Why is white bread unhealthy?

5 Reasons to Skip White Bread For Good

Most people know that white bread is a diet don’t: One of the easiest swaps you can make for a major health boost is ditching refined flour in favor of whole wheat. But it’s not just that loaf of Wonder Bread that you need to watch out for. The basket of rolls delivered to the table when dining out, the French baguette you grab on your way home to accompany dinner, your Saturday-morning bagel ritual, and Friday pizza night all come with a side of less-than-desirable health risks. Here are five unpleasant reasons to nix the bread basket:

  1. Little nutritional value. Yes, food is delicious, but at the end of the day we are eating for one reason: to nourish our bodies. And white bread made with refined flour fails to accomplish this goal. “When a grain is refined, such as in the making of flour for white bread, the outermost and innermost layers of the grain are removed. This removes the fiber and some (25 percent) protein, leaving behind the starch,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. You may see “enriched flour” on the label. While this flour has had some nutrients like B vitamins and iron added back in after the refining process, it’s still lower in fiber and protein than whole-wheat flour. Opting for whole-grain varieties carries with it a dose of healthy fiber and more protein, adding a nutritional boost to meals.
  2. Erratic blood-sugar levels. “Since it’s low in the fiber and protein that helps to slow digestion, white bread is digested and absorbed rapidly. This leads to blood sugar’s rising quickly,” says Palinski-Wade. This spike — and subsequent crash — in blood sugar not only leads to irritability, but will leave you headed to the vending machine for a pick-me-up.
  3. Increased risk of type-2 diabetes. “When blood sugar elevates rapidly, excess insulin is released into the bloodstream to push the sugar into the cell,” says Palinski-Wade. “When this occurs on a regular basis, cells become more insulin resistant, making it harder over time to control blood-glucose (sugar) levels. Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports this, finding that people who consumed several servings of whole grains per day — and limited intake of refined grains — had less of a type of fat that increases risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Weight gain. After eating refined carbohydrates like white bread, the surplus of sugar in your bloodstream — unless immediately utilized for activity — tends to be stored as fat in the body. Plus, the blood-sugar crash will leave you hungry soon after ingesting, so you’ll be reaching for another snack. “Rapid digestion can increase hunger and cravings, leading to a lack of satiety after eating, which may result in increased caloric intake at the end of the day,” says Palinski-Wade.
  5. Symptoms of depression. It may taste good going down, but that white bread can negatively affect your mood. New research published in the June 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a link between the consumption of refined carbohydrates — like white bread — and depression in post-menopausal women. The same hormonal response that causes blood-sugar levels to drop can also cause mood swings, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression.

Tips for Keeping White Bread Off the Menu

  1. Skip the bread basket. When dining at a restaurant that serves bread baskets, ask the waiter not to drop one off at your table — it’ll reduce temptation. If you feel the need to munch before your meal arrives, order some crudité with a light dip like hummus, or a side salad.
  2. Look for “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the package, and be sure to check the ingredients list when purchasing a loaf of bread. Simply listing whole-wheat or whole-grain on the label isn’t enough: many whole-wheat varieties contain enriched, refined flour as the first ingredient, meaning the bread contains more refined flour than whole wheat. It’s important to note that there is a variety of wheat that is white and lacks color in the bran. This wheat has a milder flavor and texture, prompting some bread companies to use it to produce healthier products, which is a better option for those who don’t like the taste or texture of whole-wheat bread. However, you still need to check the labels carefully to ensure that white whole wheat is the first ingredient listed.
  3. Make smart bread swaps. Even healthy whole-grain breads can blow your daily calorie count when eaten in excess. Look for creative, tasty ways to swap out bread and other refined carbs in your favorite dishes, like using leafy greens as wraps for your sandwich toppings or making zucchini boat “pizzas,” no crust necessary!

