Inside the Label: Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread

Sara Lee is the number one fresh bread manufacturer in the US, so there’s a good chance you’ll find some of their loaves in your local supermarket. We wanted to take a look at a product that caught our eye due to it’s somewhat oxymoronous name – how could a white bread be whole grain? Isn’t whole grain bread supposed to be, well, not white?

Ah the wonders of food science and marketing.

The company boasts, on the package, albeit in small print: Made with whole grain. 30% whole grain (This product provides 10 g of whole grain in a 2 slice serving. USDA recommends consuming 48 g of whole grain every day.).

What’s really inside?…

What you need to know:

Sara Lee’s Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread is a white bread with some added whole wheat flour.
A serving is 2 slices and contains 150 calories divided into 20 calories from fat, 25 protein, and 105 calories from carbs. With each serving, you’ll get 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 10% of your daily sodium max. The fiber count is really low, especially considering that grains should be an important source of fiber in a diet. There’s no trans fat here, but also no vitamins. You will get 25% of your daily calcium requirement though.

At minimum, bread contains just 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. However, to qualify for the supermarket, bread needs a much longer shelf life. Welcome, food science.

Here is Sara Lee’s ingredient list:

Enriched Bleached Flour [Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Whole Grain [Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice Flour (Rice Flour, Rice Bran)], Wheat Gluten, Skim Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Yeast, Butter (Cream, Salt), Contains 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Calcium Sulfate, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of the Following: Mono- and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Peroxide, Datem, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Enzymes), Guar Gum, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Distilled Vinegar, Yeast Nutrients (Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate and /or Calcium Carbonate), Corn Starch, Vitamin D3, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour.

And now for some explanations:

Enriched Bleached Flour – Flour is enriched because the processing from whole wheat to white flour destroys nutrients that originally were present in the whole grain. Enrichment began during World War 2 in the US and UK as a means to help entire populations get enough of the B vitamins. Flour was chosen for enrichment as a most common denominator – everyone ate bread. Bleaching the flour makes it white instead of the natural yellow/gray some older folks may remember from their childhood. We’ll talk about bleaching some more in another post.
Malted Barley Flour – an additive to wheat flour. It’s made from barley that is allowed to germinate. in bread it provides a glossy surface and a soft, fine crumb. In supermarket bread it is used as a dough conditioner – it causes the dough to be softer, more relaxed and gives a softer crumb texture.
Whole Grain [Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice Flour (Rice Flour, Rice Bran)] – basically it’s flour from whole wheat and from rice. If this bread was made from 100% whole grain, it would be much more nutritious.
Wheat Gluten – used to make the bread chewier.
Skim Milk – unclear why milk is needed in this bread
High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar – yikes and more yikes. Why sugar in a sandwich bread? and why both sugar and HFCS?
Yeast – needed to leaven the bread.
Butter (Cream, Salt) – although bread can be made without any fats, in many cases some oil, margarine, or butter are added.
Calcium Sulfate – also know as gypsum or plaster of Paris (the reason some people lick walls). Used as a dough conditioner.
Salt – all baked products have some.
Mono – and Diglycerides – emulsifiers.
Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides – same.
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate – another emulsifier. also helps increase volume.
Calcium Peroxide (E930) – bleaching agent – makes the flour look white.
Datem – DATEM is an acronym for diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides. It’s  emulsifier that is used to smooth out variations in flour quality.
Ascorbic Acid - a nice word for vitamin C.
Azodicarbonamide – also called ADA – helps with the elasticity of dough.
Guar Gum – a natural emulsifier. Gives dough greater resiliency, improves texture and increases shelf life.
Calcium Propionate (E282) – a mold inhibitor. Some studies have linked it to irritability, restlessness, inattention, and sleep disturbance in children.

What to do at the supermarket:
Look for “100% whole wheat” bread. Not “made with whole wheat” or similar variations. “100% whole wheat”. If you’re not sure from the product name, just look at the first item in the bread’s ingredient list – “100% whole wheat”.

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