It seems as though we can never come to a consensus when it comes to foods which are healthy, or good for us. Fat was the enemy, then it was sugar. “You should eat more meat” became “too much meat causes bone and kidney damage”. But it seems like we’ve always agreed that whole-wheat bread is healthier and better in comparison to white bread. I’m sure you must have heard — eating bread is all right as long as it’s whole wheat. A quick search on Google will reveal all the animosity humankind harbour towards white bread. It’s purported to cause foggy thinking, fatigue, depression, overeating, diabetes, weight gain and even cancer. Your dog died? Heck, it’s probably because he ate white bread.
White bread vs. whole-wheat bread
While white bread and whole-wheat bread provide similar number of calories, whole-wheat bread has a lower glycemic index and insulin index, which results in a lower insulin release when consumed. In addition to a less significant insulin level spike in the blood, whole-wheat bread also contains higher fibre and micronutrient content, explaining why whole-wheat bread has been revered to be much healthier than white bread. As it turns out, our whole lives have been a lie.
What the media fails to mention is that the actual differences between white-bread and whole-wheat bread are relatively small.
Undeniably, whole-wheat bread has a higher fibre content — but we have to keep in mind that this content pales in comparison to that of many fruits and vegetables. We don’t simply rely on whole-wheat products to meet our dietary fibre needs. Also — while white bread loses more micronutrients during processing, those micronutrients are often reintroduced later, resulting in “enriched” white bread.
But… just in case you need more convincing in order to ditch that dry, crumbly pack of whole-wheat bread you’ve been psyching yourself up to eat every morning in attempts of becoming a healthier version of yourself, let’s take a closer look at the relationship between whole grains (such as whole-wheat) and health.
Epidemiological studies are surveys which can be done all at once (cohort), or done over a period of time (longitudinal). Their aim is to find correlations between multiple variables.
Many epidemiological studies have suggested that there are health benefits, such as lowered risks of cardiovascular disease, associated with whole grain intake corresponding with dietary fibre. However, lifestyle is an important confounding factor when it comes to such surveys: correlation does not imply causation — we cannot be certain that these health benefits are caused by whole grain intake, rather than the lifestyle habits associated with whole grain intake.
In addition, one study which used FDA approved definitions of whole grains found no consistent association between whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease or diabetes prevention!
If epidemiological studies have not been able to study the relationship between whole grain intake and health, what about intervention research where variables are more tightly controlled for?
Well… The results don’t favour whole grains either — no benefits to cardiovascular disease prevention have been shown thus far.
Is it time to ditch the whole-wheat bread?
In comparison to the standard white bread, the whole-wheat definitely come up on top in terms of micronutrients content and fibre. However, when we take a look at fortified white bread, the gap between the breads is significantly narrowed.
Furthermore, there really isn’t much convincing evidence to suggest just how much better whole-wheat bread is in comparison to white bread. Increasing dietary fibre seems to be implicated in many of the benefits related to consuming whole grains, and this can be easily achieved through increasing plant, fruits and vegetables intake in general.
To put it into perspective: white bread usually has 2–4 grams of fibre for two slices; whole-wheat bread tends to have 4–8 grams of fibre for the same number of slices — the difference can be easily made up for with an apple or two.
Psst: I checked: while it’s not encouraged, dogs can eat white bread — they will not keel over and die a sudden death after a bite. The same goes for you, as long as you’re a healthy individual with a fibre-rich diet. And honestly? Isn’t white bread just so much tastier in comparison to whole-wheat bread?
Thanks for reading! If you want an evidence-based approach to nutrition, start by learning how much protein you need daily. You’ll like it — I promise!