health benefits of whole wheat bread versus white bread

“What is the difference between white and whole wheat bread?” is a simple question, on the surface. But it’s important to look a little deeper.

Growing up, you were probably told that whole wheat bread was always healthier than white bread. But as an adult, you notice they cost about the same at the store and are both at least minimally processed, so what is the real difference between your hearty multigrain and a slice of squishy Wonder bread?

Whole Wheat vs White Bread

Whole wheat bread is referred to as such, because it contains the wheat berry’s bran (outside layer), the germ (the inside layer), and the endosperm (the starchy bit between the bran and germ). The bran and germ are the main source of bread’s nutrients.

White bread, besides being a sick burn for calling someone “milquetoast” or “boring,” is a refined flour bread created by stripping wheat berries of their bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm (similar to how brown rice is stripped to make white rice). The result is a softer and lighter colored bread that is higher in starch. To make up for the nutrients lost in the stripping process, manufacturers often add back in vitamins to white bread.

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Why Wheat Bread Is Healthier Than White

Because white bread is starchier than whole wheat, it gets metabolized more quickly in your body (aka, it’s higher on the glycemic index). This means your body converts white bread into sugar faster, leading to a spike in blood sugar, which is not great if you are diabetic or prediabetic. In general, foods that are metabolized quickly and spike your blood sugar can lead to inflammation and bursts of energy that lead to a crash.

Whole wheat bread contains dietary fiber, which is a nutrient essential for giving you a regular digestive system and keeps you feeling full longer than white bread products. The fiber in whole grain bread also prevents the body from processing the bread too quickly and, as a result, the energy spikes and crashes. Whole wheat bread is higher in protein, too.

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Additionally, whole wheat bread contains many vitamins you should be getting in your diet. Many people choose white bread because it’s softer or tastier, or their kids like the bread more, and then take vitamins and supplements to get their recommended doses. But switching to whole grain bread would give you more vitamins B6 and E, zinc, magnesium, and folic acid. The high fiber content, in addition to the blood sugar properties explained above, can lower heart disease risk by up to 20 percent, according to research done in 2003 by the University of Washington. That means people had fewer heart attacks and strokes than those who consumed mostly white bread products.

While whole wheat has these ingredients naturally from the wheat berry, white bread would have to have at least 30 vitamins and minerals added back in to compensate for the nutrients lost in the wheat degerming process. The FDA laws only mandate that bread makers add back five of the lost nutrients, so you’re losing out on quite a bit if you only consume white bread.

How to Know What You’re Really Getting

Lastly, it’s getting harder to distinguish what’s really whole wheat and what’s white bread. Some manufacturers add brown coloring into their bread to make it seem darker and healthier. The easiest way to check? If your bread’s first ingredient isn’t whole wheat, put it back. You don’t need imposter bread in your life.

Header image by Chowhound, using photos from Pixabay.

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