Is bread healthy? How to select wisely with these simple tricks


I love bread. Who doesn’t like watching bread take its shape in the oven, while smelling that appetising hot air? Finally, that long awaited bread is ready, you take it out of the oven, and sprinkle some cinnamon – perfect.


We are not alone. Bread has been consumed for over 30,000 years. It is THE MOST popular food in the whole wide world.


It makes sense that bread arose early in the human history as an excellent source of nutrition since a traditional loaf requires only 4 ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. For natural leavens or sourdoughs, yeast is even unnecessary.


The bread we are eating today


“What? Just 4 ingredients? What is that long list of ingredients at the back of the bread I buy then?”

white bread ingredients

Source: Cole’s Whole-Grain Cinnamon French Toast


Take the white bread as an example. You would think that the ingredient list should look simple, but unfortunately it is not.


Nowadays, bread is not just bread anymore. The simplest white bread has over 30 ingredients, many of them an ordinary person can’t even pronounce. In fact, white bread isn’t even nutritionally worth it to consume, as it is so deprived of nutrients and fibre during the heaving processing. I recommend you watch Dr. Michael Greger‘s video on Is white bread good for you?


If bread only takes 4 ingredients to make, what are all these things doing there? Probably to make the bread appear ultra white, smooth, light, soft and even stay on the shelf for weeks. I don’t think we want those things in our bodies.


Well, white bread is bad because it is so cheap. But what about the more expensive ones that claim to be healthier?

abbotts bread ingredients


The Abbott’s bread is a popular “healthy choice” in Australia. Now the ingredient list looks more like comprehensible language, indeed much better. But still, what are maltodextrin, emulsifiers and flavouring powders doing there?


It is extremely hard to find simple, authentic bread made of just the ingredients necessary. This is just an example of over-processing in the modern food industry.


Should we just stop eating bread? That’s not what i am suggesting. Baked bread is an excellent source of iodine, and whole-grain bread with little processing is excellent. Research has shown that 3 portions of whole gains can reduce the risk of getting a heart attack by 15%, and the risk of getting a stroke by roughly 25%.


It just takes some effort to find bread that is actually good for you. But we are going to teach you how!


What bread should you really be eating?

If the original recipe for bread is simply 4 ingredients, then it makes sense that we should aim to get bread that is made that way. In other words – get as close to the original recipe as possible.


Instead of going to supermarket, try a local bakery and ask the baker what the ingredients are. The bakers tend to use real flour, instead of the “enriched” or “refined” flour that is commonly used in commercial bread.


Note that for people who are trying to control their blood sugar levels, definitely stay away from enriched or refined white flour, as they can make your blood sugar to spike.


In contrast, natural whole grains are nutrient-dense, more satiating and is much milder on blood sugar level. Be careful though, that many commercial bread put words like “multi-grain“, “whole-grain” at the front of their packaging but are actually misleading. Flip over the bread and look at the ingredient list to see if those are false claims.


A simple math trick to distinguish between true whole-grain bread and false claims

One way you can quickly distinguish between authentic whole-grain bread and false claims is this simple math trick: if the serving size ratio of carbohydrates to fibre is equal to or less than 5 to 1 (eg. 15g of carbs and 3g of fibre), this bread passes the whole-grain test. If the ratio ends up being something like 18, which is not uncommon for many brands, put the bread back onto the shelf.


This simple 5 to 1 rule comes from Dr. Michael Gregor and can be used for other things too such as breakfast cereal. Don’t ever believe what the front package claims without performing this test yourself!


Sourdough breads 


Another healthy option, especially for people who are gluten-sensitive is sourdough. This is the bread that Ikarians eat. Ikaria is one of the world’s blue zones (places with the highest life expectancy). Ikaria has even been called the island where people forget to die! One secret is that ikarians eat true sourdough bread that is fermented not with bakers yeast but lactobacilli, a beneficial naturally-occurring bacterial strain. The resulting bread is slightly more sour in taste, but has less gluten and a naturally longer shelf life. It is nutrient-rich and slow burning, excellent for those who want to lost fat.


However, it is common to find fake sourdough breads in stores nowadays. If they still contain yeast or sweetener, they are not true sourdough breads. Go to a local bakery and ask for how their sourdough bread is made. Of course, the best solution is to just make you own. Here is a recipe from the Blue Zones website.



In conclusion, this post is not to discourage you from eating bread. Good whole-grain bread is beneficial for you but you need to select wisely. Choose bread with fewer ingredients, ideally baked fresh in a local bakery. Always have a chat with the baker to see how the bread is made, especially when you are looking for true sourdough breads – they can be tricky to find. Use the simple “5 to 1 carbs to fibre” rule to distinguish between true whole-grain bread and false claims. If you can implement these simple tricks to select your bread, you can enjoy the pleasures of bread as well as the health benefits!




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About the author


Raymond Setiadi is an Australian Accredited Practising Dietitian and is the founder of Vegan Palette,  a Brisbane-based dietitian practice.

As an expert in whole food plant-based nutrition and fat loss strategies, Raymond has a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between food,  human physiology, goal-directed psychology, and how they all play a pivotal role in one’s pursuit of optimal health.