Reading Bread Labels

In comparing bread ingredient labels, use this judgement : the shorter the ingredient list, the better the bread. The most nutritious bread may be made from only whole wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt, with possibly a touch of molasses and honey, or the addition of other “whole” grains. The key-word on the bread label is “whole.” Be particularly careful of the most recent little white label lie called “wheat flour,” which does not mean the same as whole wheat.

Wheat flour, which gives bread a light brown color and therefore more health appeal, is 75 percent white flour and only 25 percent whole wheat. So it’s only 25 percent healthy bread instead of 100 percent. By looking at labels, you can group breads into three categories:

  • Best breads are 100 percent whole wheat. Whole wheat flour is the first ingredient on the label. Enriched flour does not appear in the ingredient list. If it doesn’t say “whole wheat,” it’s not. Wheat flour, as listed on labels, officially should mean 75 percent white and 25 percent whole wheat, but it may not. All white bread is “wheat flour,” so this term is misleading, at best. A truthful label would state what percentage is whole wheat. If a label says “wheat flour,” assume it’s not whole wheat.
  • Better breads list “whole wheat flour” as the main ingredient, but may include white flour, too.
  • Downright junk breads list “bleached, enriched flour” first in the ingredient list. Leave these on the shelf where they belong. If it doesn’t say “whole” on the label, it’s wrong for your body. Non-wheat flours. The term “flour” doesn’t necessarily mean wheat. Flour, and therefore bread, can be made from any grain. But since other flours don’t contain gluten, most of these appear in bread in combination with wheat flour. They may appear on their own in other types of baked goods. Popular non-wheat flours are:
    • Buckwheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat does not contain the wheat (or gluten) protein and is therefore digestible by gluten-sensitive persons. It’s a popular pancake flour, combined with wheat.
    • Oat flour. Oat flour is more commonly used in cereals than in bread. When used with whole wheat flour, it makes a moister whole-grain bread.
    • Rye flour. Rye is a high-protein, high-fiber grain of at least equal nutrition to wheat flour and is often used for breads. Look on the label for “unbolted” rye if you want a whole-grain rye flour.
    • Cornmeal. This is made from white or yellow corn. You’ll find it in breads, pancakes, and muffins. If there is an American bread, cornbread would be it. It was a staple of early pioneer diets. Like other flours, cornmeal comes either bolted (“degermed”) or unbolted. Corn flour is finely ground cornmeal.
    • Soy flour. Defatted, ground soybeans make a flour high in protein. You can substitute soy flour for a small amount of the wheat flour in recipes to boost the protein content of the finished product.
    • Arrowroot flour. Unlike the protein-rich wheat, arrowroot is primarily starch. It comes from the root of a tropical plant called the maranta. Because it is easy to digest, it’s a popular ingredient in starter cookies for infants and children.

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