What (should be) in your sandwich bread?

If you feel like you are doing the right thing by buying and eating “wheat” bread from your grocery store – you could be wrong. And if you are buying white sandwich bread or some sort of Whitewheat bread (like I used to buy) you might really be in for a surprise! Have you checked the list of ingredients on your sandwich bread? If you were to make your own bread at home, what ingredients do you think you would need? It really only takes a few essential ingredients to make bread: flour, water, yeast and maybe a little salt. Some bread recipes might also include some extras like honey (which does help preserve the bread), nuts, raisins, etc.

I used to buy Arnold “Whole Grains” Health Nut bread for my husband. I recently counted the ingredients on the label of his beloved bread – 40!  As most of you know the ingredients are listed in a certain order. According to the FDA’s website “Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first.” So here is the list of what I found in this supposedly healthy “whole grain” bread that also contains “unbleached enriched wheat flour” which may sound okay at first glance:


image courtesy of www.grainmills.com.au

Now most of us have heard that white flour is “bad” for us. But, why is it so bad and is there anything wrong with “unbleached enriched wheat flour” as listed above? Well, I must break out the anatomy of a wheat kernel to properly explain this one. As you can see the wheat kernel has a few key parts: bran, germ and endosperm. Over a hundred years ago wheat was ground between big stone wheels, which removed the bran, but could not remove the germ (a.k.a. the embryo) of the wheat kernel. According to Michael Pollan the germ contributes “some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins”, although once the germ is crushed during the milling process it releases a nutrient rich oil that gives the flour a very short shelf life. So in the late 1800s rollers were developed for grinding grain, which “made it possible to remove the germ and then grind the remaining endosperm” which is basically a “big packet of starch and protein.” We were then left with a gorgeous white powder that could travel long distances without spoiling and was almost nutritionally worthless – Michael Pollan calls it “the first fast food.” Since then food scientists figured out what happened and began fortifying the refined grain with vitamins to try to add back what they thought was missing. This is why white flour – which is still technically made from the wheat plant – is often listed as “enriched” on your food labels. It also explains why when I recently compared the labels of my husband’s Arnold “whole grain” bread to my Nature’s Own “Whitewheat” bread it appeared – as if it was an illusion – that the Whitewheat had more vitamins and nutrients. But, studies have proven that there are “additional health benefits to eating whole grains that none of the nutrients (they added back in) could explain.” So you are better off eating real whole grain flour rather than white flour that tries to imitate what may or may not be important in the real thing. This summary also explains why whole grain flour should be kept in your fridge or freezer – did I really want to eat something like white flour that would stay “fresh” sitting on my pantry shelf forever anyway?

Back to the topic of what kind of bread we should eat! Now that we know it should only have whole-wheat flour and no enriched white flour what about all the other stuff they put in the grocery store bread that I can’t even pronounce? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my husband and I both picked through the majority of the sandwich breads (including the ones from the bakery) at our local Harris Teeter, Trader Joes and Earthfare and we could not find much of anything with suitable ingredients. So you could be adventurous and try to make your own bread or take a shortcut like I did and find a local bakery to make bread for you! I recently discovered and absolutely love Great Harvest Bread Company (which is a franchise with locations all over) because not only do they bake their bread daily, but they also grind their own wheat every morning – that is much better than I can do at home! You still have to pay attention though and make sure you don’t regularly buy their white breads that contain sugar, but instead stick to their whole-wheat options. Our new staple sandwich bread (which is also their most popular product) is their Honey Whole Wheat Bread that is made with the following FIVE ingredients:


At the Charlotte location this bread does cost $5 a loaf, but halfway through our first sandwiches with our new bread we quickly realized we were filling up fast – because it is REAL food! I used to fix my 2-year-old a whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich (she loves some PB&J), but now she usually fills up on a half. I only eat about a half sandwich of it myself. So the loaf does go a long way…and in my opinion it is very tasty for whole wheat bread (and that is coming from a previous white bread eater)!

PS – There are a few other things I have learned about buying bread from a bakery. You are not supposed to keep it in the fridge (for better consistency) and the shelf life is about 7 – 8 days. The bread can easily be frozen. We splurged one week on their Cinnamon Raisin Bread (INGREDIENTS: OUR OWN FRESHLY STONE-MILLED WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, WATER, RAISINS, MOLASSES, YEAST, SALT, CINNAMON) and I froze half the loaf because we wouldn’t be able to get through the whole thing in a week. Also, they offer some items that can be special ordered like hamburger buns (minimum order is a dozen – freeze some for later!)



