The artisanal loaves being produced in the U.S. are the best thing since, well, you know. These are delicious and come with health benefits.

Karen Asp
August 11, 2020
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bread maker and four loaves of bread
Credit: Eric Wolfinger

A decade or so ago, truly great handcrafted bread was a luxury that was hard to find in America. But the artisan baking movement—using all manner of grains beyond white flour—has slowly been taking hold stateside, now accounting for about 30% of all bread sales in the U.S., according to a Statista report. It gained an even broader American fan base during the pandemic, when quarantine lockdowns spurred a sourdough obsession among home bakers. And despite all the anti-carb rhetoric still out there, bread can be part of a healthy diet—especially when you choose loaves with fiber-rich whole grains and other beneficial ingredients. So, which breads rise to the top in terms of health? Here are three.

Sourdough

Sourdough is made with a fermented “starter” that contains wild yeasts and beneficial lactic acid bacteria along with flour and water. The starter is what gives this crusty-on-the-outside-airy-on-the-inside bread its tangy taste. The fermentation process also helps break down the grain molecules, making the bread easier to digest so your body can absorb more of the nutrients it contains. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, sourdough wheat bread contains increased levels of 90 compounds, including essential amino acids and phytochemicals. And it has prebiotic benefits that promote good gut health, says Erin McKenney, Ph.D., co-leader of the Wild Sourdough Project and director of undergraduate programs in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Although sour- dough isn’t always a whole-grain bread, you can find bakeries that make it or bake it yourself with whole-wheat flour.

Rye

Americans are only now starting to appreciate the beauty of a heavy whole-grain rye bread, such as the dense, chewy German bread called volkornbrot, says chef Peter Reinhart, author of Bread Revolution. And the perks extend beyond rye’s earthy flavor. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition linked the high fiber content in rye bread with a reduced risk of colon cancer. And the Scientific Reports study found that the fermentation of rye sourdough—which the German bread is made with—produces an abundance of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), even more than whole-wheat sourdough bread. These BCAAs impact blood insulin levels and may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There’s also evidence that eat- ing rye bread could help reduce body weight.

Sprouted

To make this bread—like a sprouted 7-grain loaf—grains are germinated, then either dried before being milled into flour or sim- ply ground into a wet mash (sans drying). “As a result, they may be higher in fiber than 100% whole-wheat,” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., founder and CEO of Nutritious Life in New York City. A recent review published in the journal Nutrients found that the sprouting process also makes some of the nutrients in the grains more bioavailable, delivering higher amounts of iron, vitamin C, beta carotene, polyphenols and other antioxidants than unsprouted grains.

EatingWell, September 2020