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:


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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. :)

  5. 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. ;)

  6. 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?

  7. 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

  8. 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. :)

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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. :)

  15. Whole Foods seeduction bread is made with untreated whole wheat flour, untreated wheat flour, whole rye flour and various seeds and malted barley. Are these ingredients OK? Thanks.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jessica. Sounds like the second ingredient is a refined flour. We try to stick to a 100% whole grain. :)

  16. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hello Dawn. That one would not qualify under “the rules” but it certainly has a better ingredient list than most breads you would go out and purchase in a grocery store. My biggest concern would be that it is not 100% whole grain and that it has three different sugar sources. ~Amy

  17. I went to a local bakery, and asked for a list of what goes into their wheat bread. I received this list, and I was wondering what you thought:
    1. Water
    2. Yeast
    3. Clear flour
    4. Whole wheat flour
    5. Brown sugar
    6. Molasses
    7. Honey
    8. Salt
    9. Lard
    10. Milk powder

  18. Have you ever ordered your Great Harvest Bread online? I looked at their website and was wondering if the bread is fresh when delivered. Maybe they come frozen? The Great Harvest Bread Company is a little ways from us, so I thought maybe trying the delivery. Just curious if anyone has tried it.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Becca. We have them locally so there is not need for us to order. If you can’t find that info online, I’d just give the company a call. ~Amy


    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Linda. That is a short ingredient list. Is it 100% whole grain? That would be my only caution. ~Amy

  20. OK, this confirms it, I am officially a food dork. I got super excited today to find some bread at Trader Joe’s with only 3 ingredients (including water)! It’s called Pain Pascal Demi Miche, and it’s made of organic whole wheat flour, water and salt. I usually make my own in a breadmaker, but it’s nice to have a store-bought alternative.

    Plus this bread is GIANT – it’s sold as a half round with a cross-section that is easily the size of Shaquille O’Neill’s foot. I see some huge grilled cheese sandwiches in my future. :)

  21. Is there a brand of bread which meets the criteria and can be ordered online or from Amazon? We live in a very small town with few options. I am trying to make homemade bread but am not there quite yet! Thanks!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kaci. Ezekial comes the closest to meeting the five ingredient rule. Dave’s Killer Bread is another brand that has a pretty good ingredient list. Both can be ordered on Amazon. ~Amy

  22. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Lisa. Do you have a bread machine because they do most of the work for you? You can often find them at second hand place very inexpensively. Outside of that, Ezekial sprouted grain bread is a pretty good option but it does not have the texture of a soft sandwich bread. ~Amy

  23. Hi,
    I am very excited to read your blog and try this challenge. I am having a tough time finding 100% whole wheat bread. The bakeries I have visited have informed me that 70% whole wheat is the most they do. I did buy ingredients to make my own, but I realize that this isn’t a permanent practical solution. Do you have any suggestions?

  24. Are you familiar with The Fresh Market and any of the sandwich bread that they sell? I am not close to a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or any other kind of good bakery.

  25. Hi there, Thanks for the info on the breads! What do you think about Ezekiel bread? It seems to fit you criteria. Or does it?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Chris. Ezekial is one of the few breads you can find in the grocery store that even comes close. They do add wheat gluten which we would not when making homemade. Ezekial gets a thumbs up. ~Amy

  26. On Great Harvest’s “bread nutrition” page on their website it lists 6 for the sugar in Honey Whole Wheat. I’m confused. I read in your post above that it doesn’t have any sugar.

  27. What about a bread recipe that does not require a bread machine, I bought a kitchen aide stand mixer especially to make bread but haven’t found a kid approved recipe yet. suggestions? thanks

  28. The Great Harvest Bread Company recently closed by me and there is not anyone near me. I loved the Honey Whole Wheat Any other suggestions? We do have a Trader Joe’s near by is there any breads you can recommend

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Diana. Ugh, that’s sad (about Great Harvest). Have you tried our honey whole wheat recipe: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/08/17/recipe-honey-whole-wheat-sandwich-bread-for-bread-machine/? I do not believe Lisa buys bread form TJ’s. I buy one from time to time that is 100% whole multigrain and organic. It is not 5 or less ingredients but has very few non-whole ingredients. Just look very closely at the labels. Good luck. ~Amy

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Annmarie. Oats are a whole grain. If the ingredient list is short and there are no added refined grains, sounds like it could be a good option. ~Amy