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Brown bread isn’t always whole grain – know the difference

When talking to a friend interested in whole grains, a common assumption they start with is is that any "brown bread" in the grocery store is whole grain. Knowing the difference can help you know what to look for and make the best decision for you and your family.

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The American food companies have done a great job convincing many well-meaning shoppers that “brown bread” equals whole grain, and therefore is automatically healthy.

Let’s take a closer look at why brown bread is not always whole grain bread.

When it comes to understanding bread and flour types, it’s essential to know that the color of the bread might not always indicate its nutritional content. For example, some breads are made with a mix of whole grain and white flour, which could give them a light brown color, even if they’re not entirely made of whole grains. This could be somewhat misleading as one might assume they’re getting more nutritional benefits from a completely whole grain bread. (I often mix whole grains I’ve milled at home with all-purpose flour, especially if I have guests coming for dinner that are not used to eating true whole grain bread!)

Now that we’ve acknowledged this misconception, let’s explore the difference between whole grain and whole-wheat flour. While both contain all three parts of the kernel—the bran, germ, and endosperm—whole grain bread can be made with one or several types of grain, whereas whole-wheat bread is made up of only wheat kernels. Understanding these distinctions can help you make informed decisions about the type of bread you choose, whether you’re aiming for maximum nutritional value or simply considering taste preferences.

Understanding whole grains

When it comes to understanding whole grains, it’s essential to know that they’re made up of three main parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm:

  1. Bran is the outer layer of the grain, packed with fiber, minerals, and antioxidants
  2. Germ is the core of the grain, containing protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals
  3. Endosperm is the starchy carbohydrate center that provides energy. This is what most all-purpose or “white” flour is made from
Image source: Texas A&M

Whole grain flour, such as Quinoa, Barley, Oats, Buckwheat, Brown rice, Corn, and Spelt, retain all three parts of the grain. Wheat varieties are also whole grain when they retain all three parts, but most wheat-based flour (like Hard wheat, Soft wheat, and even Einkorn) often have most of the bran and germ removed.

When all three parts are retained, the flour is a healthier choice compared to refined grains. However, not all brown bread is made from whole grains, in fact, most is NOT whole grain, so it’s important to read labels carefully when shopping.

Eating a variety of whole grains is not only beneficial for a balanced diet but also offers numerous health benefits. They’re a rich source of carbohydrates, providing energy to fuel our daily activities. Plus, the fiber in whole grains helps with digestion and can keep us feeling full for longer periods of time.

It’s important to remember that whole grains come in many shapes and sizes. Quinoa, for instance, is not actually a cereal grain like many others, but rather a seed that’s cooked similarly to rice. Buckwheat, on the other hand, is called a pseudocereal due to its grain-like features, although it’s not a true cereal either. Regardless of these classifications, both are considered whole grains and offer unique nutrients that contribute to a well-rounded diet.

In my experience, experimenting with different whole grains has led me to discover new flavors and textures that I enjoy incorporating into my meals. Utilizing various whole grains not only keeps things exciting in the kitchen, but it’s also a great way to reap the health benefits they have to offer.

Brown bread vs whole grain bread

When it comes to choosing between brown bread and whole grain bread, I used to think that brown bread was always the healthier option. However, I’ve learned that it’s not always true. It’s important to understand the nutritional differences between these two types of breads and make an informed choice.

Brown bread can sometimes be misleading. It might look healthier due to its darker color, but it’s not always made from whole grains. In fact, sometimes it’s just white bread with added coloring or a small portion of whole grains. (Remember, selling white bread is cheaper for food manufacturers as they can take 1-part of the grain and make money on it while selling or making products with the other two parts. I write more on this here, where I talk about what really is “healthy” whole grains.)

On the other hand, whole grain breads are made using all parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. This provides essential nutrients and fibers that are good for our health.

