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Want to Feel Stupid? Try Reading a Bread Label

These days, it seems we’re all carbohydrate loading as though we’re training for a marathon and not just getting through the pandemic. Which brings me to the subject of bread. Honestly, it’s as though you need a PhD in carbs to understand bread labels. But let me give it a try.

If you want the healthiest bread, look for one where the first ingredient includes the words “whole grain.” Simple right? Well, it is, but marketers don’t want it to be quite so simple. For example, labels may say the following:

  • “Made with whole grain.” This doesn’t mean much, since the bread may consist mostly of less nutritious refined grains
  • “Multigrain.” Similarly, this doesn’t tell you much. They may be just sprinkling grains on top of white bread.
  • “Whole wheat.”  This sounds healthy, right? But it gives you no indication of how much whole wheat flour there is.  The majority may be white flour. Even worse, manufacturers may add caramel coloring to make the bread look whole-grainier.
  • “Wheat flour.” Oh come on, this is just flour that comes from wheat. It’s the same thing with “wheat bread” – it’s bread made with wheat. That’s it.

Again, to find the healthiest bread, look for “whole grains” at the beginning of the ingredients list. This is how you know they’re the main ingredient and not just a little crunch on top.

It’s a Wonder

I remember the Wonder Bread television commercial from when I was a kid: “…builds strong bodies in twelve ways.” Today, though, knowing that consumers aren’t so likely to be conned into accepting health benefit claims associated with this very soft, very white, very processed refined flour product, the ads encourage people to “”feed their joy.” Or  their obesity, or their diabetes…

The Good Stuff

In addition to having more nutrients than white bread, the higher fiber content in whole grain bread also satisfies hunger much more than does white bread. This may explain why whole grain bread is not associated with weight gain, whereas white bread is (1). More importantly, it’s visceral fat that’s less in people who eat a whole grain diet rather than a refined one (2); and this is related to a lower risk for systemic inflammation (3) and diabetes (4).

The Last Bite

I’ll give this to Wonder Bread, though: it lasts a long time. Two weeks without mold! But honestly, isn’t that a little scary? Do you really want bread to be so refined and infused with chemicals that it lasts that long?

Instead, buy good bread. Freeze the portion you’re not going to eat in the next couple of days. Enjoy.

Now I want a sandwich—


  1. Serra-Majem L, Bautista-Castano I. Relationship between bread and obesity. Br J Nutr 2015; 113:S29-35.
  2. Roager HM, Vogt JK, Kristensen M, et al. Whole grain-rich diet reduces body weight and systemic low-grade inflammation without inducing major changes of the gut microbiome: a randomised cross-over trial. Gut. 2019;68(1):83‐93. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2017-314786.
  3. Kikuchi Y, Nozaki S, Makita M, et al. Effects of Whole Grain Wheat Bread on Visceral Fat Obesity in Japanese Subjects: A Randomized Double-Blind Study. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2018;73(3):161‐165. doi:10.1007/s11130-018-0666-1.
  4. Kyrø C, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Olsen A, Landberg R. Higher Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes among Middle-Aged Men and Women: The Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort. J Nutr. 2018;148(9):1434‐1444. doi:10.1093/jn/nxy112