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  • Comments

    1. CatK |

      I see bread at my local farmers with ‘Organic whole wheat flour, organic unbleached wheat flour, water, organic wheat gluten, cultured wheat starch, sea salt and fresh yeast.’ would this be one to avoid because of unbleached wheat flour and wheat gluten?

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

      Hi Cat. Yes, it sounds like it is not a 100% whole grain. But, it is a lot better than most store bought bread ingredient lists. ;)

    3. Tracy Moran |

      After months of following you on Facebook and reading your website I decided to make some very important changes for our family. Bread being #1 on my list I head to our local bakery and ask to see an ingredient list of their Whole Wheat Loaf and Country Grain Loaf. Both listed “Ascorbic Acid, Lipase, Amylase” as their last 3 ingredients. I asked the baker what these were and this is what she said “I don’t know, I don’t add those in, they must just happen naturally”. So, what are these ingredients???!!?

      Whole wheat: Whole grain whole Wheat Flour, water, yeast, salt, sunflower oil, wheat flour, malted barley flour, ascorbic acid, lipase, enzyme (amylase).

      I’m very confused. lol

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Tracy. They are additives and preservatives. I can’t tell you how they actually go there, though. :)

    4. Danette McOmber |

      I am in the process of switching our family over to as many “real foods” as we can. We were already eating 100% Whole Grain bread from our grocery store, but the ingredient list was long and contained HFCS among other things. Lisa recommends Great Harvest Bakery, and I LOVE their bread, but in doing some research on their website this is what I found:

      “Although we are not an organic bakery, we are fortunate to have a very close relationship with each of our farmers. That relationship allows us to be able to tell exactly which farmer grew the wheat in each loaf of bread. Our farmers do not use chemical treatment after the wheat kernel forms on the plant, but they do apply a post-emergent herbicide and pesticide to the plant when it’s in the leaf stage. This is to ensure that our wheat gets the right nutrients and has a consistent level of quality that we need to make the level of products we desire.

      We do have some Great Harvest bakeries that offer a limited organic product line-up. Contact your local bakery to see what products they offer.”

      My question is this: How important is organic wheat in the bread we eat? It looks like Great Harvest uses pesticides on their wheat, so if organic is important, maybe that isn’t the way to go? Very interested to hear what you think before I decide which bread I want to switch to. If organic is a big deal with wheat, then I will keep searching. The Dave’s Killer Bread is organic, but I love the flavor of Great Harvest much more.

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Danette. Lisa trusts the quality of Great Harvest Bread and that is her bread of choice when she doesn’t make it herself. You have to decide what is best for you, however. Dave’s Killer Bread is a good option, too.

    5. Jenny |

      Is here at harvest bread organic? Everything I can find says it is not.

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi. Are you asking about Great Harvest? It is not organic.

    6. Jenny |

      Sorry I just saw the comment above asking the same thing. Thank you! :)

    7. Nicole |

      What about vital wheat gluten? What is it and should that be in the bread?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Nicole. Vital wheat gluten is added to give structure to bread. It is not an ingredient we would use.

        • Sarah |

          Vital wheat gluten ?
          Why is it an ingredient you wouldn’t use? Is it because it’s processed? I just bought a wheat grinder and am searching out the best recipes to make whole grain bread my kids are happy to eat. That is a common ingredient. I like that it improves the bread texture. I want to understand why it’s not recommended to bed use. Thanks so much!

          • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

            Hi Sarah. Yes, it is because it is a highly processed and highly concentrated ingredient. There is even some conjecture that using it as a commercial additive might be responsible for the rise in gluten sensitivity.

    8. Sue Hawn |

      What do the different colored ties stand for on your loaf bread?

    9. Catherine |

      So, I make bread a lot- have tried tons and tons of recipes for 100% whole wheat bread. Before I started on a real food journey, I would use soy lecithin or vital wheat gluten. I no longer do, but I am always frustrated that my bread ends up drier and crumbly without either of these ingredients. A lot of people say just use a little bit of white flour to give it the gluten content you need for the structure. Is that any better than using either of the other two ingredients? How do companies like Great Harvest and Aspen Mills have bread that has 5 ingredients with such a good crumb?! If they can do it, why can’t I???

    10. Katerina |

      What are your thoughts on Ezekiel bread? I believe it is a sprouted bread. Do you know what breads at Walmart would only have 5 ingredients? I don’t have a bakery to get a 5 ingredient bread.

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Katerina. Not sure what Walmart might offer but Ezekiel is a great bread choice!

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