How to choose the healthiest bread

By: Joey Shulman

Author: Canadian Living


How to choose the healthiest bread

By: Joey Shulman

Due to the recent anticarb craze, all bread and grains received some undeserved bad press. But not all bread products are evil -- in fact, Canada's Food Guide still recommends six to eight servings of grain products a day for adults. The difficulty is in choosing the right breads. From whole wheat to rye to whole grain products, here's a guide to eating bread right.

The bread that is a general no-no is the type made from refined white flour. You know the kind -- white fluffy breads, baguettes or croissants that can be rolled into a ball and melt in your mouth. Although delicious as an occasional treat, these types of breads contribute to blood sugar fluctuations and weight gain. The body has difficulty discriminating between these types of breads and white sugar. This is evident by the rating of white flour and white sugar items on a scale called the glycemic index. The glycemic index measures the speed of entry of a carbohydrate into the bloodstream. The faster the speed, the higher the glycemic index rating of the food and the more insulin is secreted in response. In a nutshell, excess insulin secretion can result in energy fluctuations, weight gain and even the onset of a variety of diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

The glycemic index rating is broken down into:

• Low (lower than 55)
• Medium (56-69)
• High (70-100)

The goal is to get most of your carbohydrates from foods that are rated low to medium on the glycemic index. These foods include whole grain items, fruits, vegetables and beans.

Examples of the glycemic index ratings of white refined flour and sugar items are:

• Glucose (sugar): 100 (high)
• White french baguette: 90 (high)
• White piece of bread: 70 (high)

An alternative to white bread is whole grain bread. Whole grain bread contains all three parts of the grain -- the germ, the bran and the endosperm. The germ and the bran contain most of the nutrient value, such as minerals, fibre, essential fats and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that offer protection against disease). While white flour has had the precious germ and bran stripped away, leaving only the endosperm, whole grain items keep all three parts of the grain, preserving all of nature's goodness.

Examples of the glycemic index ratings of whole grain items include:

• Buckwheat bread: 47 (low)
• Barley bread: 57 (medium)
• Stonemill sprouted grain bread: 50 (low)
• Stonemill honey bran bread: 50 (low)
• All-Bran cereal: 38 (low)

As you can see, higher-fibre items have a low glycemic index rating.

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This article would not be complete if it did not discuss whole wheat bread. I have encountered numerous health-conscious shoppers picking up bread labelled whole wheat in an attempt to lose weight, eat higher amounts of fibre and prevent the onset of future disease. Unfortunately, the label "whole wheat" is not a guarantee that the bread you have selected is made from whole grains. In order to avoid purchasing whole wheat bread that is simply white bread with a little bit of extra whole wheat or blackstrap molasses added to make the bread look brown, I have designed a bread test to help ensure the grain you're eating is of the highest quality.

Dr. Joey's bread test
• When selecting bread, check the ingredient list and look for the words whole or whole grain before the name of the grain.

• Whole grain breads typically contain more fibre. Look for a minimum of 2 grams of fibre for every slice of bread.

• If there is a phone number on the packaging, contact the company to see if they have the glycemic index rating of the bread in question.

• When picking up the bread, it should actually feel slightly heavier due to the higher fibre content. You will not be able to roll this bread into a small ball like you can with white bread.

• After you eat the bread, notice if you feel tired soon after. Food items that are higher on the glycemic index bounce blood sugar around and often leave you in a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and fatigued state. This is also the time that cravings for starch or sugar usually kick in.

• Look at the ingredient list rather than the colour of the bread to select whole grain foods.

Do not throw in the towel on bread altogether. Eating the right type of bread can help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even obesity. Become a smart bread shopper by following the rules above and enjoy the goodness that whole grains have to offer.


Dr. Joey is the author of bestselling book The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, please visit


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How to choose the healthiest bread