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3 ways to find the healthiest supermarket breads

By Michelle Edelbaum, May 20, 2010 - 12:23pm

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When I go to the grocery store to buy bread, there are three things I look for on food labels.

1. I prefer breads made from whole grains rather than ones made from refined grains with added fiber. Whole grains (e.g., wheat, oats, rye) are rich in vitamins and minerals and contain at least as many antioxidants as some fruits and vegetables and are good for your heart.

Get grab-and-go whole grain breakfast recipes here.

Of course I'd like to bake my own bread, but when I don't have time to bake I look for bread that’s labeled "whole grain," then double check that a grain is listed first in the ingredients list. Keep in mind that for wheat, oats, corn, rye and barley, unless the word "whole" precedes the grain name, you can’t be sure that the entire grain is intact. (Brown and wild rice, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur, millet, quinoa and sorghum are also whole grains, even if the word "whole" doesn’t appear on labels.)

Would you rather just bake your own bread? Check out these healthy bread recipes you can make at home.

2. I look for breads with low or no added sugars. Added sugars in processed foods are difficult to track. "Sugars" on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars. Check the ingredient list for sugar and all its aliases: corn sweetener or syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, syrup and sugar molecules ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose). In general, the closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.

3. Lastly, and perhaps most surprising, is that in addition to picking a bread that has 0 grams of trans fats and does not include "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredients list, I look for a brand that doesn't contain soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. So why does this matter? These oils are high in omega-6 fats, which compete in the body with healthy omega-3 fats (the kind that benefit your heart and brain).

As an editor at EatingWell Magazine, I’ve learned that for optimal health we need a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-3s soothe the inflammation known to play a role in conditions ranging from heart disease to dementia, while omega-6s transform into molecules that increase inflammation. Find 5 ways to get in "omega balance" here.

So when I buy packaged foods, such as bread, I look for brands that don’t include oils with high levels of omega-6 fats.

Click here for our recommendations for some of the healthiest packaged salad dressings, mayonnaise, crackers, pasta sauces and granola bars.

It’s actually quite difficult to find commercial breads that don’t contain these oils, so you’ll have to read labels closely. Our food and nutrition experts at EatingWell went to the market to find a sampling of nationally available breads that didn’t contain soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil or sunflower oils. Two nationally-available breads you can feel good about eating when it comes to avoiding omega-6-rich oils are Alvarado Street Bakery (many varieties) and Dimpflmeier (many varieties).

If you can't find these brands, freshly baked breads in the bakery section are more likely to be free of omega-6-rich oils than commercially produced breads. And check the ingredients lists of your favorite brands—they too may be free of omega-6-rich oils. (And if they are, please share your finds with the rest of us in the Comments section!)

In general, choosing products that contain high-oleic versions of the oils mentioned above will also help you to cut back on omega-6 fats. High-oleic oils are produced using plants that have been bred or engineered to have more monounsaturated fats and fewer omega-6s.

Think you’re making healthy choices? Find out if you're eating these 6 healthy-sounding foods that aren’t.

Updated May 20, 2010.

What products do you like that are free of omega-6-rich oils (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil)? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Michelle Edelbaum, Health Blog, Nutrition

Michelle Edelbaum
Michelle is the digital editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at EatingWell.com and in EatingWell Magazine, authoring the Good Questions interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.

Michelle asks: What products do you like that are free of omega-6-rich oils (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil)?

Tell us what you think:

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