In these health-conscious times, many people are giving the side eye to white bread, which is often highly processed. Cue the rise in popularity of multigrain bread, which is often touted as a healthier alternative. But how healthy are multigrain breads, really? As it turns out, the healthfulness of multigrain breads you find on your grocery shelves varies widely.
Whether a multigrain bread is healthy or not mostly boils down to what ingredients it contains. "Healthier breads include whole grain wheat or flour as the first ingredient on the ingredient list," Amy Davis, a registered dietitian told Real Simple. "In less healthy brands of bread you will likely see longer ingredient lists overall, which may include several emulsifiers and preservatives," Davis added. In this article, we take a closer look at 13 multigrain breads that include excessive levels of ingredients like sodium and sugar, low levels of beneficial substances like fiber and whole grains, and the addition of artificial additives that you might want to live without.
Country Hearth Multigrain Bread
The bread company Country Hearth's Multigrain bread raises a red flag with its first ingredient: enriched unbleached flour. While words like enriched sound healthy, according to the American Heart Association, these terms mean that the nutrient-dense germ and bran have been milled out of the grain. Ironically, enriching flour by adding back nutrients stripped out during processing adds yet another layer of processing to the ingredient.
This bread also includes sugar from four sources: light brown sugar, molasses, raisin juice concentrate, and honey. You'll also find some chemical additives in this brand, including dough conditioners like ascorbic acid. Though an essential nutrient for health, ascorbic acid has been linked in high doses to chronic diseases in some cases (per a 2021 study published in Foods). Calcium propionate, a preservative in this bread, was found in a 2019 study recapped in Nature to increase blood glucose. Finally, Country Hearth's Multigrain bread includes soybean oil. This common yet controversial ingredient may contribute to heart health. However, it also has been linked -- in a 2019 study published in PLOS One -- to diabetes and obesity, as well as liver problems and inflammatory immune responses like colitis, according to a 2023 study published in Gut Microbes.
The Rustik Oven Hearty Grains & Seeds Bread
A label of Bimbo Bakeries USA, The Rustik Oven touts a traditional European baking process that involves fermenting the dough for 14 hours before baking. This bread has a few things going for it, like no added sugars and 6 grams of protein. But it also includes the problematic, processed enriched wheat flour, and a higher-than-average calorie count of 170 per slice. According to Prevention, nutritionists recommend consuming breads with no more than 120 calories per slice.
The biggest concern with this bread, though, is its high sodium content (280 milligrams per slice). Excess sodium has been shown to contribute to everything from high blood pressure to heart disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis, stroke, bloating, and stomach cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a cap of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which means a single slice of The Rustik Oven Hearty Grains and Seeds Bread eats up around 12% of your daily total. Food scientists suggest you look for bread with 160 milligrams of sodium per slice.
Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Multigrain Bread
Pepperidge Farm luckily includes wheat berries -- a high-protein, cholesterol-reducing, low-sodium, whole wheat kernel, according to VerywellFit -- in the company's Farmhouse Multigrain bread. But this bread's use of enriched wheat flour instead of whole wheat flour, plus added sugar and chemical preservatives makes it less desirable.
The bread also includes both soybean oil -- a highly processed oil that some studies link to a higher risk of diabetes and other health problems -- and soy lecithin. Like soybean oil, soy lecithin has divided opinion among food scientists. It is labeled a safe additive by the FDA. However, according to a 2002 study published in the Iranian Journal of Science & Technology, it usually is processed using chemical solvents like hexane, which is considered a somewhat hazardous substance by the European Union, according to Clean Food Facts. However, 94 percent of America's soybeans are genetically modified, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For those who prioritize natural and clean ingredients, soy lecithin's status may be concerning. You may also want to avoid this bread.
Country Hearth Dakota Style 12-Grain Bread
This bread boasts an impressive list of grains and seeds, including wheat flour, barley, corn, oats, sesame seeds, brown rice flour, millet, rye meal, flax seed, sorghum flour, buckwheat flour, amaranth flour, and spelt flour. Some of these are not in their healthier, whole-grain form. Additionally, the first ingredient listed is enriched unbleached flour. This refined carbohydrate is considered unhealthy because it has had its nutrients and fiber removed. It has been also linked to high blood glucose and obesity, per Healthline.
Country Hearth's Dakota Style 12-Grain is also sweetened with light brown sugar, molasses, and raisin juice concentrate. This means the bread contains higher levels of added sugar, which may make some want to skip it. As a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutritionist explains, having too much added sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart health issues.
