How to Read a Bread Label
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
I'm not sure why reading bread labels has gotten so confusing. Maybe it's because bread is the 'staff of life' and we buy a lot of it, but even I have to really look at the fine print to make sure that I'm getting exactly what I want.
Since we eat a fair amount of bread, it's one of those foods that, if chosen properly, can make a significant contribution to your whole grain intake. You want to be sure you're buying bread made from whole grains. But trying to figure out if your bread is, in fact, 100% whole grain can be a bit of a challenge.
Here's an example. One package of bread I saw on the shelf has the words "whole grains" as part of name of the bread, claims that the bread has "more great tasting whole grains" and, if that's not confusing enough, the first ingredient listed is "white whole wheat flour". So is it 100% whole grain, or not?
In this case, the first clue that it isn't comes from the ingredients list. After 'white whole wheat flour', the second ingredient is "unbleached, enriched wheat flour" - another name for white. If you're searching for 100% whole grain, and that could be all wheat, or a mixture of several grains, you need to look carefully at the ingredients list.
The bread should contain "whole wheat flour" as the only flour , or if it's a mixture, look for the word "whole" before the name of the grain, as in "whole rye". If you see brown rice or oats on the list, they're whole grain, too. Bread that's "made with" whole grains can be labeled that way, but it may actually contain only a tiny amount of whole grain.
Multigrain doesn't mean whole grain. The bread could just be a made from a mixture of grains, and not all of them whole. Plenty of "wheat breads" are brown and look like whole grain, but they're not. Thanks to a little caramel color, they're brown like 100% whole wheat, and since they're made from wheat flour, they can be called wheat bread.
That "white whole wheat flour" actually is a whole grain. It's milled from a type of wheat with a light color and mild flavor, but the nutrition it offers is very similar to regular whole wheat flour. For those who don't like traditional coarse wheat bread, it's got a taste and texture more like white. But don't assume that 'white whole wheat bread' is 100% whole grain. Again, check your ingredients, because many white whole wheat breads are made from a mixture of whole grain and refined white flours.