Whole grain bread has health benefits

What Are the 10 Healthiest Breads?

Is it time to break bread with the enemy?

Carbs—we love them, but in today's society, it seems we also love to hate them. As a registered dietitian, I am here to tell you that indeed, carbohydrates are not your enemy! In fact, as the preferred source of energy for the brain and central nervous system, carbohydrates from healthy sources like whole grain wheat, rye and sprouted grains (I'm not talking about candy, here) are your friend. Whole grain breads are considered a plant-based heart-healthy food, after all, and let's not forget that their fiber content makes them good for digestive regularity.

And indeed, most of us are not getting enough of the nutrients that you'll find in abundance in your typical wholesome loaf. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 98 percent of people fall below recommendations for whole grains and 74 percent exceed limits for refined grains.

Does that mean you should eat unlimited amounts? Not quite. Practicing moderation is always a good idea. Being mindful of the amount and frequency of the bread we eat, as well as being selective about the type of bread can also go a long way when it comes to our health.

So, which types should you choose? I'm here to show you which bread options offer the most health benefits.

Why do people avoid eating bread?

When people go on a "diet" with the goal being weight loss, carbohydrates, especially grain-based foods such as bread and pasta, are usually the first things on the chopping block, sometimes almost entirely as in the case of a ketogenic diet. There is good reasoning behind cutting back on refined carbs like cookies, chips and white bread, as doing so will result in desirable metabolic health outcomes such as weight loss and supporting healthy blood sugar. But shortchanging yourself on wholesome sources of carbohydrates means missing out on nutrients you need to stay healthy.

Not only that, but very low- and low-carbohydrate diets are notoriously hard to maintain in the long term, while a moderate carbohydrate diet can provide more sustainable weight loss, among other benefits, and still allows plenty of room for nutritious types of carbohydrates such as whole grains (including whole grain bread!). And speaking of maintaining things for the long haul, some researchers have found that a moderate carbohydrate diet is the best choice for longevity when compared to low-carbohydrate diets!

Aside from wanting to cut carbs for weight management goals, there are other reasons people may be concerned about consuming bread and grains—namely, they may need to avoid gluten and/or wheat. Additionally, with bread that comes from conventionally grown grains such as oats, there is also the potential for retaining chemical residue (a risk that can be averted by choosing organic varieties).

The 10 healthiest breads

Ready to learn which bread options are the healthiest? Pull up a chair, make yourself a sandwich, and let's dive in! Here are 10 of the best breads to consider when reaching for a loaf:

1. Whole grain wheat bread

Whether it's from 100% whole wheat or another grain (or both!), whole grain bread is delicious…and nutritious! Here's why: Let's talk about anatomy for a moment—grain anatomy, that is. A whole grain kernel contains three parts: the outer bran, inner endosperm, and germ at its core. The bran is the fiber rich outer layer that also contains vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The endosperm contains carbohydrates, protein, and some vitamins. The germ contains healthy fats as well as some vitamins and phytonutrients.

Breads made from refined grains (like white bread) are only made from the endosperm and won't contain the bran and germ along with the nutrients they offer. That's why whole grain breads are far superior: because fiber helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels along with supporting healthy cholesterol management. Whole grains can also support a healthy inflammatory response, in contrast to refined grains.

Including whole grains in your diet has shown to benefit your heart, but what about your gut? For most people, yes. The fiber in whole grains can help in keeping stools soft and bulky to avoid occasional constipation.  According to a systematic review of 138 studies, eating a variety of whole grains and fibers was associated with increased production of beneficial bacteria. Plus, wheat is a source of prebiotic fiber. However, there are a variety of people who have a hard time tolerating wheat despite these benefits.

2. Rye

Rye is a grain that is related to wheat and barley that often is baked with caraway seeds. Americans may best associate rye with a pastrami sandwich, but heartier versions of rye are a staple in Nordic cultures. While the word "rye" can be used to describe any bread made with rye flour, it's not uncommon for rye bread to also contain wheat flour.

Like wheat, rye is a gluten-containing grain, but tends to contain less gluten than wheat. Rye also has more fiber than wheat, resulting in a lower glycemic response. Perhaps not surprisingly given this benefit, in a randomized controlled trial, substituting "regular" (refined) bread for whole grain rye was associated with weight loss.

3. Pumpernickel

This healthy bread differs in taste and consistency depending where in the world you enjoy it! In the U.S., a loaf of rye bread and a loaf of pumpernickel bread are very similar—they both are made with rye, sometimes with wheat. The main difference is color: American bakers add cocoa powder or molasses to deepen the hue. In Europe, pumpernickel is traditionally made using only whole grain rye and takes longer to make. If you are interested in the health benefits of rye, opting for European-style pumpernickel could give you a nutritional edge. You could even make a sourdough pumpernickel loaf to stack up health benefits!

4. Sourdough bread

Speaking of sourdough bread, we can't say enough about this bread's benefits—particularly when it comes to gut health. When we think of fermented foods, yogurt and kimchi may come to mind, usually not bread! But a hunk of warm, tasty sourdough can offer distinct benefits—making it unique from most other breads, which are made using a commercial baker's yeast to help them rise. Sourdough bread, however, is traditionally made using a "starter" of wild yeast and beneficial lactic acid bacteria like lactobacillus (similar to how you would make other fermented foods using a starter, like kefir) and often wheat is used as the grain source for the flour which can be made using whole grain or refined white flour.