Considering the cornucopia of seeds, kernels, grits, and nuggets it contains, this bread is shockingly low in fiber, with just 1 gram of dietary fiber per slice. An essential part of a healthy diet, fiber aids in digestion, lowers cholesterol, helps regulate blood sugar, and may reduce your chance of cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Since additional fiber is often considered a particular benefit of multigrain breads, it's surprising to see how little this one contains.
Pepperidge Farm Light Style 7 Grain Bread
With this Light Style 7 Grain bread, Pepperidge Farm addresses consumer demand for both multigrain and lower-calorie bread. At just 45 calories per slice, it seemingly has the low-calorie goal covered. This bread's seven grains include wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, rice, and the ancient grain amaranth (which is actually a seed).
However, the ingredient list also includes DATEM: diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides. This white powder, derived from plant sources, is used as a dough conditioner to improve the texture and volume of baked goods. While FDA-approved, a 2002 study published by the World Health Organization found a link between DATEM and health conditions like heart fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth. Per Is It Bad For You? some healthcare professionals suspect DATEM is a causative factor in leaky gut syndrome. This condition, according to WebMD, allows toxins to leak through the intestines into the bloodstream, causing bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains.
Additionally, Pepperidge Farm Light Style 7 Grain over-sweetens the pot in the form of sugar, molasses, and sucralose. Also known as Splenda, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, reports WebMD. It's been linked in some studies to health effects like negative changes in the gut biome, weight gain, metabolic dysfunction, liver inflammation, and cancer, per Healthline.
Open Nature Flax & Grain Bread
A brand of Albertsons Companies, Open Nature pledges products that are dye-free, made with naturally derived and biodegradable ingredients whenever possible and never tested on animals. All good things. It also scores points for using expeller-pressed canola oil, which as Goodnature points out, is a healthier alternative to processes that use chemical solvents to extract oils. Open Nature's Flax & Grain Bread also uses parboiled brown rice, which removes most arsenic found in the outer layer of this grain (via the University of Sheffield).
However, even though this bread overall gets a lot of things right, and even though expeller-pressed canola is one of the least troublesome oils, it still adds a small amount of fat. Additionally, Open Nature's Flax & Grain Bread contains added sugars and low fiber content -- there is just 1 gram of fiber per slice -- that make this brand a near-miss in the healthy bread game.
Brownberry Multigrain Sandwich Thins
Brownberry is another brand under the umbrella of Bimbo Bakeries USA, the largest baked goods company in the country. The Brownberry website promises "no added nonsense." This, explains the brand, means that its breads don't contain high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, preservatives, or bleached flours. Hurray! That said, there are a few items of concern on the Brownberry Multigrain Sandwich Thins label.
You'll find the rather vague words "natural flavor" listed among the ingredients in this bread. While common in ingredient lists for everything from soda to cereal to vegan meat alternatives, this phrase doesn't convey much actual information. The FDA explains that natural flavors are ingredients derived from natural substances that add flavoring, but no nutrients, to a food. Add to this a high sodium content (290 milligrams, or 13% of the daily recommended allowance), added sugar, and the presence of DATEM, which has been linked to digestive issues, and this is one multigrain bread that you might want to give the boot.
Food Club Old Fashioned 12 Grain Enriched Bread
Food Club foods are available in a wide variety of grocery store chains in most states. The Food Club Old Fashioned 12 Grain Enriched Bread boasts a 12-grain blend including barley, corn, oats, triticale, rye, brown rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, flax, amaranth, and spelt. However, the first ingredient on the label is highly processed enriched unbleached flour and four sources of sugar are listed: light brown sugar, honey, molasses, and raisin juice concentrate. It is a particularly low source of fiber, with just 1 gram per slice, and unusually high in sodium, at 190 milligrams per slice.
In addition, this bread includes dough conditioners and preservatives from chemical sources, including monoglycerides. This substance is a type of fatty acid that serves as an emulsifier in baked goods to bond water and oils to improve texture and extend shelf life. While generally recognized as safe by the FDA, there is little research on the effect of monoglycerides on the body. Per MedicineNet, this substance contains a small amount of harmful trans fats and may be contaminated with toxins during processing. Given these factors, it might be wisest to give this bread a pass.
Oroweat Grains Almighty Gut Balance Bread
The company Oroweat promises to "bake like grandmas," on its website. Considering the stereotype of doting grandparents spoiling their families with butter-infused, cream-filled, and candy-coated treats, this may not be the most effective health claim. Nevertheless, this brand, which is marketed as Oroweat, Arnolds, or Brownberry in different parts of the United States, has much going for it.