Speaking of nutrition, whole grain bread is richer in fiber compared to brown bread. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Apart from fiber, whole grain bread contains more vitamins and minerals than brown bread, because the full grain is used.

When we consider the sugar content, whole grain bread is generally lower in sugar compared to brown bread. For me, this is important, as reducing my sugar intake is one of my health goals. Whole grain bread also offers more protein and is usually lower in fat than brown bread.

To be sure that I’m picking the healthier option, I always check the label on the bread package. Whole grain bread should have “whole wheat” or “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient and it’s even better if it’s 100% whole grain. Making this simple check helps me make the right choice for my health.

So, in my quest for healthier bread choices, I now know that whole grain bread is generally the better option. It’s packed with essential nutrients, fiber, and protein, which makes it an excellent part of a well-rounded, nutritious diet.

Decoding bread labels

As I navigate the bread aisle, understanding bread labels can be quite a challenge. Brown bread isn’t always synonymous with whole grain bread. There are a few things I keep in mind to make the right choice.

I pay close attention to labels for indications of “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” This confirms that the bread’s flour comes from the entire grain kernel, including the bran, endosperm, and germ. Refined grains like white flour only contain the endosperm, making them less nutritious.

Color can be quite misleading. The darkness of bread doesn’t always signify that it’s whole grain. In fact, whole grain flour can even be bleached to make it white. So, relying solely on color can lead to a wrong decision.

This example has whole wheat as its top ingredient, which is great! It later has non-wholegrain towards the end, so it isn’t perfect, but this is a great option considering it’s available at Aldi (Simply Nature 21 Whole Grains & Seeds Bread).

The ingredient list provides valuable information. As a rule of thumb, I look for whole wheat flour, whole grain wheat flour, or white whole wheat listed as the first ingredient. Beware of terms like “multigrain” or “wheat flour” as it doesn’t necessarily translate to whole grains. Multigrain simply means that the bread contains multiple grains, but they might not be whole. While “wheat flour” can still refer to refined flour. For surety, it’s best to look for the mention of “whole.”

In this example you’ll see that the number one ingredient is “what flour” with the second being “whole wheat flour.” This means it’s a combination of the two and not a true “whole grain” bread. (Although, for store bought bread, Dave’s Killer Bread is one of the better options!)

In short, with plenty of marketing and labeling tactics prevalent in the bread industry, decoding labels can be a bit tricky. To ensure I’m making the healthiest choice, I focus on labels that clearly specify “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” and validating it with the ingredient list. This way, I can enjoy my bread without compromise.

Health benefits of whole grains

One of the main reasons I love whole grains is their ability to maintain a healthier heart. They have been found to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In fact, eating whole grains is associated with various benefits, including a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

In addition to heart health, whole grains can play a significant role in reducing our risk of cancer and stroke. The fiber and essential nutrients found in these grains have a protective effect against these health issues.

Whole grains have been found to improve metabolism, allowing our bodies to function more efficiently. The dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates provided by whole grains can also aid in proper digestive functioning and weight loss.

Not only are whole grains nutritious, but they can contribute to managing diabetes. If you’re going to eat grains, make sure they are whole (although I had to manage my own gestational diabetes by staying away from grains altogether, so talk to your doctor as the way your body works is different than someone else’s!).

Whole grains have a lower glycemic index compared to refined grains, enabling better blood sugar control. That is why I prefer whole-grain options to keep my blood sugar levels stable. (Check out the work the Glucose Goddess is doing. I have read both her books and follow her advice on eating my veggies first, fats and proteins second, and my carbs third. This helps reduce my glucose spikes! Love her work so much!)

Lastly, an often-overlooked aspect of whole grains is their ability to provide essential nutrients without added sodium. This is particularly important because most store-bought breads have salt, but not natural mineral salt. (Check out The Salt Fix by Dr. James Dinicolantonio on why we need more, not less, mineral salt in our diets!)

