The healthiest sliced breads at the supermarket, according to nutritionists

The sweet-smelling bread aisle at the supermarket ― much like the cereal aisle ― is packed with options and marketing claims that can confuse consumers, making it difficult to choose a healthy product. A package touting “whole grains” and “all-natural” ingredients can be filled with processed flour and excess sugar and salt. Only when you turn the package over to read the ingredients list and nutrition facts can you get an accurate picture of what you’re buying.

If the thought of scanning labels on dozens of products seems overwhelming, don’t fret. We chatted with three nutritionists to get to the bottom of what makes for a healthy bread option and how to determine if a loaf actually lives up to the nutritional benefits listed on its packaging.

First things first: Carbs are not the enemy.

Nutritious sliced bread options are out there, and if chosen carefully they can be a great source of whole grains, protein and fiber. “Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (along with fat and protein) and are found not only in grains but in fruit, milk and vegetables as well,” Rebecca Ditkoff, founder of Nutrition by RD told HuffPost. “Carbs are our body’s primary fuel source and what it uses for energy first.”

The key thing to understand is that “not all carbohydrates are created equal,” Ditkoff explained. Refined carbohydrates, like those found in sugary drinks, white bread and white rice, are stripped of much of their nutrients and fiber, and when consumed in excess have been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Complex carbohydrates (found in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables), on the other hand, offer fiber, vitamins and minerals and are an essential part of a healthy diet.

The word “whole” should be in the first ingredient.

Despite what the packaging says, if the first ingredient isn’t a whole grain, you should move on to another option. Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pointed out that companies can claim they have a “whole grain” product, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a whole grain is the main ingredient. If the first ingredient is enriched white flour or wheat flour, this indicates you’re looking at a bread made primarily with refined grains.

Whole wheat, Valdez explained, contains all parts of the grain: the germ, endosperm and bran, while refined grains contain only the endosperm. The refining process removes the bran and germ from flour and takes with it a portion of the protein, fiber and nutrients found naturally in the grain. Though refined grains are often enriched to add back some of these nutrients, it’s best to consume grains in their whole, unadulterated form.

Be wary of misleading marketing messaging.

Words like “multigrain” and “whole grain” can be misleading, and phrases like “clean ingredients” don’t mean much at all, Natalie Rizzo, a registered dietitian based in New York City, told HuffPost. “I think one of the most misleading terms on any food is ‘natural,’” said Rizzo, who cites the Food and Drug Administration page on the use of the word in food labeling. For the FDA, foods labeled as “natural” primarily indicate that they do not contain artificial additives, but they don’t address nutritional benefits or food production methods. “It’s an ambiguous term that doesn’t always mean what you think,” said Rizzo.

Breads labeled “multigrain” may sound healthy, but all it means is that the bread is made with more than one type of grain. Read: Refined grains are still grains. Valdez noted that the term can be mistaken for “whole grains.” Make sure you’re reading ingredient labels to determine whether you’re looking at a bread packed with whole grains or a refined product with some oats mixed in. In addition to whole wheat, Ditkoff lists brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur and corn as other beneficial whole grains to look for. 

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Read on to see which breads are the best and worst for you.

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The Best

Based on their low calorie count, these are the best seven breads for you.

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Corn Tortilla

Corn tortillas are a great alternative to a heavy bread. With only 52 calories they are ideal for breakfast wraps or an on-the-go lunch.

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Pumpernickel Bread

If you love to build a sandwich with this brown bread you are right on target! Pumpernickel only has 65 calories in every slice, so no need to cut it out of your diet!

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Multi-Grain Bread

Next on our list of healthy breads is multi-grain, packed with tons of nutritious grains with only 65 calories a slice. Serve this for breakfast with a great egg dish and you are in business.

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Whole Wheat Bread

Right next to multi-grain bread, is whole wheat bread with 79 calories. An added bonus is that this bread is a great source of magnesium because of its whole grains! Magnesium helps to control the use of glucose and insulin in your body.

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White Bread

While white bread is highly lacking in terms of nutrition, with as low as 79 calories, it's not going to ruin your diet if you indulge every now and then. Check out this awesome sandwich idea for tomorrow's lunch!

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Rye Bread

Rye bread is rich in fiber which is amazing for a well-balanced diet. It also only has 83 calories, so what's not to love about this tasty bread?

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Flour Tortilla

Similar to corn tortillas, these ones, made of flour, are relatively low in calories with 85 for a regular size tortilla. It is a great way to make a delicious lunch that won't leave you feeling super bloated or over-stuffed.

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The Worst

After checking out the best breads for your health, let's take a look at the worst! You might want to beware of these high calorie carbs.

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Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread

Even though everyone is following the gluten-free trend, sometimes the alternatives are not the best! Most gluten-free breads have around 130 calories. It may be better to just stick with the real thing if you can.

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English Muffin

As tasty as they are, english muffins pack in a few calories as well. This type of bread might not be the best for your diet with 134 calories per muffin.

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Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Moving even further up the calorie ladder is cinnamon raisin bread with 160 calories per slice. Plus, it can be packed with unwanted, added sugars which are not beneficial for your waistline.