The company's Grains Almighty line of products features sprouted whole grains, which make grains more digestible and nutrient-rich (per The Oldways Whole Grains Council). The Oroweat website suggests this bread's so-called gut balance comes from whole grains and prebiotics, non-digestible substances that nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut. This bread is also relatively high in protein and fiber, with 7 grams of each in every two slices. So far, so good.
However, this bread contains added sugar. There are 4 grams of sugar from sugar, honey, and molasses. Additionally, there is some fat in this product; 4 grams of it from soybean and palm oils. The biggest eye-opener from this bread is its sodium content: a whopping 310 milligrams per serving. That's about 13% of your daily recommended intake.
Udi's Gluten Free Delicious Whole Grain Sandwich Bread
Owned by Conagra, Udi's offers a selection of gluten-free artisan breads available at Walmart stores nationwide. For the 3.1 million Americans who avoid consuming gluten, this bread seems like a great option. After all, it's gluten-free and multigrain. It's got to be healthy! Unfortunately, Udi's Gluten Free Delicious Whole Grain Sandwich Bread is too good to be true.
The first thing to notice about the ingredient list for this bread is that it is long. Like, 24 different ingredients long. Considering that the only really essential ingredients in bread are flour, yeast, salt, and water, it's a safe bet that more doesn't mean better when it comes to what's included in a basic loaf. This is especially true when those extra ingredients include things like calorie-dense cane sugar, fat-filled canola oil, and apple fiber, a form of cellulose. Used to bulk up the fiber content, cellulose is a fibrous substance derived from plant cell walls, reports the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Yet this bread has only 1 gram of fiber per slice. What gives? Since it also comes with a lot of sodium, around 270 milligrams per serving, there are better gluten-free multigrain options out there.
La Brea Gluten Free Sliced Multigrain Artisan Sandwich Bread
If you're looking for a bread that's gluten-free and multigrain, La Brea's artisan sliced sandwich bread could look attractive. It's got whole flax seeds, cornflakes, sunflower seeds, millet, and pumpkin seeds, giving it a rustic, hearty and wholesome vibe. Sadly, that's about where the health stops. The ingredient list includes three different forms of cellulose: modified cellulose gum, cellulose gum, and powdered cellulose. When you realize that cellulose has no calories and contains no nutrition (per Weekand), this feels like a whole lot of not much packed into each loaf.
You'll also find some other shady characters on the label: canola oil (which brings the fat); sugar, corn syrup solids, and molasses powder to spike the sugar count; and white rice flour, which is tasteless and stripped of nutrients (via Better Homes & Gardens). Ouch. With more than a quarter of its 130 calories coming from fat, and a way-high sodium content of 310 milligrams, it might be time for La Brea's artisans to go back to the drawing board.
Sara Lee Artesano Smooth Multigrain
It may be true that nobody doesn't like Sara Lee, but nobody wants a bread that's a whole lot less healthy than you'd expect. To be fair, nutritious isn't generally the first phrase that springs to mind in connection with a company best known for pound cake and cream pies. But the name of this product, Sara Lee Artesano Smooth Multigrain bread, presents a kind of wholesome allure. Sadly, the reality is not as sweet as Sara Lee's reputation.
The bad news starts with the first ingredient, enriched wheat flour, and continues with added sugars, the maddeningly uninformative "natural flavors," and soy in the form of soybean oil and lecithin, both of which have been associated with digestive upset and thyroid issues (per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health). With 3 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber, and 220 milligrams of sodium, there are better multigrain breads on the market.
Glutino Gluten Free Multigrain English Muffins
One of Conagra's more than 90 food brands, Glutino promises products that are "forever gluten free." That's fair enough -- it doesn't also promise health. Honestly, the ingredients in Glutino's Gluten Free Multigrain English Muffins are about par for the course in gluten-free breads. It subs corn, millet, and brown rice flour for wheat flour, throws in some flax and sunflower seeds, plus cellulose for bulk.
However, this bread won't win any prizes for dietary fiber content, with just 2 grams per serving. Its sugar count (7 grams per slice) is on the high side. Where this product goes all the way off the rails is in its sodium content: a staggering 590 milligrams in a slice. According to the FDA, that's 26% of the daily recommended intake. That's more than three times the sodium in a bag of Lay's potato chips. With a Harvard Medical School study suggesting that excess sodium is responsible for 2.3 million deaths a year, you'll want to back away from this salt-saturated slice.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.