Making your own whole grain bread

I still buy store-bought bread from time-to-time (especially when we’re hosting a hamburger cookout for lots of people!) but here are some insights I’ve gained in my bread-making journey.

First of all, it’s essential to choose the right flour. I’ve found that using whole grain flour, wholemeal flour, or rye flour provides the health benefits of whole grains and gives the bread a rich and wholesome flavor. For those with gluten sensitivities, there are gluten-free options available as well! I always use organic flour when possible, as it ensures that my bread is free of pesticides and other chemicals.

My go-to bread recipe starts with combining water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil in whole grain flour to form a dough. Seriously, this recipe is SO EASY and uses only five ingredients.

Incorporating different grains and seeds adds both texture and nutritious value to my bread and it’s important to find what you like. Some options I like to experiment with are flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and even oats.

Overall, making my own whole grain bread has been a rewarding and delicious adventure. I encourage everyone to give it a try, and of course, don’t be afraid to get creative and customize your recipes – the possibilities are endless!

Tips for choosing the right bread

When I go to the grocery store, I often find myself overwhelmed with a variety of bread options available. With so many choices, it can be challenging to determine which bread is nutritionally better and offers the best flavor, especially when I’m looking for a nutty flavor. So, I’ve come up with a few friendly tips to make it easier to pick the right bread!

  1. Always check the ingredients list. It’s crucial to look for bread with whole grains listed as the first ingredient, like whole wheat or whole grain flour. This ensures that I’m getting all the nutrients and fiber that whole grains provide. Additionally, I avoid bread that contains a lot of added sugars or unnecessary additives.
  2. Read the ingredients. Even though brown bread looks healthier, it doesn’t always mean it’s whole grain. Sometimes, manufacturers use caramel coloring or molasses to darken the bread, so it’s essential to read the ingredients list to confirm that it’s genuinely whole grain.
  3. Pick what you like. When I want a nutty flavor in my bread, I opt for bread with added seeds and nuts like sunflower seeds, flax seeds, or walnuts. These not only contribute to the taste but also enhance the nutritional value of the bread. You can also consider trying bread made from various whole grains, such as barley, rye, or spelt, which can offer a unique and enjoyable flavor.
  4. Read the nutrition label. I look for bread that contains a good amount of fiber and protein. A high-fiber bread helps with digestion, while a decent amount of protein contributes to a feeling of fullness. It’s a bonus if the bread is low in saturated fats and sodium.
  5. Use your senses! I check the texture and smell of the bread before making my final decision. A fresh and good-quality whole grain bread should have a firm but slightly springy texture and a pleasant, earthy aroma.
Good marketers can make it feel like this tortilla is healthy because it only has 3g net carbs and doesn’t include artificial sweeteners. This contains oat fiber, which is the inedible hull of an oat grain. The wheat flour is not whole grain and it has soy flour, which I stay away from.

Following these tips has made my bread-shopping experience much more manageable and satisfying. Keep them in mind the next time you’re at the grocery store, and you’ll be well on your way to choosing the right bread for your taste and nutritional needs.

Incorporating whole grains into your diet

I’ve found that incorporating whole grains into my diet is not only beneficial for my health, but also adds a variety of flavors and textures to my meals. Whole grains provide essential nutrients like fiber, iron, protein, B vitamins, folate, and magnesium, which contribute to a healthy diet. They’re also a great source of phytonutrients that support my overall well-being.

For my breakfast, I love having a slice of whole-grain toast with my favorite spread or making whole-grain pancakes for a hearty and filling meal. Adding vegetables to my pancakes is a fantastic way to boost the nutritional value and sneak in some vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to making sandwiches, I prefer using whole-grain bread over white bread, as it’s richer in nutrients and has a satisfying texture. The fiber content in whole grains keeps me feeling full for longer, while the B vitamins, riboflavin, and folate support my energy levels throughout the day. Plus, by opting for whole-grain bread I avoid unnecessary refined grains that might be present in seemingly “brown” bread.