The low-carb craze is going strong. Bread is out. Pasta is overrated. And dieters are experimenting with how low their carb intake can go. But grains are anything but all the same. So whether you are cutting out refined grains, whole grains, or carbs in general, the effects can vary widely. Here’s a look at the wide array of things that happen when you ditch the bread bags:

When you reduce your carb intake, the first thing you notice is how quickly, even magically, the weight falls off. But it’s not fat you’re losing. It’s water. “When carbs are stored in the body in the form of glycogen, each gram of carbohydrate stores three to four times its weight in water,” says dietitian and strength coach Marie Spano, R.D., C.S.C.S. So as soon as you cut carbs and start using your glycogen stores, you’ll lose a good amount of water weight. (Speed up your progress towards your weight-loss goals with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)

“Carbs are the brain’s main source of energy,” says Spano. “When a person cuts down on carbs, the brain is running on fumes, especially as glycogen stores get low and become depleted.” Eventually, once all that glycogen is gone, your body breaks down fat and runs off of little carbon fragments called ketones. The result: bad breath, dry mouth, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, and brain fog. Basically, you feel like you have the flu. Eventually, your body adapts to running on ketones so you don’t feel so bad, but they are still aren’t your body’s preferred fuel source, says Spano.

RELATED: Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Multigrain, Whole Grain, and Whole Wheat?

Refined carbohydrates are infamous for sending your blood-sugar levels through the roof, only for them to crash back down again. And recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the rollercoaster ride activates addiction centers in the brain, leading to subsequent cravings. Opting for fiber-rich whole grains, though, can keep blood-sugar levels from plummeting to prevent cravings, says nutritionist Alex Caspero, R.D., owner of Delicious Knowledge.

Find out how to knock out fast food cravings:

The type of grains you cut makes a big difference here. For instance, a 2014 study published in PLOS ONE found that refined carbohydrates drive up the body’s levels of a fatty acid (called palmitoleic acid) to raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, according to the American Heart Association, whole grains can improve blood-cholesterol levels and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The choice is clear.

Whole grains are a great source of iron, magnesium, and B vitamins, all of which are critical in maintaining energy levels, says Spano, who notes that many people are already deficient in magnesium. Plus, since carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source, all of your cells slow down without a healthy supply, says Caspero.

RELATED: 6 Surprising Sources of Refined Carbs

Whole-grain intake is a major player in how much fiber you get, according to a recent Nutrition Research study that found that 92 percent of U.S. adults don’t get enough of the grains. Fiber, the indigestible part of plants, like grains, not only helps stabilize blood-sugar levels, reduce the risk of obesity, and chronic diseases, but keeps your bathroom habits regular, says Spano.

And not just because you’re eating all of your sandwiches as lettuce wraps. Carbs—whether they are whole or refined—increase the brain’s levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, says Caspero. So when you cut healthy carbs like whole grains, your mental health goes right along with it.

RELATED: The 9 Must-Know Rules of Carbo-Loading

“Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy for fueling all exercise, including both endurance and resistance training,” says Spano. “Cut carbs, and your energy will drop. Decrease your levels of your body’s stored carbohydrates, and your ability to produce force and power will decrease.” And the suckier your workouts, the suckier your results.

This Is The Type Of Bread You Should Really Be Eating

But go into any grocery store these days and look at the ingredient label on a package of bread. You’ll see a lot more than those few basic ingredients.

To pick on an easy target, Wonder Bread’s Classic White bread has over 30 ingredients, including things like high fructose corn syrup, monoglycerides and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium peroxide, monocalcium phosphate, modified corn starch, ammonium sulfate, and calcium propionate.

I’m not sure what all of those things are, but they don’t sound much like flour, yeast, water, and salt. And I don’t really want them in my body.

Wonder Bread Classic White Nutrition Information

It’s no surprise that Wonder Bread is remarkably white and light, stays soft and “fresh” on the shelf for weeks, and presumably is quite fast and cheap to produce.

But the use of unhealthy additives is not restricted only to the likes of Wonder Bread.

Take Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread, for example. You’d think this bread would be pretty good for you. After all, Nature’s Own promises no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and no high fructose corn syrup.

Plenty of people seem to be buying into this promise — The Nature’s Own website says their Honey Wheat bread is the #1 selling loaf of bread in the U.S.

But look a bit deeper, and you’ll notice that in each loaf of that bread you’ll get inflammatory-fat-laden soybean oil, monoglycerides, and DATEM — a shelf-stabilizing emulsifier that is often made from artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oils.

Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread Ingredients

Nature’s Own shouldn’t feel so bad, though. Both the 100% Whole Wheat bread from Arnold and the 100% Whole Wheat bread from Pepperidge Farm also include soybean oil, monoglycerides, and DATEM. Buyer beware.

There is just a lot of junk in mass-produced bread these days, even in the supposed “healthy” stuff. It is affecting the way that we feel on a daily basis and impacting our long-term health.

I believe over-processing and unhealthy additives are to blame for the spike in “gluten sensitivity” in recent years, and not actually the gluten itself (excluding the small percentage of people who have Celiac disease). Gluten gets a bad rap, but we should really be looking elsewhere.

But instead of obsessing over all of the bad stuff that is put into our bread, and how it’s making us sick and tired, I’ll instead focus on the type of bread we actually should be eating.

Nutritional properties of bread

Bread supplies a significant portion of the nutrients required for growth, maintenance of health and well-being. It is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates. It is also low in fat and cholesterol. Bread is quite bulky so it takes longer to digest and is more satisfying. All breads are nutritious and the differences between them in nutritional value are not significant if we eat a balanced diet.

Chemical Composition of Wheat

The composition of the dry matter of wheat varies widely depending on soil, climate and genetic variations between wheat types. Wheat in New Zealand has a protein content that ranges on average from 8% to 13%. It has a high carbohydrate content of about 83% of the weight of a kernel.

Other components of the wheat grain include bran and germ. Bran, the outer coating or “shell”, is rich in B vitamins and minerals.

The wheat germ or embryo is a rich source of B vitamins, oil, vitamin E and fat. It needs to be discarded during milling because the fat is liable to become rancid during storage. It is still very valuable and is used in many products.

Minerals contained in wheat include calcium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, magnesium and sodium.

Vitamins such as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid, inosotol, P-aminobenzoic acid, folic acid and vitamin B6 are also distributed throughout the wheat grain.
All the nutrients contained in wheat make bread an essential part of the diet. Bread is one of the cheapest, high quality nutritious foods in New Zealand and not only provides many essential nutrients but is also low in fat, cholesterol and sugar.

Did you know that all bread is nutritious?

White bread has approximately the same carbohydrate and protein content as wholemeal bread, contains soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, and a good percentage of the whole wheat nutrients. It is made from unbleached flour made from the inner 78% of the wheat grain. If you prefer white bread to wholegrain breads, you can get your extra fibre from other foods such as wholegrain cereals.

In New Zealand wholemeal bread is made from at least 90% wholemeal flour. White flour may be added to wholemeal flour to make wheatmeal products.
It is often added to improve the baking quality of breads made with wholemeal flour because of its gluten protein content.

Wheatmeal breads are not subject to food regulations and so the quantity of wholemeal flour used may vary. Nutritional comparisons are therefore diffcult to make.

How does bread meet our nutritional needs?

Comparisons of bread with other commonly eaten foods important in the New Zealand diet, show that bread provides a greater range of nutrients than any of the other food products listed.

Protein

Calcium

Iron

Thiamin

Riboflavin

Niacin

Fibre

Bread

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Milk

*

*

*

*

Cheese

*

*

Meat

*

*

*

*

*

Potatoes

*

*

*

*

* nutrient present

It is essential to maintain adequate levels of vitamins, minerals and protein in our diets if we want to remain healthy. The average percentage of our daily nutrient requirements supplied by 100g of any bread show that bread is an excellent source of many nutrients that are necessary for a healthy diet. 100g of bread is 2-4 slices depending on type and slice size.

Average Contribution to the Nutritional Needs of Our Diet by 100g of any bread

Protein

Thiamin

Niacin

Riboflavin

Iron

Calcium

Energy

15%

30%

7%

4%

14%

6%

9%

Approximate Nutrient Content of 100 g of Bread

A healthy diet with bread

Substitution of bread for fats maintains the energy we need to get from our diet by providing carbohydrates rather than fats for energy production. Worldwide, nutritionists and dieticians support this recommendation, and advise that the following plan for good eating is used:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods to get a good balance of vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat mostly cereals, vegetables and fruit.Eat more complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre.
  • Eat less fats, refined sugar, salt and alcohol.