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Pita Bread

Although seemingly light and healthy, pita bread has about 165 calories and over 320 grams of sodium. This may not be the ideal bread to choose for your next sandwich.

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Hard Roll/Kaiser Roll

Everyone loves a great deli sandwich, but with 167 calories per roll, a kaiser roll is not the healthiest bread option.

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Biscuits

Even though these are a great southern classic, they might not be worth the 212 calories. And that is just for a regular size one. If you opt for the larger biscuit (like most restaurants serve) you will end up devouring over 300 calories just from your choice of bread!

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Bagels

With even more calories than a biscuit, bagels are a real diet ruiner. Most bagels contain 310 calories and lack many nutrients and vitamins that you could get from whole grains. Think of it this way: a bagel is equivalent to three or four pieces of bread.

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Beyond the core ingredients, make sure to note sugar and sodium content.

Though sugar is naturally occurring in flour and produced through the breadmaking process, “most breads are sweetened,” said Rizzo, who chooses breads with natural sweeteners like honey, cane sugar or fruit juice over those made with artificial sweeteners. Ditkoff recommended looking for breads with 3 grams of sugar or less per serving.

Bread is one of the top sodium contributors in the American diet, so it’s definitely something to look out for, Valdez said. While FDA guidelines recommend consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (1,500 mg for high-risk individuals with hypertension, etc.), most people consume much more.

Here are the breads these nutritionists love.

Ditkoff recommends Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 bread, a nutrient-rich option made from sprouted grains, lentils and soybeans, boasting 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per serving.

She’s also a fan of Trader Joe’s cracker-like Crispbread, both the whole grain and gluten-free varieties. It has 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, and its top ingredients include sunflower seeds, oat flakes, sesame seeds and flax seeds.

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The Best

It's important to know your health priorities when selecting the proper meat. There are meats you can enjoy that won't affect your cholesterol or send your sodium levels through the roof. Read on to learn more.

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Pork Tenderloin

While pork can definitely be considered a heavy food, lean cuts of pork can be pretty nutrient rich and even low in calories. A three ounce serving of pork tenderloin has 122 calories and three grams of fat.

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Buffalo

Buffalo (also known as bison) can be a great healthy alternative to red meat like steak or beef. The taste of buffalo is comparable to that of more common red meats and it has half as much fat and fewer calories.

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Roast Beef

If you can’t bear to give up deli meats, which are notorious for nitrates, then roast beef is your best bet. It’s leaner than most deli meats, lower in saturated fat and offers about seven grams of protein per slice.

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Chicken

Chicken can be an exceptionally lean meat and impressively low in saturated fat when consumed without the skin. Chicken is also filled with nutrients like selenium, vitamin B6 and Vitamin B3. Traditionally white meat has been lauded as the healthier part of the chicken, but while white meat is lower in calories, dark meat contains more zinc and B vitamins than white meat does. Did you know that chicken can actually be a natural anti-depressant as well?

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Ostrich

Ostrich is another great choice for those trying to eat less red meat but who still crave the taste. It’s technically poultry and actually contains half the fat of chicken with 2.8 grams in comparison with chicken’s 7.4. A three-ounce serving has 123 calories and over 24 grams of protein.

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Turkey

It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey and the good news is that you don’t even have to feel guilty about enjoying it! A four-ounce serving of white meat turkey without the skin has 158 calories and 34 grams of protein. Turkey is also filled with vitamins B3 and B6 in addition to maintaining a low saturated fat content.

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Pheasant

Pheasant is another type of bird that has a lot of nutrients and not too many calories. Enjoying this one with the skin is a bit more fattening, but at least there are a lot of minerals in the bird to make up for it.

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Lamb Shank

This meat comes from the shank half of the lamb and if it's very well trimmed it can be a reasonably healthy meat to enjoy. A lean three-ounce serving of lamb shank has about 153 calories and under six grams of fat. This size serving of lamb shank also contains about 50 percent of the daily recommended intake of zinc for women and 36 percent for men.

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Veal

Yes, veal has more cholesterol than beef. However, if you enjoy leaner cuts of veal like sirloin you'll be consuming 150 calories or less per three-ounce serving.

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Pork Chop

A boneless pork chop has about 147 calories per serving and 23 grams of protein. The sodium levels are also pretty low on this meat.

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The Worst

Try to consume these meats in moderation since their nutritional profile isn't as impressive.

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Corned Beef

Corned beef is generally made of the fattier areas of brisket, which should give you a pretty good image of its health profile. It has 16 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat and 960 mg of sodium, not to mention nitrates. Savor this meat on special occasions.

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Prosciutto

Even if it seems light and thin, just a two-ounce serving of prosciutto contains over 10 grams of fat and four grams of that fat is unhealthy saturated fat. In addition to its unsavory fat content, prosciutto is also salted, which makes the sodium content a whopping 973 mg per serving when the daily recommended limit is 1500 mg. Enjoy this one sparingly.

