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What is bread?
Bread is one of the oldest staples in the world. In its simplest form, it’s a flour and water dough, with or without salt, fermented with a naturally occurring yeast and bacteria starter, or with baker’s yeast. Today, much of the bread lining supermarket shelves is made on a mass scale and often contains additives that help speed production, extend shelf life, improve flavour and texture, and fortify against the nutrients lost during processing. There are countless bread bakes to choose from.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides, including our feature Is bread healthy?. You can also learn to make bread at home in four easy steps and discover our recipes for soda bread, gluten-free bread and wholemeal bread.
Top 10 healthiest loaves
One of the best ways to ensure your bread is a healthy option is, of course, to bake your own, that way you’ll know exactly how the bread was made and the ingredients that were used. With dozens of loaves lining the shelves, here are our top picks of the healthiest bread:
This is a bread made from a mix of sprouted wholegrains, typically wheat, barley, spelt and millet, as well as legumes, lentils and soya beans.
The magic behind this loaf lies in sprouting or germinating the grains. This process lowers the levels of phytic acid, which makes digesting the bread and the gut’s absorption of minerals, such as iron and calcium, much easier.
Sprouting also kick-starts the breakdown of protein and carbohydrates in the grains, which later minimises the spiking effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels.
Ezekiel is a good source of protein, fibre, B vitamins and may supply as much as three times more folate than bread made from non-sprouted grains.
Store Ezekiel bread in the fridge or freezer, not the bread bin.
A traditional German bread with a heavy texture and distinctive flavour. Made from wholegrain rye flour, pumpernickel is packed with stress-busting B vitamins, health-supporting plant compounds called lignans, as well as fibre.
Traditionally made from a sourdough starter and a coarse wholegrain rye flour, pumpernickel is also rich in resistant starch which supports gut health and lowers the bread’s glycaemic index.
Do check labels because many commercial varieties include wheat flour, molasses and yeast.
3. Rye bread
This bread is lower in fat and contains less gluten than wheat-based bread, which makes it a denser, heavier loaf. Studies confirm that rye bread made from 100% rye has less of a negative effect on blood sugar than wheat breads, and as a result, keeps you fuller for longer.
Like pumpernickel, rye bread is rich in lignans, plant compounds linked with a wide range of health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and breast cancer.
Give it a try with our rye bread recipe.
4. 100% wholemeal wheat bread
Wholemeal wheat flour includes all three parts of the grain – the bran, wheatgerm and endosperm. This ensures that the naturally-occurring nutrients are retained, along with the fibre. Bread made from wholemeal flour is nutrient-rich and, when eaten regularly, may help protect against chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, certain forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Slice for slice, when you eat wholemeal bread, you get more iron and twice the zinc and fibre than the equivalent white loaf.
However, even wholemeal bread may contain additives. These may include emulsifiers, flour treatment agents and dough improvers, as well as sugar or dextrose. These ingredients are typically added to improve the colour, texture and crumb of a loaf, as well as to support the manufacturing process by improving dough stability and volume.
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Making your own bread will eliminate the need for these additives. Browse our wholemeal bread recipes to get started.
5. Buckwheat bread
Buckwheat bread, despite its deceptive name, is not made from wheat but from the seed of the buckwheat plant. It’s naturally gluten-free and as such is a suitable option for those living with coeliac disease.
Buckwheat has an enviable antioxidant profile, better than that of many other cereal grains, including oats and wheat. As well as containing plant compounds, such as rutin, it’s one of the richest food sources of d-chiro inositol, a compound which may help manage blood sugar levels. Discover our how to cook buckwheat guide.
If you’re a coeliac, check labels to ensure a loaf labelled ‘gluten-free’ has not been made from a blend of flours.
6. Spelt bread
A relative of wheat and therefore a gluten-containing grain, bread made from wholegrain spelt is a good source of fibre, high in carbs and has a slightly higher protein and fat content than wheat. It’s also a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
One interesting difference is that spelt has lower levels of phytic acid than wheat, which suggests its valuable mineral content is more easily absorbed in the gut.
If you’re new to this grain, be aware that bread made from spelt tends to have a firmer texture than wheat bread. Our seeded wholemeal loaf combines spelt with wholemeal flour to create a lighter loaf.
Typically made from just four ingredients – flour, water, salt and a starter culture – sourdough is easy to digest and highly nutritious. It’s the starter combined with the long fermentation which holds the key to sourdough’s taste, texture and health credentials.
The starter is a mix of flour and water, which is fermented by wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria which give the sourdough its rise. Traditional sourdough undergoes a slow fermentation, which renders its vitamins and minerals more bioavailable. The process also kick-starts the breaking down of protein (gluten), which makes the bread easier to digest.
However, sourdough made from a gluten grain is not suitable for those with coeliac disease.
Although the beneficial microbes in the sourdough starter tend to be lost during the baking process, its called polyphenols – fibre and plant compounds – become more bio-available. These act as an important fuel source for our health-friendly gut microbes. And, unlike many commercially produced loaves, sourdough is more beneficial for blood sugar levels.
8. Soda bread
A traditional staple in Ireland and made simply from flour, buttermilk, baking powder and salt. Soda bread is quick to prepare and is a low-fat, yeast-free option. It may help alleviate symptoms of bloating and discomfort.
If you’re new to baking or short on time, our seeded soda bread is an ideal loaf to bake at home.
9. Flaxseed (linseed) bread
Typically, made from wholemeal wheat flour, flaxseeds and sometimes soya, this bread is high in fibre and heart-friendly fats. Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds, are highly nutritious and contain plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. They’re a great source of lignans – plant phenols associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
10. Porridge oat bread
Made with wheat flour, yeast, water and salt with the addition of oats or even leftover porridge.
The addition of oats boosts the fibre content and offers additional health benefits for the heart. Oats are an excellent source of beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that plays a beneficial role in lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar and reducing blood pressure.
Try our porridge bread recipe.
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