When its composition is considered along with its relatively low cost, bread is an ideal food to complement the nutritious fillings we may choose to balance our diet. Four to six slices daily is the intake often recommended for people of normal weight and health.

Always remember though, that overall we are encouraged to eat a variety of foods and that these foods should include breads
(4-6 slices of wholemeal and/or white per day), pasta, fruit
(5 portions), vegetables
(6 portions), fish, chicken, legumes, nuts, dried peas/beans, dairy produce including trim milk, cheeses and yoghurts (preferably low fat), eggs and meats.

Variety and moderation is the key to good health.

Scientists bust myth, white bread may not be that bad

Your doctor, your mother, your personal trainer, your friends, the internet … it seems everyone is telling you to stay away from white bread these days. Indeed, 56 percent of Americans said in 2014 that they’re cutting back on white bread in favor of whole-wheat or gluten-free alternatives, according to an industry survey. It seems this once-ubiquitous grocery staple is going the way of the dodo.

But is that really fair? A new study is turning some long-held notions about universally unhealthy food on its head.

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel set out to compare the effects of two types of bread – processed white and artisanal whole wheat sourdough – on a group of people. What they found, over several weeks of monitoring the subjects’ blood glucose levels and vitamin intake as well as fat and cholesterol levels, is that there was no measurable difference in the health of someone who eats white bread and someone who sticks to whole wheat.

White or wheat? This study suggests there’s not much difference. (Photo: Korem et al/Cell Metabolism)

The researchers emphasize that this doesn’t mean that both types of bread are bad for you. On the contrary, they say, it’s far more important to look at individual glycemic responses to each food and act accordingly, rather than treating diets with a broad stroke.

“The findings for this study are not only fascinating but potentially very important, because they point toward a new paradigm: different people react differently, even to the same foods,” says Eran Elinav, an Israeli researcher in the Department of Immunology at the Weizmann Institute and one of the study’s senior authors. “To date, the nutritional values assigned to food have been based on minimal science, and one-size-fits-all diets have failed miserably.”

Elinav said his study is more evidence of the need for doctors to tailor diets more specifically to each patient based on their gut microbiomes instead of telling all patients to stay away from a certain food.

The team came to similar conclusions in 2015, after monitoring the glucose levels of 800 people for a week and finding that different people have strikingly different responses to the same foods, even though said foods may be universally considered healthy.

Is white bread just as healthy as brown?

“Sliced white bread is ‘just as healthy as brown’, shock findings reveal,” The Sun reports.

A small study looking at the effects of eating different types of bread – white versus brown sourdough – found no significant differences.

But the researchers also reported responses varied from person to person, depending on their gut bacteria.

The study measured 20 health markers, but was mainly focused on increased blood sugar levels after eating (glycaemic control).

Researchers found no overall differences in glycaemic control when people ate white bread compared with wholemeal sourdough bread.

But when they looked at people’s individual responses to bread, they found some responded better to white bread, while others responded better to wholemeal sourdough bread.

The researchers said the response could be predicted by the types of bacteria living in the gut.

The question of whether wholemeal or white bread is healthier isn’t settled by this study, which only lasted two weeks and involved just 20 people.

Wholemeal bread is a good source of fibre – a diet higher in fibre reduces the risk of bowel cancer, helps digestion, and may help people feel fuller, avoiding weight gain.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. We don’t know who funded it.

Two of the researchers declared a conflict of interest as they are paid consultants for a company that promotes personalised nutrition based on gut biome analysis.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cell Metabolism.

The Sun reported “shock results” that “white bread is just as healthy as a brown loaf”, a claim echoed by the Daily Mail – although this isn’t really what the research found.

But both newspapers did quote nutrition experts, who pointed out that a week-long trial in just 20 people doesn’t provide a conclusive result.

The Guardian rightly highlighted the fact that there were different results for different people. None of the papers mentioned the researchers’ conflict of interest.

What kind of research was this?

This was a small randomised cross-over trial of two types of bread, eaten by healthy volunteers for one week each.

One week may not be long enough to show meaningful results.

What did the research involve?

Researchers recruited 20 healthy people. They were provided with either white bread or wholemeal sourdough bread, and instructed to eat at least a certain amount each day for a week, but no other wheat products.

