Packaged breads can be sneaky sodium sources! Here’s how to navigate the bread aisle.

By Jaime Milan
July 19, 2019
Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

Last year, The World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) conducted a survey of over 2,000 popular breads from all over the world and found that over 1/3 of them exceeded UK’s sodium limits. In fact, some popular choices have more salt than Atlantic seawater (roughly 2.5g of salt per 100g)! Crazy, right?

The American Heart Association recommends the average healthy adult eat no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day, but most of us are eating closer to 1.5 times that: 3,400mg on average. And while bread may not come to mind when we think of salty foods, the bread we buy at the grocery store can be a sneaky sodium source. This fact is only exacerbated by the confusing—and, frankly, unrealistic—nutrition labels which usually count only one slice of bread as a serving. So when we think we’re eating 100mg, it’s really 200mg of sodium.

And store-bought breads have a surprisingly wide range of sodium levels! If you're watching your heart health, it make make a big difference what you get. Here’s the breakdown for a reasonable serving—two slices of bread—ranked from most to least salt.

Very High

If you're looking for a lot of sodium, look no further than Pepperidge Farm. Their breads easily come in the highest: The Sweet Hawaiian bread has 420mg per serving; the Sourdough has 460mg; and the Hearty White has 460mg! That means two slices of this bread pack roughly 20% of your recommended daily sodium value, and that’s *before* you add salty fillings like lunch meat, cheese, or salted nut butter! For that reason, we recommend giving these picks a hard pass.

High

We were surprised to see that Arnold’s 12-grain bread has 360mg per two slices, since the name 12-grain sounds like it would be healthy! But even though this pick is higher in sodium, there are some health benefits: It boasts no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and packs 6g of fiber in two slices, which isn't bad.

Medium

Several brands are smack in the middle of this sodium spectrum, including Dave’s Killer Bread Thin-Sliced Good Seed; Sara Lee’s 100% Whole Wheat; and Sara Lee’s Honey Wheat, all of which pack 230mg per two-slice serving. Sara Lee’s White Made With Whole Grain is a little higher at 250mg, and Sunbeam has even more at 280mg. Out of these picks, we like Dave’s Killer Bread, because it has a minimal ingredient list, no high-fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients or preservatives, and is USDA certified organic. Plus, it’s loaded with whole grains and good-for-you seeds, and packs 6g of fiber per two slices.

Low

Several brands on the low end have a much more reasonable 220mg of sodium for two slices. The list includes Target’s 100% Whole Wheat; Nature’s Own White Wheat; Nature’s Own Whole Wheat; and Nature’s Own Honey Wheat. One caveat: while these are lower in sodium, they still have a laundry list of ingredients—including things like soybean oil, honey, brown sugar, dough conditioners, and preservatives.

Very Low

Sara Lee’s Delightful 100% Whole Wheat has just 200mg. And it's low in calories, at just 90 for two slices. However, take that with a grain of salt (pun intended), because it’s also filled with natural flavoring, sugar, stevia, and honey (so, three types of sweetener).

Nature’s Own Life 40-Calorie Honey Wheat has the lowest sodium count on our list at just 130mg for two slices—and, unsurprisingly, the lowest calories as well. However, it still contains some iffy ingredients like cellulose (a way of artificially boosting fiber, which often comes from wood pulp), guar gum, two kinds of sugar, and preservatives.

The Bottom Line

Bread from the grocery store can have a long list of complicated ingredients, so we actually recommend making it yourself or buying bread from a bakery when possible, where it's less processed, made fresh, and won't contain preservatives or, likely, added sugars—which all shelf-stable breads have. (And usually it tastes better, too!)

But, if you’re in a time crunch there are some healthier pre-packaged breads you can find. Cooking Light Nutrition Editor Lisa Valente, MS, RD, says, “Sprouted grain breads tend to be lower in sodium and they’re whole grain to boot. I love Ezekial Sprouted Whole Grain Bread (just 75 mg of sodium per slice). Trader Joe’s also sells a few varieties of sprouted grain bread. Check the freezer section at your grocery store if you don’t see them in the bread aisle. Sodium is just one nutrient to keep in mind—ideally your bread is made with whole grains and delivers some fiber to help fill you up—so you may need to read labels to find the right bread for you.”

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