Have you ever spent so long in the bread section of your local grocery store trying to find the Goldilocks-grade ‘just right’ loaf—not so nutritious that it tastes like cardboard but not so refined that it completely clogs your digestive system—that your eyes started glazing over? Same. Regardless, I always manage to find some kind of bread to keep on my kitchen counter for when avocado toast or a BLT sandwich time calls. Throughout the years, however, the type of bread that ends up in my shopping cart has changed.
At first, it was white, then wheat, then multi-grain, and now sprouted. I guess you can call me a bread fence-sitter… but the reality is, my purchasing decisions have been more arbitrary than not. To get to the bottom of what loaves are the most nutrient-dense and delicious, we asked a registered dietitian to share her favorite types of energy-boosting, gut-friendly bread.
What’s the one type of healthy bread a registered dietitian can’t live without?
According to Desiree Nielsen, RD, the way to go is sprouted grain bread. “It offers a lot of nutritional benefits far greater than most other loaves on the market,” she says. “I especially love Silver Hills Bakery’s 100 percent sprouted grain breads because they’re made from whole sprouted wheat, which is packed with plant-based protein and fiber to help keep blood sugars—and energy levels—on an even keel.”
The brand has several nutrient-packed types of “sprouted power” breads, including theirs Squirrelly Bread, which contains 12 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber per two-slice serving. (This is, BTW, about one-third of your recommended daily intake of fiber.)
Health benefits of sprouted grain bread
What makes sprouted grain bread so delicious and RD-approved, exactly? Well, Nielsen has a lot to say on the subject. For starters, she points out that this type of bread is made by mashing sprouted whole wheat flour instead of whole grain flour, which offers higher levels of fiber and protein because the whole grains remain intact. And, of course, we know how vital fiber is for supporting healthy digestion and promoting a balanced gut microbiome.
What’s more, sprouted grain bread is rich in a specific kind of fiber that contains a compound called arabinoxylans—basically a gut-health superstar. “Whole grain wheat contains compounds called arabinoxylans that research suggests drives the production of the short chain fatty acid butyrate in the gut microbiomewhich is associated with numerous health benefits, including calming inflammation,” Nielsen says.
“The sprouted grains themselves also deliver enhanced nutrition. Sprouting—which begins to transform the storage of carbohydrates and proteins in the grain—may help improve the digestibility of wheat by altering the starch and gluten. Sprouting also unlocks the minerals such as iron and calcium in wheat, improving bioavailability and may even increase the amount of certain vitamins and antioxidant phytochemicals such as folate and GABA,” Nielsen says.
What’s the difference between sprouted grain bread and other common types of bread?
Let’s get down to the science. Nielsen explains that the main difference between sprouted grain bread and other common types like wheat or white comes down to the way it’s processed and its anatomy.
According to Nielsen, a wheat kernel has three main components: the bran (the outer layer of the grain, rich in fiber, B vitamins, and minerals); the endosperm (the storage area and contains mainly starch and protein); and the germ (an inner chamber that contains fats, fiber and fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin E).
Meanwhile, white bread is made from flour that has had the bran and germ removed, resulting in little to no fiber and fewer vitamins and minerals. This is why Nielsen says that most white bread available in the US is enriched with nutrients during processing to improve its nutrient profile.
“In the US, both whole grain flour and whole wheat flour are simply wheat grains that are milled into flour with no refining. So you are getting the germ, bran, and endosperm found in the wheat kernel,” Nielsen says. In short, whole grains contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains. “However, the process of milling grain into flour—even 100 percent whole-wheat flour—results in a higher surface area for faster digestion, which results in a higher glycemic impact,” she adds, which is one of the many reasons why she opts for whole sprouted wheat whenever possible.
So, does this mean that white bread is out of the question?
Of course not. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance. “All foods can fit into a healthy diet when your foundation is nutrient-dense whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes,” says Nielsen. However, she notes that commercial white sandwich bread tends to have a high glycemic impact, which are more likely to result in sugar spikes and energy crashes throughout the day.
But that’s not to say it’s all bad. Nielsen explains that white bread can offer a few important nutrients, such as folate—which can help prevent Alzheimer’s—through the enrichment process. She also points out that good-quality sourdough bread (yes, even if made from white flour) offers benefits from the slow fermentation process, which boosts the digestibility and gut perks and lowers the glycemic impact of the final product.
TL; DR? “Swapping white bread for sprouted grain is such an easy way to boost nutrient density in your diet and help you feel your best. In our house, sprouted grain is our everyday slice, and then we might enjoy a nice sourdough at a restaurant or with a weekend meal,” Nielsen says.
Finally, the bread-buying intel we’ve been needing for our decision parallax problems all along.
PSL season is right around the corner. We’ll just leave this for you here:
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