They had a two-week break after seven days, then switched to the other type of bread for one week.

The participants were tested on a range of health markers before, during and after the study.

Researchers looked at whether the markers were different when the people were eating one type of bread compared with the other.

They measured blood pressure, weight and metabolic rate, and tested people’s stools for bacteria.

Blood glucose levels were measured in the 15 minutes after waking up, and blood glucose response to a glucose test (the body’s response to consuming glucose syrup) was also tested.

The researchers did a post-hoc analysis to see whether people’s results were different after eating any type of bread compared with their usual diet before the study, and whether their gut bacteria (measured from stool samples) were different.

They also tested people individually on their response to eating white or brown sourdough bread, and looked at whether their gut bacteria could predict how they would respond.

What were the basic results?

Researchers found no significant differences between results in any of the clinical parameters measured, including blood glucose (glycaemic) response after seven days of eating white bread or wholemeal sourdough bread.

Glycaemic response increased after a week of eating white bread for some people, while for others it decreased. The same was true for wholemeal sourdough bread.

The researchers found two types of bacteria were more common after people had eaten white bread for a week, but the clinical significance of this isn’t clear. They showed that for most people, eating bread of any type had little effect on gut bacteria.

The researchers say there was more “interpersonal variability” between glycaemic response to the type of bread than you would expect by normal distribution.

They go on to say analysis of glycaemic response according to six measures of gut bacteria could “predict” individual people’s response to each type of bread.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that, “Understanding the interpersonal variation in the effect of bread, one of the most consumed staple foods, would allow the personalisation of bread-related nutritional recommendations and optimisation of food choices worldwide.”

They say their study “underlines the importance of personalisation in dietary recommendations”, and suggests that “universal dietary recommendations may have limited efficacy”.

Conclusion

Studies that suggest “everything you thought you knew about healthy eating is wrong” create great headlines, but rarely stand up to much analysis.

There are many reasons why you might choose wholemeal bread over white bread, and results from a week-long study in 20 people aren’t going to change all of those.

The main measure of interest in the study is glycaemic control, a measure of how quickly the body can process glucose consumed in the diet.

Poor glycaemic control is seen as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, where the body can’t process glucose properly, leading to high blood sugar, which can damage blood vessels.

The study showed no overall difference over the course of a week in people’s ability to process glucose, assessed by which type of bread they ate.

It may be that the study was too short to show a change. But there are other reasons to eat wholemeal bread, including the benefits of eating plenty of fibre, which can help digestion and has been linked to a lower risk of bowel cancer.

What the study did seem to find was that different people react differently to different foods, which isn’t a big surprise.

It’s interesting that this seems to be linked to the bacteria that live in your gut. This might be of interest to dietitians and doctors treating people with diabetes or poor glycaemic control.

But there’s no need to worry about getting tests of your gut bacteria or swapping from your preferred type of bread if you have normal blood glucose.

While conflicts of interest are common in scientific research, it’s worth keeping in mind that two of the researchers involved in this study work for a company that offers to “balance your blood sugar with personalised nutrition”, offering dietary advice based on the results of stool tests.

Find out more about how wholegrain foods are an important part of a healthy diet.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Sliced white bread is ‘just as healthy as brown’, shock findings reveal

The Sun, 6 June 2017

Is white bread better for you than brown sourdough? It depends on your gut

The Guardian, 6 June 2017

Is wholemeal bread really any better for you? People who eat white are no less healthy, study finds

Daily Mail, 6 June 2017

Links to the science

Korem T, Zeevi D, Zmora N, et al.

Bread Affects Clinical Parameters and Induces Gut Microbiome-Associated Personal Glycemic Responses

Cell Metabolism. Published online June 6 2017

TUESDAY, June 6, 2017 (HealthDay News) — For years, you probably have been told that wheat bread is far better for you than its white counterpart, but a small, new study suggests that maxim may not hold true for everyone.

Researchers looked at how quickly blood sugar levels rose after eating (a process called the glycemic response) either white bread or sourdough-leavened wheat bread. The researchers found that the response seemed to vary by person, and that some people didn’t have a bad glycemic response to white bread.

