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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242 thoughts on “What (should be) in your sandwich bread?”

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  1. georgettadolphin@hotmail.com

    So here is something crazy. My parents are from Bulgaria. There people eat only white bread for decades, same in Italy and in France. White bread for all three main meals.. Folks live into their 90’s consuming white bread for breakfast dunked in milk or yogurt. They consume a loaf of bread for lunch, dunked in soups and stews. So when I come around and talk about white bread not being good and all the nutrients are gone, I hear an earful. Granted their white break tastes truly so delicious and yummy, I do my best to refrain, but what is the best thing to say to folks who live into their 90’s with that type of bread? I personally have stopped eating bread, hybridized whole wheat simply scares me. What is your answer? Thank you.

  2. Hi,

    I found a bread that we love that has unbleached and unbromated WHITE FLOUR. Is this ok? Can I do better?

    Thank you!

  3. Lakeesha T Stewart

    HI my name is Lakeesha and I would like to know more about what food we eating are real and the one that are fake.

  4. Hi, I just wanted to make sure that the bread I’ve been currently using is okay even though it has a long list of ingredients! I’ve been buying Trader Joe’s daily bread, and here is the ingredient label: Organic sprouted wheat berries, water, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted millet, organic malted barley flour, organic sprouted lentils, organic sprouted spelt, yeast, organic wheat gluten, sea salt, organic cultured wheat starch and organic whole wheat flour (for freshness). Anything suspicious there?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. That’s a pretty good ingredient list. Could do without the added gluten and starch.

  5. Thanks for such great information! This is a topic that I have been really interested in, but have struggled to find advice for those of us that are new to real food. I have been doing some research and haven’t been able to locate a local bakery that makes bread. However, we do have a Panera Bread that makes a whole grain wheat bread. Do you have any insight into their processes and the quality of their breads?

    Thanks for sharing your journey and insight!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. No, not sure. They have made strides toward cleaning up their menu and ingredients. This is stated on their site: “We’re committed to sourcing and serving high-quality ingredients without artificial additives including added MSG, artificial trans fats, and ingredients we don’t believe need to be in your food.” But, I see no specifics regarding their bread.

  6. found a great harvest bread co. near me can you please recommend other breads to try from there…my family loves a sweet bread.

  7. So I spent about 30 minutes in the bread aisle reading labels. I am still not sure I made the right choice. The whole grain stamp is at 100% but there are more than 5 ingredients…some I cannot pronounce: The one I chose is Healthy Life Soft Style All Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat. Is there a grocery store bread that is better for us than the rest? I am in a smaller town and do not have a Great Harvest Bread Company around. Advice needed!!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. Not familiar with that brand. Ezekial sprouted wheat is usually available in the frozen section and it is always a good choice.

      1. Once you buy the Ezekial Bread do you leave it on the counter or do I have to re-freeze?

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        I keep it frozen and just take out what I am going to use. It thaws very quickly.

  8. They seemed to have changed their recipe. Maybe they are reading your blog:)

    Lots of ingredients still, but they dropped the enriched flour. I actually think lots of ingredients is good if they are good ingredients. Having lots of grains and nuts makes for a more interesting bread. There are still plenty of other ingredients I wish were not in there, such as preservatives and sugars.

    My current list reads:


  9. I know what white flour is. I know what whole-grain flour is. my question is – what the heck is wheat flour? I know it’s refined but what IS it?

  10. Are there breads that you suggest that we could order online? We don’t have one of those close by and my kids go through bread like water, so I’d like to find a healthier option and I’m not quite ready to create my own just yet (looking at ordering a breadmaker soon though). Thank you :)

  11. For those times when homemade bread isn’t available or if you don’t have access to a bakery that makes whole wheat, I found a good store-bought bread yesterday at Trader Joe’s. It’s called “Harvest Whole Wheat” and lists the following ingredients: Stone ground whole wheat flour, filtered water, honey, cracked wheat, sea salt, yeast. It isn’t the most amazing sandwich bread I’ve ever eaten but at least it isn’t filled with soy, dough conditioners and who knows what else. My 5-year-old ate w ate his sandwich without a problem. Definitely is helping supplement my 1 weekly loaf of homemade. I wish it was organic though.

