farm Light Style 7 Grain has more corn syrup than six of its seven grains. The seventh? You guessed it.

Refined white flour is also the main grain in Arnold Bran'nola Nutty Grains, Oroweat Light 9 Grain, Pepperidge Farm Hearty Crunchy Oat, Roman Meal 12 Grain, and dozens of other nutritious-sounding breads.

The Whole Truth

Why does whole grain matter?

If a bread doesn't have whole wheat, oats, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient, much of its vitamin-and-mineral-rich germ and bran leave been milled away, along with most of its fiber.

"Enriched" flour, which is what most breads are made from, is far from whole. The baker has added back three of the B-vitamins and the iron that were lost when the wheat was refined.

Some companies that make "light" breads toss in highly processed fiber to boost the fiber numbers and cut the calories. But nothing replaces the lost vitamin E, B-6, magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium, copper, pantothenic acid, and phytochemicals.

(Starting next January, though, all enriched breads will be fortified with the B-vitamin folic acid, which is also lost during milling. That should reduce the risk of babies' being born with neural tube birth defects like spina bifida. Many brands, including Arnold, Brownberry, Oroweat, Pepperidge Farm, and Wonder, are starting to add folic acid to their breads.)

Shopping for Grain

How can you tell if you're getting whole wheat bread? Look at the ingredients. "Whole wheat flour" should be the only flour listed. Not "wheat flour," "unbleached wheat flour," or "unbleached enriched wheat flour." Those are just sneaky ways of saying "refined white flour."

Too busy to squint at the tiny print? Look at the name. Any bread, roll, or bun with "whole wheat" as part of its name must be made with only whole wheat flour.

Breads with "Stone Ground Wheat," "Cracked Wheat," "Crushed Wheat," or "Wheat Berry" in their names may or may not be whole grain. Check the ingredients.

If you're a fan of multi grain breads, look for whole wheat flour or some other whole grain as the first or second flour listed.

Original Bran'nola, for example, has more refined white flour than any other grain. But just barely, thanks to all of its whole grain. Bran'nola is sold under the Arnold label in the East, as Brownberry in the Midwest, and as Oroweat in the West. Refined flour is also the first ingredient in Brownberry Natural Whole Bran. But the bread is almost half whole wheat and wheat bran.

A few caveats:

The "light" makers have probably added highly processed cottonseed, oat, or soy fiber. That means the breads may help prevent constipation, but they don't supply the nutrients and phytochemicals that come with the whole grain. "Light" breads have fewer calories (and less sodium) than regular breads, at least in part, because they're sliced thinner. (And the labels can subtract the calories in the added fiber, because it passes through the body unabsorbed.)

If your favorite sandwich-maker isn't in the chart, use our Best Bite and Honorable Mention criteria to see how it stacks up.

Loaves at First Bite

Within each category, breads are listed from most fiber to least. The weight (in ounces) of two slices is in parenthesis following each name.

Bread (weight of 2 slices in ounces) Calories Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)

100% Whole Wheat

Rubschlager 100% Stone Ground Honey Whole Wheat (2)

140 270 5

Oroweat Light 100% Whole Wheat (1.5)

80 230 5

Arnold Stoneground 100% Whole Wheat (2)

120 230 4

Schmidt's Old Tyme 100% Whole Wheat (2)

120 260 4

Mrs. Wright's 100% Whole Wheat (2)

120 280 4

Grant's Farm 100% Whole Wheat (2)

140 300 4

Pepperidge Farm Natural Whole Grain 100% Stoneground Whole Wheat (2.5)

180 320 4

Earth Grains 100% Whole Wheat (1.5)

90 240 3

Wonder 100% Whole Wheat (1.5)

110 280 3

Pepperidge Farm 100% Whole Wheat Thin Sliced (2)

120 240 2


Brownberry Bran'nola Hearty Wheat (2.5)

180 270 6

Oroweat Original Honey Wheat Berry (2.5)

120 340 4

Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Sliced Wheat (1)

70 150 3

Arnold Country Wheat (2.5)

180 340 2

Mixed Grain

Rubschlager European Style Whole Grain (2)

140 270 6

Rubschlager Sunflower Multi-Grain (2)

140 240 4

Pepperidge Farm Natural Whole Grain Crunchy Grains (2.5)

180 260 4

Nature's Cupboard Natural 10-Grain (2.5)

160 340 4

Pepperidge Farm Natural Whole Grain Nine Grain (2.5)

180 340 4

Brownberry Health Nut (2)

140 300 2

Pumpernickel & Rye

Rubschlager Danish Style Pumpernickel (2)

140 270 4

Rubschlager Westphalian Style Pumpernickel (2)

140 270 4

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