“Our study suggests that, in terms of glycemic responses, different people respond differently to even the same meal,” explained study author Eran Segal, from the Weitzman Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

“In the context of white bread, this means that some people respond badly to white bread and should probably avoid it, while others have a healthy response to it, given what we measured,” Segal said.

“In a broader sense, what this means is that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ diets that are given to the population as a whole, without personalization, are probably not optimal for everyone,” added study co-author Dr. Eran Elinav, who’s also from the Weitzman Institute.

The researchers theorized that differences in the gut microbiome (the natural bacteria living in a person’s intestine) may explain why people respond differently to different breads. The researchers added that they were able to predict what a person’s glycemic response would be to a particular bread based on the makeup of their microbiome.

Both Segal and Elinav did report they are paid consultants for a company that offers personalized dietary advice based on an individual’s gut microbiome.

At least one nutritionist wasn’t convinced that people should give up on whole grains.

“This small, short-term study does not offer a free pass to eating tons of highly processed white bread,” said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist from New York University Langone Medical Center.

“Epidemiological research has shown that people who eat more whole grains, such as whole grain breads, crackers, cereals, brown rice and quinoa, have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, obesity and certain cancers,” Heller noted.

Nutrition and health

Here are some key nutritional facts about bread:

Calcium

White bread is fortified with calcium and four medium slices per day would provide over 30% of the recommended daily intake of calcium which we need every day to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

Fibre

Bread, especially wholemeal, is an important source of dietary fibre which helps to keep our digestive system healthy, helps control blood sugar and cholesterol levels and makes us feel fuller for longer.

Protein

Bread is a low fat source of protein which is required by our bodies for growth, renewal and repair.

Iron

White bread is fortified with iron. Iron is important for energy and concentration, a healthy immune system and healthy blood.

Vitamins & Other Minerals

Bread contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals including B group vitamins thiamine (B1), Niacin (B3) which are important for releasing energy from food and maintaining healthy skin, eyes and nails. It contains the B vitamin Folate (Folic Acid) which is important for pregnancy as it can help to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Energy

Bread is relatively low in calories. An average medium slice of white bread contains 77 calories, brown contains 72 calories and wholemeal contains 79 calories.

Fat

Bread is a low fat food. An average medium slice of white bread contains 0.6g of fat, brown bread contains 0.7g and wholemeal contains 0.9g. Just be careful with what you put on it and stick to healthy options for spreads and toppings.

Sugar

Most breads are low in sugar which is important for healthy teeth and maintaining a healthy weight.

The Dark Side of White Flour

If you’ve ever been to a bakery or had a bowl of pasta, it’s likely that you’ve consumed white flour. White flour is a highly refined substance that is used in a variety of processed foods and baked goods because it is light, airy and cheap. Unfortunately, refined white flour is completely stripped of its nutrient value, with virtually no vitamins, minerals, or fats to speak of.

What is Refined White Flour?

There are three parts of a whole grain: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran, or the outer coating, is rich in fibre, antioxidants and B vitamins. The germ, the innermost layer, is high in B vitamins and also contains minerals, protein and fat. The endosperm, found in the middle, is the starchy part of the grain and it is mostly carbohydrates.

When refined white flour is made, companies remove the bran and the germ, leaving only that starchy endosperm. This makes it more shelf-stable, but results in a big nutrient loss and a subsequent ‘food’ that is harmful to our health.

Foods that Contain Refined White Flour

Some of the most popular foods that contain white, refined flour are:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Muffins
  • Crackers
  • Cereals
  • Pizza Crust
  • Pie Crust
  • Doughnuts

As you can see, the foods that use white flour are mainly junk foods. These items not only contain the dangers of white flours, but also usually include other damaging ingredients like unhealthy oils, sugar, artificial flavours and preservatives.

What About Enriched White Flour?

Once companies remove the nutrients from the whole grain to blend refined white flour, they enrich or fortify the flours. Often this is to meet government guidelines or regulations for certain recommended daily amounts of nutrients we need. The problem with this is the vitamins and minerals that food manufacturers use to enrich the white flour with are not the forms that are bioavailable to us – that means they are not the type of nutrients that our bodies are able to easily recognize and use.