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Ham

When eating ham spring for the leaner versions because it is a high fat food. A three-ounce serving of boneless roasted ham has 7.7 grams of fat with 2.7 grams made up of saturated fat.

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Salami

If you want to knock out 17 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake with one slice, then try salami. Of the six grams of fat in that slice, two are saturated fat. Savor this one on special occasions.

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Bacon

It's a shame that such a popular food isn't very nutritionally beneficial since it is both high in sodium and saturated fat. Try sprinkling bacon on dishes as a condiment instead, or give turkey bacon a shot.

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Bologna

This classic lunch meat is definitely one that should be enjoyed sporadically. One slice contains 300 mg of sodium and 3 grams of saturated fat.

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Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are a very common processed meat. Processed meats can contain nitrates and are frequently high in sodium.

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Mortadella

Roughly two ounces of mortadella contain 14 grams of fat and 560 mg of sodium. That's 23 percent of your daily recommended intake of sodium.

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Chicken Nuggets

This childhood staple is sadly not very healthy. Sometimes chicken nuggets contain very little chicken and the ingredients that end up in a nugget can be icky. Plus the signature breaded exterior only adds calories. Your best bet is to make your own chicken nuggets from scratch.

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Duck

Duck actually has a lot of nutrients in it, but if it's not prepared properly it becomes a very fattening meal. Try to keep the duck lean by cooking it skinless, trimming the fat and not using a lot of oil. Of the six grams of fat in a serving, there are 2.3 grams of saturated fat, so there's no need to add more.

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She likes to toast a slice of Ezekiel bread and top it with smashed avocado and an egg for a “balanced meal filled with whole grain carbohydrates, protein from the egg and heart-healthy fats from the avocado.” For a “filling and protein-rich snack,” Ditkoff tops TJ’s Crispbread with cottage cheese.

Rizzo is also a fan of Ezekiel bread “because it’s made with a variety of whole grains and seeds, and it’s sugar-free.” She keeps it simple and eats toast as pre-run fuel or whips up a sandwich, like this chickpea salad sandwich with a sweet apple slaw.

Valdez likes Dave’s Killer Bread’s Organic Powerseed loaf, noting that each 100-calorie slice contains 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein and a low sodium content of 140 milligrams (6 percent of the daily value).

Also on his short list is Arnold Whole Grains Double Fiber bread, with 6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 140 milligrams of sodium in each 90-calorie slice. He enjoys bread with peanut butter and banana, or he makes a grilled cheese sandwich and dips it in tomato soup.

RELATED: Best and worst cheese for you 

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The best and worst cheeses for you

WORST: Parmesan

The Italian cheese is filled with calories and sodium. While people tend to use it sparingly -- grating it on top of a pasta dish here and there -- an ounce of Parmesan contains 1/3 of your daily sodium allowance. 

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BEST: Feta

The beloved salad topper has fewer calories than other cheeses, only 75 calories per ounce, so it’s a good choice for those trying to eat healthy. The Greek cheese is also rich in flavor, so a little goes a long way!

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WORST: Blue Cheese

The spotted blue cheese has 8 grams of fat and 100 calories, per one-ounce serving -- making it one of the worst you can eat.

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BEST: Cottage Cheese

The healthy cheese is a go-to for dieters everywhere. The neutral taste is also a plus, meaning you can top it with something sweet or savory. It’s rich in protein, which helps keep you full, and low in fat and calories. A 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains only 81 calories and 1 gram of fat, with 14 grams of protein.

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WORST: Cream Cheese

Out of all the soft, white cheeses on the market, cream cheese is the unhealthiest. The cheese most commonly used on bagels has almost 10 grams of fat and 99 calories per ounce.

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BEST: Mozzarella

While mozzarella often gets a bad rap because of it's association with pizza, the cheese is a good source of protein. Mozzarella sticks (not the fried alternative) are a quick and easy snack for when you're on the go.

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WORST: Gruyere 

The hard yellow cheese, named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland, contains a whopping 117 calories and just over 9 grams of fat per ounce.

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BEST: Swiss

Unlike Gruyere, you can reap a bunch major health benefits from a little amount of Swiss -- just two slices alone contain 44 percent of your daily calcium intake, and 15 grams of protein. 

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WORST: Fontina

The Italian cow's milk cheese has a whopping 110 calories and almost 9 grams of fat per 1-ounce serving. The cheese is quite pungent in flavor. The Swedish and Danish versions are often found in US grocery stores, and can be distinguished from Aostan Fontina by their red wax rind.

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BEST: Ricotta

The cheese most commonly used in Italian cuisine contains 14 grams of protein and 25 percent of your daily calcium needs in a half-cup serving. It’s also low in sodium and high in phosphorus, B vitamins, vitamin A, and zinc.

WORST: American

There's definitely something about American singles that probably gets you nostalgic about your childhood. However, it's not doing your health any favors -- it's made up of mostly processed ingredients, including food dyes that give it an unnatural yellow-orange color.

BEST: Cheddar

The light taste of cheddar makes for a lower-calorie, versatile cheese that goes well with many meals.

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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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