Nutrional Values

Whole-Wheat Bread

Serving Size: 1 slice

Calories 69

Fat: 1 g

Saturated Fat: na

Cholesterol: 0 mg

Carbohydrate: 13 g

Protein: 3 g

Dietary Fiber: 2 g

Sodium: 148 mg

Thiamin: <1 mg

Niacin: 1 mg

Chromium: 14 mcg

Copper: <1 mg

Iron: 1 mg

Magnesium: 23 mg

Manganese: <1 mg

You probably know whole wheat is the best type of wheat, but just because your bread is brown doesn't mean it's whole wheat. Even if the label proudly boasts "wheat" bread and lists "wheat flour" as the first ingredient, your bread may still not be whole wheat. Confused? "Wheat" simply refers to the grain the flour comes from. Anything made with the flour from wheat -- even refined white bread -- can be called "wheat" and can list "wheat flour" as an ingredient. (The brown color often comes from caramel coloring.)

Are manufacturers lying to consumers? No. But are their labeling practices misleading? We think so. Being informed will guard you from being misled. Learning the facts will help you choose the right bread.

Mistakenly, many people still think bread is fattening. On the contrary, bread can be the best fat-fighting friend in your diet. Bread is naturally low in fat and can be high in fiber. Because it is so versatile, you can easily eat many servings a day in place of other higher-calorie foods. As long as you don't pile on fatty spreads or fillings, bread can help you lose weight. In fact, studies have proved that people who eat 8 to 12 slices of bread a day still lose weight as long as their total diet is low in calories. The trick is keeping yourself from slathering that hearty bread with butter or margarine. Use a little olive oil instead for a taste treat and your heart health.

Health Benefits

Whole-wheat bread, in particular, is good for you for a number of reasons. It's high in complex carbohydrates, low in saturated fat, a source of protein, and a storehouse of nutrients and fiber--a microcosm of what your diet should be.

To understand what's so special about whole wheat in particular, you need to understand the structure of wheat grain. There are three layers to the grain -- endosperm, germ, and bran. When whole-wheat flour is milled (refined) to make white bread, the inner germ and outer bran layer are removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. Unfortunately, more than half the fiber of wheat is in that bran, along with almost three-quarters of the vitamins and minerals in the germ. Besides nutrients, the milling process also removes nonnutrient components -- phytoestrogens, phenolic acids, oryzanol, and lignans -- that may have health benefits, like reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease. A study of more than 74,000 women over a 12-year period showed that women who ate more whole-grain foods weighed less than those who ate fewer whole grains.

What milling removes, manufacturers try to put back in. Lost B vitamins -- thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid -- and iron are added back to form enriched bread products. Many other nutrients, especially minerals and fiber, don't get added back. So if you eat white bread, you're definitely missing a nutrient-rich and fiber opportunity.

Selection and Storage

The key to buying whole-wheat bread is to be sure it says "100% whole wheat." Unless you read the word "whole," you're not getting all the goodness of the bran and germ.

What about whole-grain or multigrain breads? They sound and look healthy, but refined wheat flour still may be the primary ingredient. Your only defense against being fooled is to read labels carefully. If you want 100 percent whole wheat, whole wheat should be the only grain listed. If you like the taste of multigrain breads, pick one that lists whole wheat first in the list of ingredients. Then you know it's the predominant grain.

Cracked-wheat breads are not always 100 percent whole cracked wheat. Again, check the label. Pumpernickel bread looks hearty but is really just a form of rye bread with caramel or molasses added. Both rye and pumpernickel breads are usually made from refined rye flour with the bran and germ removed, because breads made with 100 percent rye grain are too dense. If you can find it, look for rye bread made from "unbolted" rye and whole wheat.

Check the expiration date of the bread you buy. Many whole-wheat breads lack preservatives that prolong freshness. To prevent bread from going stale, only leave out at room temperature as much as you'll eat in a day or two, keeping it tightly closed in a plastic bag. Freeze the rest. Take out slices as you need them; they'll defrost quickly at room temperature. Don't refrigerate your bread -- it only goes stale faster.

If you see mold on bread, throw out the entire loaf, as well as the bag itself. Mold usually starts as a whitish bloom. You can't salvage bread that's moldy, because mold spores spread quickly throughout soft foods. Do not even smell the inside of the bag; you may inhale mold spores.

Preparation and Serving Tips

You don't have to resort to stalking the aisles and investigating ingredient labels for the perfect loaf of bread. You can make it yourself. Nothing could be fresher or taste better. Not knowing how to bake bread or not having the time are not excuses if you have a bread-making machine. Or set aside an occasional weekend morning for baking bread. The bread's delicious, and making it is therapeutic. For perfect rising, look for whole-wheat bread flour, which contains more gluten. Add nonfat dry milk powder for extra protein and calcium. Add wheat germ for extra fiber and a hefty dose of nutrients.

Do yourself a favor and replace your white bread. Have a slice of whole-grain bread instead.

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