And even when white flour is enriched or fortified, you will still be at risk for the dangerous effects of white flour, which I’ll get to next.

Health Effects of Refined White Flour

Vitamins and minerals in our food normally aid the workers (enzymes) of our bodies. When we remove these nutrients from what we consume, we must get them from somewhere else in order to properly metabolize food. Our tissues become the reluctant donors, and this eventually leads to a vitamin and/or mineral deficiency, which eventually leads to a health condition. When we eat things that contain white flours, we are taking more “health dollars” out of the “health bank” than we are depositing.

Here are some of the ways that refined white flour can impact our health.

Weight Gain + Obesity. White flour doesn’t contain the micro and macronutrients we need to feel satiated and full. In one study of nearly 3,000 people, refined grain intake was associated with an increase in visceral and subcutaneous abdominal body fat. In another 12-week trial, participants who ate refined wheat products gained more body fat and their cholesterol levels went up. Another thing to consider with white flour is the products that contain it are usually junk foods, like the ones I mentioned above, leading to weight gain.

Blood Sugar + Diabetes. Refined white flour has a high glycemic index, which is a scale that rates the speed at which a food increases blood sugar levels. It jacks up the levels of insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas. Once released, insulin works to facilitate the movement of sugar into cells for energy. However, when high glycemic index foods are consumed there is a hyper-insulin response. One meta-analysis concluded that whole grain intake was associated with a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes over refined grains. Another assessment of the 20th century (between 1907 and 1997) noted that the increase of refined carbohydrate consumption in the US paralled the rise of Type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular Disease. Studies show that consuming large amounts of refined grains boosts our risk of heart disease, while several large scale studies and meta-analyses indicate that eating more whole grains can protect against cardiovascular disease.

Inflammation. Inflammation in the body causes a whole host of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Evidence indicates that refined grains can boost levels of inflammatory markers in our blood. Diets low in the glycemic index, however, can reduce these inflammatory markers.

Digestion. Whole grains are packed with fibre, which helps to keep us regular and eliminate unwanted toxins through our bowel movements. When we eat refined white flour, we aren’t receiving those digestive benefits. Studies also show that whole grains can impact our gut microbiota, helping us produce essential short chain fatty acids that nourish the colon and our microbiome.

Cancer. You might be surprised to know that cancer cells have many more insulin receptors than our healthy cells. Insulin is increased by sugar, and therefore, this response promotes the growth of cancer. Anti-cancer diets recommend eliminating refined white flour, and the products that contain white flour (cookies, cakes, etc.)

The Gluten Factor

Another large element to the white flour issue is that wheat flour contains gluten. Gluten contains proteins that are very difficult for us to digest, leading to inflammation, leaky gut and allergies.

For more information about gluten, you can check out my two-part series:

Is Gluten Really That Bad? Part One
Is Gluten Really That Bad? Part Two

You can also watch two interviews I did with Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and author of the popular book Wheat Belly:

Interview with William Davis
Interview with William Davis, 2nd Edition

…But Gluten-Free Flour Can be Refined, Too

Gluten-free doesn’t always mean healthy. Some gluten-free flours are refined too, including:

  • White rice flour
  • Potato starch
  • Corn starch
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Tapioca starch

You can also find gluten-free cookies, muffins, cakes, crackers and the like that are just as detrimental to our health as their counterparts that contain gluten.

What to Eat Instead of Refined White Flour?

The best option to replace refined white flours are gluten-free whole grains, including:

    • Wild rice
    • Brown rice
    • Quinoa
    • Buckwheat
    • Sorghum
    • Teff
    • Amaranth
    • Gluten-free oats

These whole grains are intact and rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins, as well as fibre.

If you are looking for flour alternatives, you can try:

  • Nut flours (almond, pecan, cashew, walnut, etc.)
  • Seed flours (sesame, sunflower and pumpkin)

These are high in protein, fat and fibre. You can discover more gluten-free flour options here. If you’re going to bake sweet treats, ensure they are also rich in healthful fats, natural sweeteners and consume them sparingly.

Refined white flour isn’t a health food – in fact, I wouldn’t even call it a food at all. By eliminating it from your diet, you have the potential to climb up the slope of health to better vitality.

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