Sometimes, I like to mix and match different whole grains to create a diverse range of flavors in a single dish. A warm bowl of whole-grain porridge or a hearty grain salad, containing a blend of grains like quinoa, barley, and bulgur, is perfect for lunch or dinner. These combinations not only taste delicious but also provide a good balance of protein, fiber, and essential minerals like calcium and iron.

For those who are sensitive to gluten, there are still options for enjoying whole grains. Brown rice, wild rice, and gluten-free tortillas are great alternatives that can keep me on track with a healthy diet and still provide the benefits of whole grains.

By incorporating whole grains into my daily meals, I’m not only enjoying a variety of tasty and nutritious dishes but also contributing to a well-rounded and healthier diet without compromising on taste.

Wrapping it up

Brown bread is not always synonymous with whole grain bread. It turns out that brown bread can be a mixture of white flour and whole-wheat flour, with added ingredients like caramel for color. This can be a bit deceiving when trying to incorporate more whole grains into our diets.

Whole grain bread is not limited to just whole wheat, as there are various types of whole grains that can be included in the recipe. Examples include whole barley, brown rice, whole grain oats, and rolled oats, all of which are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

When baking with whole grains, it’s important to note that they may require different techniques than those used with refined flour. This could be particularly relevant to make high-rising loaves with 100% whole wheat flour. I learned that using enough water and following recipes specifically designed for whole grain flours can make all the difference in the final product’s texture and rise.

Overall, I encourage everyone to be discerning when shopping for brown or whole grain bread and to pay attention to the ingredients listed on the packaging. Remember that when it comes to bread, the color doesn’t always indicate the healthiest option. I hope that my findings help you make more informed decisions the next time you’re browsing the bread aisle!

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between brown and white bread?

Brown bread and white bread differ mainly in their flour content. Brown bread uses whole wheat flour or a mix of wheat and white flour, resulting in a brown color. White bread, on the other hand, uses bleached, processed white flour. This results in a lighter color and often a softer texture. Brown bread usually contains more fiber and nutrients, as whole grain flour can be bleached to make it white.

Is brown bread always healthier than white bread?

While brown bread is often considered healthier due to its higher fiber and nutrient content, it is not always the case. It’s essential to check the label to ensure that the bread is made with whole grains, as opposed to refined grains with added coloring. It is also important to look for bread with minimal added sugars and preservatives.

How does whole grain bread differ from whole wheat bread?

Whole grain bread contains all parts of the grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. This makes it more nutritious, as it retains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole wheat bread, on the other hand, uses only the wheat grain, but still contains all parts of it. Whole grain bread can include other grains like barley, oats, or rye, making it a more diverse option in terms of nutrients. Whole wheat bread contains nutrients like copper, iron, zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, fiber, protein, manganese, and B vitamins, though whole grain bread encompasses these as well, due to the inclusion of other grains.

What are the benefits of choosing multigrain bread?

Multigrain bread is made from a combination of different grains, adding variety to your diet and providing a wider range of nutrients. It can offer more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals from the diverse grains used in its composition. However, it’s essential to ensure that the multigrain bread is made using whole grains for maximum nutritional benefit, as multigrain bread is not always whole grain.

Can brown bread aid in weight loss?

Whole grain bread (not brown bread) can be a more nutritious option for those looking to lose weight, as it typically contains more fiber, which helps with digestion and promotes a feeling of fullness. However, portion sizes and total calorie intake are crucial for weight loss, so it’s essential to consume brown bread in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.

How do I make whole grain bread at home?

Making whole grain bread at home can be a fun and healthy way to enjoy bread with all its nutrients. To start, gather your ingredients (whole grain flour, water, salt, yeast, and any additional ingredients of your choice, like nuts or seeds). Mix the ingredients together, knead the dough until elastic, and then let it rise. Once it has doubled in size, shape the loaf and allow it to rise again. Finally, bake your bread in a preheated oven until golden brown.