You can make bread at home with just four ingredients:
With the right equipment and experience, the result is exquisite. But only for a day or two, until the bread goes stale. By day four, it starts to grow mold.
That's why a majority of people purchase their bread at the supermarket. In order to stay soft and fresh for a week or more, packaged breads need the help of some additives. Some are OK, while others are not. We'll discuss them in a bit.
Besides the additives, the nutrition grade of a bread depends largely on the type of flour used. Three tips:
Make sure the first ingredient is whole grain (100% whole wheat).
The bread should be made with 100% whole grains.
The fiber count should be 2 or more grams per ounce sometimes that's 2 grams per one slice, but not always. Check the serving size.
Bread manufacturers often confuse shopper with tricky terms for the flour used:
Enriched flour - This is NOT whole wheat flour. This is refined flour that is enriched because it was stripped of its nutrients when the whole grain was processed into refined flour. Here's what is added (as mandated by the government) - Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron.
Multi-grain - Does not mean whole grain. It simply means that several types of grains have been used. For example, wheat and rye instead of just wheat.
Organic - indicates how the wheat was grown, not if it was stripped of its nutrients. You can definitely have refined organic wheat.
Unbleached / Bleached - indicates if the flour has been subjected to a whitening process or not. Bleached flour goes through more processing and chemicals, so you should prefer non-bleached flour. Whole grain breads are not bleached.
Unbromated / unbrominated - In the past, many bakeries used potassium bromate as a dough conditioner to improve the rising of the dough and the texture of the bread. Unfortunately, it is a carcinogen. It is not often used these days, and if it is, should appear on the ingredient list, regardless of its use as an adjective describing the flour.
Now to the additives. Try to avoid bread that uses one of these:
Potassium bromate - used as a dough conditioner. (Reminder: dough conditioners (1) shorten dough rising times (2) increase shelf life, and (3) make the dough easier for their machinery to process). Potassium bromate is harmful in its raw form, but disappears during the baking process. Unless some of it doesn't. Europe, Canada, and many other countries have banned the use of this additive.
Azodicarbonamide - another dough conditioner. It also bleaches the flour (makes it whiter). It's considered safe in the US at up to 45 parts per million, but is banned from use in Europe because studies showed it could cause asthma or allergic reactions.
DATEM - an acronym for Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. Another dough conditioner used to improve volume and uniformity. It is considered safe by the FDA, but a 2002 study on rats showed "heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth".
Partially hydrogenated oils - yes, the evil trans-fats lurk in the bread aisle too. Make sure they don't make the jump to your shopping cart.
Mono and di-glycerides, ethoxylated mono and di-glycerides - derived from animal or plant sources, these additives have multiple roles - they are dough conditioners (improve texture, increase volume), emulsifiers, and release agents (make it easier to get the bread out of the baking pan).
Calcium propionate - a preservative that inhibits mold and bacterial growth. Considered safe, but in the early 1990's it was linked to attention deficit disorder in children.
High-fructose corn syrup - many breads employ a sweetener to improve taste as well as help the dough rise. (Yeast love sugar - they ferment it to create carbon dioxide which is what makes the bread rise). HFCS is the cheapest sugar, and that is why manufacturers use it.
Artificial colors - you'd be surprised, but some breads use artificial colors.
sugars / honey / etc...
For each of the terms below please indicate if it is whole grain or not:
organic unbleached unenriched wheat flour
ground wheat flour
100% stone ground wheat flour
organic heirloom wheat flour
unbromated hard red spring wheat flour
Answer: NONE of the above are whole grains flours.
Last tip for today
Here's another manufacturer trick to look out for. Even if the product package boasts 100% Whole Wheat, you may be getting nutritionally short-changed. You see, manufacturers can add bran and germ to an ingredient list that kicks off with enriched flour. As long as the proportion of endosperm, bran, and germ is equal to what one would find naturally in a whole grain, the package claim "100% Whole Wheat" is technically correct. That's like buying a car that has been taken apart into a thousand pieces and put back together instead of a new car directly from the dealership. Which would you prefer?