Most folks can agree that bread is one of life’s simplest (and greatest) pleasures, guaranteed to lift your spirits when you’re feeling glum and soothe your growling stomach when dinner’s not quite ready yet. It’s crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and chock-full of comforting, energizing carbohydrates. What’s not to love?
For some people, it’s bread’s meager protein content. Refresher: Protein is a macronutrient that helps build and repair cells, tissue, and muscle; ensures proper growth and development; and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To keep your body functioning properly, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends adults stick to a 2,000-calorie diet to score at least 46 grams of the macronutrient each day. A slice of standard white bread offers only about two grams of protein (or 4 percent of the recommended dietary allowance), however. So, sandwich lovers and toast fanatics might wish their favorite breads had higher protein contents to make hitting that suggested intake a breeze — without needing to pile lean turkey sky-high between the slices. (BTW, this guide will help you figure out exactly how much protein your own body needs on the daily.)
Enter: High-protein bread. Here, a registered dietitian gives the lowdown on the protein-packed baked good, including what to look for in a loaf and how to decide if it deserves a spot in your pantry.
What Is High-Protein Bread?
What makes one bread higher in protein than another typically comes down to its whole grain content, says Abby Chan, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist and the co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff in Arizona. ICYDK, whole grains have three parts: the bran (the fiber-rich outer layer that boasts iron and B vitamins), the endosperm (the middle layer that offers carbs and some protein), and the germ (the core that provides healthy fats, vitamin E, and B vitamins), according to the Harvard School of Public Health. When a grain is processed, however, the bran and germ are removed, stripping it of those key micronutrients and removing at least a quarter of its protein content, according to the Whole Grains Council. That’s why a standard slice of a whole wheat loaf offers about 30 percent more protein than a piece made with refined white flour, according to the USDA.
Some bread contains seeds, such as flax, chia, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, which help up the protein content, too. “There’s definitely going to be more nutrients in those breads,” says Chan. “It’s going to be higher in protein because overall seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, and then it’s going to have higher amounts of nutrients like magnesium or zinc, depending on the seed.” The cherry on top: extra fiber, particularly the soluble kind that can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Nowadays, breadmakers are also getting a bit more creative with their recipes. “High-protein everything is so market-worthy that there are now companies that are adding other proteins into their bread, such as pea protein or whey protein, to increase that protein content,” says Chan. “Typically, they’re adding an external protein source into, like, a white bread.” Along with protein, these loaves are often fortified with the nutrients lost during processing (think: iron, B vitamins), she explains. Even with those additives, this variety of high-protein bread typically falls short on fiber, a nutrient that helps keep you feeling full and your number twos regular, she adds. (Related: What’s the Difference Between Whole Wheat and Whole Grain?)
Who Should Eat High-Protein Bread?
While high-protein bread often provides a few good-for-you nutrients that aren’t found in traditional white sandwich loaves, there’s nothing wrong with eating a baguette or a similar style of bread if and when you please, says Chan. In order to decide which type to add to your plate, Chan suggests asking yourself what you’re hoping to get out of your bread in the first place. Are you craving a thick slice of fresh-baked, crusty sourdough? A seedy, whole grain-rich bread probably isn’t going to satisfy your hankering. But if you’re in need of a sandwich bread that’ll help tide you over until your next meal, a high-protein bread may be a better option, she says.
Even if you do need to make a filling meal out of a piece or two of bread, you don’t have to turn to the higher-protein — and typically more expensive — loaves, says Chan. “If you don’t want to pay the exorbitant price for bread with added protein or you’re someone who just prefers white bread, you can stack that easily with a few eggs or put some nut butter or seed butter on it to help beef that [protein] up so it’s a little bit more of a substantial meal,” she says.
What to Look for In High-Protein Bread
If you decide to give high-protein bread a shot, Chan recommends checking out a loaf’s fiber content before adding it to your cart. “I generally look for something that has two to three, if not more, grams of fiber in it,” she says. “That fiber’s going to help keep you full and slow down digestion a little bit.” Similarly, consider opting for a bread that has minimal added sugars — sugars added to food that provide little nutritional value and are typically used to make commercially baked goods more palatable, says Chan. The USDA recommends adults following 2,000-calorie diets cap their intake of added sugars at 50 grams a day, so consider the other sources of added sugar you’re eating throughout the day to guide your choice of bread and stay under that suggested limit. (This guide will help you decode your bread’s nutrition label.)
When you’re tight on cash, skip the loaves with added whey or pea proteins and instead go for a whole grain-based bread, which is generally more economical and still packs plenty of protein and those essential nutrients (think: vitamin E, iron, B vitamins, fiber), suggests Chan. To spend less time browsing the bread aisle, consider picking up one of Chan’s top picks, below, the next time you’re at the supermarket.
The Best High-Protein Bread Options, According to a Nutritionist
Dave’s Killer Bread Organic 21 Whole Grains and Seed Bread
Packed with nearly two dozen types of whole grains and seeds — including oats, spelt, millet, quinoa, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and more — this loaf offers five grams of protein and five grams of fiber per slice. Note: The high-protein bread also contains five grams of added sugar (or 10 percent of the USDA’s suggested limit), so keep that in mind while planning out your eats for the rest of the day.
Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat Bread
One of the more budget-friendly high-protein bread options on grocery store shelves, this loaf features a whole wheat flour base and offers four grams of protein and two grams of fiber per slice. To further up the satiety factor, top off a toasted piece with sliced avocado, cream cheese, or even smoked salmon, suggests Chan.
Food For Life Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Frozen Sprouted Grain Bread
Unlike other loaves, this high-protein bread is found in the freezer aisle. The bread is made from organic grains and legumes, including wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt that has been sprouted (read: germinated), which increases the bioavailability of soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, according to an article published by Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Nosh on a slice, and you’ll score five grams of protein and three grams of fiber. Just make sure to toast the bread first, suggests Chan, to give it a satisfyingly crispy texture.
Though these high-protein bread loaves and others like them will help you get one step closer to reaching your protein goals for the day, remember that they’re far from a necessity. “If you’re eating bread because you just need something really delicious, then don’t worry about the protein content,” says Chan. “You don’t need to buy a high-protein, enriched bread.” Still, higher-protein, whole grain-based bread does come with a few health benefits that white loaves may not offer, including improved digestion from the fiber and muscle gains from the protein. When in doubt, just choose the type of loaf that makes you feel your best. (Next up: These Dietitian-Approved, High-Protein Snacks Will Keep You from Getting Hangry)