Interestingly, the fermentation process can break down proteins like gluten and FODMAPS like fructan which can help improve tolerance to wheat, making it easier to digest. Fermentation can also decrease the glycemic index of this bread and decrease antinutrient phytates, which in turn results in better mineral absorption, including important minerals like iron that are found in whole grains. Fermentation also increases soluble fiber and antioxidant activity. However, these benefits can vary due to lack of standardization during production.

5. Oat bread

Oats are a versatile grain that can go way beyond your breakfast bowl. Oats can be used to make milk, flour, and yes, bread. Oats are known for a variety of benefits such as helping to support healthy cholesterol levels and immune system support, thanks to their beta glucan content, a type of fiber. In a randomized controlled trial, researchers found that bread with a higher beta glucan content (from oats) to starch (from wheat) ratio supports the body's healthy blood glucose control. Eating bread to maintain healthy blood sugar? Sounds like it's time for some avocado toast!

6. Multigrain

Multigrain bread typically contains not only a variety of whole grains but sometimes legumes and seeds. Therefore, it can offer a variety of nutrients you usually won't find in a typical loaf of whole wheat (that being said, multigrain is not a great option for someone with multiple foods sensitivities since it will contain a wider variety of ingredients). Certain multigrain breads are labeled as "seed breads" because they contain a variety of seeds, such as pumpkin, flax, and sesame, and are not only a source of healthy carbohydrates, but a complete protein source from the variety of amino acids.

7. Flax bread

Bread made using nutrient-dense, ALA omega-3 containing flaxseeds can be made a few ways, with the simplest method containing just a few ingredients. Depending on the recipe, flax bread can be made grain-free and gluten-free, making it suitable for multiple diets including keto and paleo.

Is gluten-free bread healthier?

While gluten content is desirable for the texture and mouthfeel of breads, gluten content is not favorable for people who are sensitive or intolerant to gluten.

Therefore, gluten-free (GF) bread becomes a welcome option to have. However, it's important to keep in mind that gluten-free doesn't automatically mean "healthier" for the general population.

In fact, a study aiming to evaluate the nutritional quality of gluten-free bakery products found that these items tend to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein. "Gluten-free products are often associated with a high predicted glycemic index owing to their high glycemic load due to their starch-based composition."

Some of the sources of gluten-free flours include rice, corn, potato, almond flour and tapioca. If a GF bread is made with GF whole grains, however, this can boost the nutritional profile.

Of course, while GF breads aren't necessarily more nutritious, they may be necessary for some people.

8. Sprouted bread

This type of bread is made from whole grains that have been sprouted before being milled into the flour used to make bread. Sprouting is part of a growth process known as germination and can beneficially change the nutritional profile of the grain. For example, germination has been shown to provide benefits such as improved glycemic index, reduced gluten content and breakdown of antinutrients, resulting in better digestibility and nutrient bioavailability.

9. Cloud bread

This fluffy, flourless GF keto "bread" was popularized on TikTok and consists primarily of egg whites which give it that characteristic cloud-like appearance. Bread here is in quotation marks because it isn't actually bread, since it does not contain grains. And while it looks reminiscent of bread, the resulting taste and texture is different from traditional grain-based bread, too.

10. Ezekiel bread

Ezekiel bread is a type of bread that is named after a Biblical verse from Ezekiel 4:9: "Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils and millet, and spelt and put them in one vessel." So, it refers to the types of grains and legumes used to make the bread. Some brands of Ezekiel bread are also made using sprouted ingredients. This type of bread can be considered a hybrid of multigrain and sprouted and offers similar nutritional benefits, making it an option with health benefits of, well, Biblical proportions!

Breadbasket of takeaway tips

Ready to stop ignoring that artisanal bakery on the corner and rediscover the taste of bread again? Just keep these tips in mind first:

  • Healthiest breads: Whole grain/multigrain, sprouted breads, and traditionally made whole grain sourdough are good choices compared to refined white bread.
  • Make sure that "whole grain" is listed as the first or second ingredient on the label.
  • Look for a stamp on the label from the Whole Grains Council, indicating the percentage of whole grains.
  • Avoid breads made with gluten-containing grains if you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
  • Choose fiber-rich breads, keeping in mind that fiber content varies from grain to grain.
  • Get your bread thin-sliced for a lower-calorie option.
  • A one ounce-equivalent of 100% whole grains has 16 grams of whole grains. Three or more servings of whole grains daily is recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Pair bread with protein and healthy fats for a well-balanced meal.
  • Choose breads without high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, and hydrogenated oils.
  • If you really want to think outside the bread box, there are also the breads that are more like cakes such as banana bread that have some nutritious ingredients—but, these may also contain more sugar and certainly won't pair well with your pastrami!
  • Watch out for preservatives such as sodium and chemicals added to increase shelf life at the grocery store or modify texture (you can buy from your local bakery or bake at home in an effort to avoid these).


By: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N

Holli Ryan is a food & nutrition expert, registered & licensed dietitian-nutritionist, health & wellness writer, blogger, and social media specialist. She graduated from Florida International University and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In her free time she enjoys photography, travel, cooking, art, music, and nature.