In the last post we promised to check our local supermarket for breads that met Healthy Change #9: Your daily bread must be whole grain, with more grams of natural fiber than added sugar. To do this we spent a Friday evening studying the labels of 70 different breads; the short answer is just two bakeries met the rule and one came close (their fiber wasn’t all natural):
• Food For Life offers their Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted-grain breads, named after the Bible scripture with a bread recipe. A slice typically contains 3 grams of fiber and no sugar—the only company we found that doesn’t add sweeteners. Price $4.49; on sale for $3.99. (In some stores their bread is kept in the frozen food section to preserve freshness.)
• Oroweat offers bread at all the quality levels (but watch the sugar in some of their whole wheat breads, it's often equal to the fiber). Their Healthfull brand (Nutty Grain, 10-Grain, and Hearty Wheat) had 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams sugar. Price $4.59; on sale for $2.99
• Milton’s Whole Grain Plus had 5 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar per slice. (Three grams of fiber are all you can usually get from a slice of whole wheat; breads offering more may not meet the natural fiber requirement.) The sugar was a combination of brown sugar and honey, so give them a point for slightly better sugars. Price $4.59; on sale for $3.49.
The bread companies are in a difficult place; people generally have a dim view of store-bought bread and the low-carb diet folks think bread is unhealthy. The store manager approached me in one store (after all, I was standing there looking at his goods and making notes in a black notebook). “I’m looking for your healthiest bread,” I told him. His response was interesting: “Is any bread healthy?” I laughed with him but answered, “Yes, a few are”.
I asked him how they decide which breads get the best shelf space and he answered, “Simple, slotting fees. I think we make more on renting out the shelf space than we do selling the bread”. I looked down the aisle and saw Oroweat had the biggest space followed by the store brand and then Sara Lee. There was a small section for Wonder bread on the lowest shelf, a sign of its fall from grace.
The bread aisle is a strange place. First, it doesn’t smell like bread, it smells chemical, kind of like plastic. Second, in a desperate attempt to get our attention over 70 different kinds of bread are offered, each with the most extravagant label claims the FDA will allow. Labels that say “100% wheat” aren’t actually whole wheat. And the label that says “With Whole Wheat” may only have a little whole grain mixed in with the refined grains. Third, there is the issue of past fibs, like Wonder bread building strong bodies, 8, 10, then 12 different ways. Is it any surprise the public is properly skeptical?
Here’s another issue: Is there a premium for healthy bread? The answer is “Yes”. The healthiest breads were the highest priced, around $4.59 unless on sale, though the difference in ingredients only makes a slight difference in material costs. Is the cheapest bread the least healthy? Again, the answer is “Yes”. The cheapest bread was sold under the Supervalu label, price $1.39 but on sale for $.99. It’s not actually that much cheaper per pound because the loaf is lighter. And it has the worst ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup. (The store manager whispered in my ear that Supervalu was controlled by the store—they just didn’t want their name on the worst bread.)
Would you want to eat 99-cent bread? It’s a trick question, because you can bake your own perfectly healthful bread for about this price, not counting the cost of firing of the oven. Yes, I know what you’re thinking—this presumes the cook isn’t getting paid for her hour of work. But we know the answer to that—the pay she (or he) receives is dearer than money. In a later post we’ll share our favorite of the bread recipes you submitted.
For the times when it’s not possible to bake your own bread, here are my personal favorites, though they’re not available where I live: One is Great Harvest, which sells through franchise stores. Prairie Grain Bread Co. is the other. The whole wheat breads meet the fiber rule and have just five or six ingredients. (The typical store-bought breads have 12-20 ingredients, many of them chemicals.)
A last comment from the store manager on slotting fees: “If you really want to see how these fees work, visit the chip aisle.” So on my way out I visited the chip aisle—I’ll save what I learned for the next (and last) post on converting our diet to whole grains.
If this post is helpful, would you please share it with your friends? It’s a way to thank my wife for spending her Friday night in the bread aisle.