As you well know, bread is a staple all over the world and it’s been around pretty much since the beginning of time. They don’t say really great things are “the best thing since sliced bread” for nothing. But with all the over-processed, refined foods out there and all the things we’re learning about our health and nutrition, is it really something we should be eating?
Now, we’re not here to tell you what to do and we’re certainly not going to tell you not to eat bread (peanut butter toast is our lifeblood), but we do want to let you know about what’s in the food you’re buying and what key things you should be looking for when surveying the options out there.
Health Canada defines a serving of bread as one slice or 35g. A lot of commercial slices are closer to 45g (don’t even get us started on Texas toast) so you have to factor that into your calculations when considering what you want out of your bread. According to registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon, one slice of bread should contain at least 2-3g of fibre and no more than 1.5g of sugar. She says that calories aren’t overly indicative of a healthy slice since “the more whole grains, the more calories there will be” but some nutritionists suggest 110 is a good benchmark per slice. You should also look for at least 3g of protein.
It’s not all about the numbers, though; ingredients are just as important. Lindzon says, “the first thing consumers should focus on is if the bread contains ‘whole grain, whole wheat including the germ'” and warns that in Canada “whole wheat” doesn’t mean “whole grain.” Health Canada gives more information, but basically, “100% whole wheat” bread is better than white, but might contain only a small amount of the whole grain and still be highly refined.
Additionally, you want to avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for a number of reasons. In Canada, that can be tricky because HFCS is often labeled as “glucose-fructose” in ingredients lists and Canadian law does not require that manufacturers distinguish between sugars, allowing the blanket term “sugar/glucose-fructose” to be the only indicator.
Now that you’ve got the knowledge you need to make an informed decision, let’s take a look at Canada’s most popular breads to see how they measure up.
Which sliced breads are actually good for you?
Wonder Bread: White (1 slice = 37.5g)Calories: 95 Fibre: 1g Protein: 3g Sugar: 1.5g It may be comparatively low in calories and meet the sugar and protein requirements, but that’s about all white Wonder Bread has going for it. The white flour can cause a spike in blood sugar and isn’t as satisfying as its less refined counterparts, plus there isn’t a grain or seed in sight. It might be the best vehicle for a Nutella sandwich, but this bread isn’t winning any points with nutritionists. Wonder Bread
Wonder Bread: White + Fibre (1 slice = 37.5g)Calories: 95 Fibre: 1.5g Protein: 3.5g Sugar: 2g Honestly, we’re not really sure what’s going on here. Wonder Bread added half a gram of fibre (or 1 gram over 2 slices) and called it “+ Fibre.” This is why you read the Nutrition Facts, people. Same problems as regular old white bread, but with the added annoyance that they think they’re duping us. Wonder Bread
Wonder Bread: 100% Whole Wheat (1 slice = 37.5g)Calories: 95 Fibre: 2g Protein: 4g Sugar: 1g Wonder Bread’s whole wheat offering actually scores pretty well by the numbers. With lower calories than our benchmark, more fibre than the “+ Fibre” and a good amount of protein, this slice is doing pretty well. What happens when we take a gander at the ingredients list? It might not boast any of those fancy seeds and whole grains, but the product specifies “whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ,” so it’s a solid slice nonetheless. Wonder Bread
Old Mill 100% Whole Wheat Bread (1 slice = 37.5g)Calories: 90 Fibre: 2.5g Protein: 3.5g Sugar: 1g Old Mill’s whole wheat might look almost identical to Wonder Bread’s, but there are two important differences: the ingredients list only specifies “whole wheat flour” and contains that sugar/glucose-fructose we were talking about earlier. If you’re choosing between Wonder Bread and Old Mill, it looks like the devil is in the details. Old Mill
Dempster’s Multigrain (1 slice = 43g)Calories: 110 Fibre: 2g Protein: 4g Sugar: 2g Again, Dempster’s is pretty similar by the numbers, but the multigrain bread includes a seed blend and “whole grain whole wheat flour, including the germ.” Unfortunately, like the Old Mill, sugar/glucose-fructose is the third ingredient in this bread after flour and water, so keep that in mind when you’re considering your options. Dempster’s
Country Harvest: 12 Grains (1 slice = 45g)Calories: 120 Fibre: 3g Protein: 5g Sugar: 3g "Twelve grains" sounds good, right? The calories may be slightly more, but there’s a lot of good stuff in this bread like the highest fibre and protein counts we’ve seen on the list thus far and the right kind of whole grain flour. However, it also has a high sugar content and, as you might have guessed, it’s the sugar/glucose-fructose kind. In fact, all the Country Harvest products we looked at listed that sneaky sugar. Country Harvest
Country Harvest: Protein (1 slice = 45g)Calories: 110 Fibre: 2g Protein: 9g Sugar: 2g Whoa, talk about protein! This stuff really packs a punch so if protein is what you look for in a good bread, we think we’ve found your match. The slice has added soy protein and boasts 19g of whole grains (and the right kind of flour). Unfortunately, we still have to keep in mind the whole sugar/glucose-fructose thing. Country Harvest
Country Harvest: Cinnamon Raisin with Whole Wheat (1 slice = 45g)Calories: 130 Fibre: 2g Protein: 4g Sugar: 8g Raisins are healthy, right? Well, not so much when they’re coated in a sugar-oil mixture and added to a bread made with a blend of more “enriched wheat flour” than whole grain flour. This bread tastes like you’re eating a cinnamon bun and that’s reflected in the nutritional value. It’s way more sugar (sugar/glucose-fructose) than you want in a slice and it’s got the highest calorie count without any of the grains it should have. That being said, if you’re choosing between this bread and a cinnamon roll, the bread is definitely better for you. Country Harvest
Silver Hills Sprouted Power: The Big 16 (1 slice = 38g)Calories: 100 Fibre: 4g Protein: 6g Sugar: 1g Well look at this bread go. It’s got a respectable calorie count, more fibre and protein than the benchmark and a low sugar content. The ingredients tell a good story too – the flour used is “organic sprouted whole wheat” and the sugar is “organic cane.” They are also certified Non-GMO and Whole Grain (with 23g of whole grains per slice). And they’re a Canadian brand to boot! Silver Hills Sprouted Power
Dave’s Killer Bread 21 Whole Grains and Seeds (1 slice = 45g)Calories: 120 Fibre: 5g Protein: 5g Sugar: 5g Dave’s Killer Bread is a perfect example of a whole lot of good with a few hang-ups. The good is that it contains 5g of fibre, 5g of protein and 22g of whole grains. The hang-ups are that the ingredients don’t specify that the flour used is whole grain and that the sugar content is waaay higher than we’d like it to be. It’s cane sugar and not glucose-fructose, but with one slice coming in at 5g of sugar, it’s way too much either way. Dave’s Killer Bread
Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread (1 slice = 34g)Calories: 80 Fibre: 3g Protein: 4g Sugar: 0g Ezekiel 4:9 bread has been touted by many as a miracle health bread and, honestly, it checks most of our boxes. It contains organic sprouted wheat flour as well as other sprouted grains including barley, millet, lentils and soybeans. It also has no added sugar listed at all and a good amount of protein and fibre. Our only complaint? The price. At Loblaws, this health marvel will put you back about $7.99 for one loaf. Looks like good health really costs you. Ezekiel 4:9