  12. So grateful for all the work you have put into this site. Question on buying bread from a bakery like you mention above– it’s usually not organic– do you feel like that’s ok? We have a couple of local bakeries in town but I’ve been afraid of GMO and chemical covered wheat…would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. The bakery we buy our bread from isn’t exactly organic, but they grind their own wheat and use less than 5 ingredients. I would do your research on that company and ask them questions. It will help you make a decision you are comfortable with.

    2. I just learned that Arnold bread has soybean oil in it. I looked at my thighs after eating this disgusting bread and saw them larger from the estrogen spike from the soy! I looked at the label and sure enough there it was the hormone disrupting weight gain causing soy! I am very allergic to soybean oil as most people are and don’t know.. they will have heartburn and GERD from eating soy. why is Arnold putting soybean oils in bread?? They are disgusting for this! I am also getting GERD which I haven’t had in years by cutting out soy. GERD is the body telling you to stop eating soy the photo estrogen the hexaned and the GMO’d soy!! Arnold should be sued for not putting this allergen up front on the front of the package so people see it contains soy right away. This company is disgusting with their processed garbage breads.. It must come out that there putting soybean in their breads. Soy causes breast cancer!!!

  13. 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.

  14. 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???

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

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

      1. 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!

      2. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

  16. 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

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

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

  17. 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. ;)

  18. 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?

  19. I’m looking for a sandwich bread until I can afford a bread machine. We made our switch to real food about 3 weeks ago. I tried Eureka brand organic saaaa-wheat and I love it, but it has sugar,molasses, calcium sulfate and sunflower lecithin. All other ingredients are good. What are your ideas about this bread?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Tammi. Sugar and molasses together as well as the other additives would likely have me looking for another bread but you have to find what works best for you. Short ingredient lists on bread labels are hard to find in mainstream grocery stores. Ezekial, found in the freezer section, is a good option as are Dave’s Killer Bread and Alvarado Street Bakery brands. ~Amy

  20. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Amy. It does get easier…you get into a routine and know where things are, what you like, and learn to shop pretty efficiently, etc. :)

  21. Thank you Amy! I’m on day three and still plugging along! I do feel a bit stressed out. I’m either always in the kitchen or a grocery/health food store. haha! I’d imagine it gets easier once you adapt. And to think, I am only doing this for myself. I can’t imagine trying to do this for a family!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Dawn. It does get easier as you get used to the shopping and know more quickly what works for you! :) ~Amy

  22. Aaahhh…nevermind. I figured it out by reading further. As long as it’s 100% Whole of any grain it’s ok. However, is sprouted wheat ok? Or is that considered more processed than wheat that isn’t sprouted? I’m a little iffy on the sprouted part. Not sure if it even matters.

  23. So whole rye or whole spelt are fine as well?? I know Lisa mentions whole wheat often, but other grains are fine as well as long as they are 100%, right?? This might be a silly question, but I am new to this and just trying to figure it all out. I found bread made by the Berlin Natural Bakery. The ingredients are fresh stone-ground whole sprouted spelt flour, water, honey, yeast, sea salt.

  24. This question may have been answered before, but I didn’t see it. I’m gearing up to start the 10-day pledge and I’m looking for an acceptable bread. Trader Joe’s Harvest Whole Wheat Bread looks like a good option, although it contains 6 ingredients. The ingredients are: Stone ground whole wheat flour, filtered water, honey, cracked wheat, sea salt, yeast. Is this okay?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Susan. That’s a pretty great ingredient list. Technically, it’s one too many…but we can let that slide. :) ~Amy

  25. With a family of 8, we go through a loaf of bread in one meal. Do you know of a good recipe for bread? I do have loaf pans and a bread machine, and I enjoy making my own bread when I have time, but I’m pretty sure the recipe I was using used at least some white flour.

  26. I have a question about La Brea bread. My 3 year old loves their rosemary loaf and eats it daily. Do you know how processed is it? Or is it something she can have daily? Thanks

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Sandy. I’m not familiar with the bread but an everyday bread should be a 100% whole grain. :)