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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Is that right? White bread versus whole wheat -- again

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

As I wrote in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 suggest that we increase our intake of whole grains by allowing those more healthful grains to elbow out the refined grains -- like white bread -- we consume in overabundance.

Turns out that notion is hardly a new one.

One of my favorite features among the medical journals I peruse is JAMA's "100 Years Ago" section, which, as its name suggests, presents archived articles that the journal printed a century ago. This week, JAMA offered a missive (dated 100 years ago today) from an unnamed London correspondent spelling out the ill effects white bread was wreaking on British society.

The author notes that white bread, made from grains stripped of their "germ and inner husk," had originally been offered as a luxury item for the rich but had become the bread of choice for all classes. Specifically, the author complains, the ubiquity of white bread, depleted of the nutritional virtues that the whole grain imparts, was causing an epidemic of dental caries, even as the medical community remained unmoved to take any action:

From time to time an occasional article has appeared in medical journals pointing out the defects of white bread, but it has had no more effect than the periodical wail on the abandonment of blood-letting. The only persons who have shown themselves alive to the situation are the vegetarians, who in renouncing most animal foods have shown a keen desire to get as much as possible out of their vegetable food; they have always consumed whole-meal bread. But outside their own sect they have no influence.

The correspondence ends on a hopeful note, though one that raises the prospect of government intervention:

In the lay press an agitation in favor of the old cream-colored loaf which is termed "standard bread," and defined as "bread made from unadulterated wheat and containing at least 80 per cent of the whole wheat, including the germ and semolina," has produced such an effect in a few days that the result must be described not as a reform in but as a revolution in bread. Prominent physicians and health officers are supporting the movement. It is proposed to introduce a bill into parliament for the standardization of bread and the proposal has received the support of members of all parties

Today we worry more about obesity than cavities when we think of all that refined-grain-based white bread we eat. But what of this idea of introducing legislation to standardize bread? That gives me the willies.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 25, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Dietary Guidelines, Is That Right?, Nutrition and Fitness  
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I read that and even though the concept is an ld one, doesn't it seem like we need that constant reminding? We have worked hard in our family to not eat the enriched white stuff - youa re right that it's a bad idea on so many levels. We eat our whole grain bread and enjoy grains like Kamut Wheat, quinoa and wild rice and it makes me so happy as a parent to see my kids prefer and actually get excited when they see it on their plates! LOL - I think it's so important for our kids!

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | February 25, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Make your own bread. Its the only way to know whats in it. I make mine by hand because I enjoy doing it, however bread machines take all the effort out it.

Posted by: treadlefish | February 25, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, but you can take a slice of white bread, slice off the crust, and then roll up the crumb so it forms a rubbery, bouncy little ball. You can't do that with wheat.

I mean, I wouldn't eat it, but it sure is the most fun kind of bread.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 25, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

In 1925, Wonder Bread became America's first sliced bread, the "best thing since sliced bread" and changed our national nutrition from adequate to deplorable.

In the process of making white flour, half of the healthy unsaturated fatty acids, are lost in the milling process and virtually all the vitamin E is lost - leaving only poor quality proteins and fattening starch.

About 50% of all calcium, 70% of phosphorus, 80% of iron, 98% of magnesium, 75% of manganese, 50% of potassium, and 65% of copper are destroyed. The B vitamins are significantly reduced - about 80% of thiamine, 60% of riboflavin, 75% of niacin, 50% of pantothenic acid, and about 50% of Pyridoxine is also lost.

Posted by: alance | February 25, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Graybeards are always telling us what we should or should not eat. I want to tell them
to mind their own business.

I eat white bread because I like the taste.
I don't eat wheat bread because I don't like the taste.

Posted by: Observer20 | February 25, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Vitamin B deficiencies are often the leading causes of:

1. Anxiety and Depression
2. Water Retention
3. Dermatitis
4. Hypertension
5. Anemia
6. Birth Defects
7. Memory Loss and Confusion - especially in the elderly.

Posted by: alance | February 25, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Why is white bread so much cheaper than whole wheat? It's about half the price where I shop. Price affects what a lot of us buy.

Posted by: pundito | February 25, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Bread made from whole-wheat flour is better than white, but the best thing is to avoid any flour and eat whole grains.

Posted by: MissWairsey | February 25, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I hate to be VERY cynical, but what the medical community broadcasts for years as healthy practices or absolutely required tests, or proper levels of this and that are, are reversed on dropped FAR TOO OFTEN. I give you today's story on mens' PSA tests.

I recall the egg yolk phobia, now more or less debunked. And as we know from Mad Men (to use a pop culture reference), DOCTORS were recommending smoking for healthy outcomes at one point.

So pick and choose your JAMA articles carefully.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | February 25, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Observer 20, you can also take that kind of attitude toward all sorts of foods that some people say are not good for you. Love your attitude. Sort of like mine. If my clothes get snug, I buy a bigger size!

Posted by: mbrumble | February 25, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: chicgoods | February 25, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

It is true many vitamins are lost in the process of making white bread. However, our food are so fortified these days, the small amount lost is more than made up elsewhere. I'm all for eating well but unbridle exuberance for natural foods without the scientific backing is just feeding into the fad. Remember that's how we got into no vaccination for kids and eating organic lettuce fertilized with manure that was tainted with e coli.

Posted by: longjohns | February 26, 2011 1:17 AM | Report abuse

Other than sourdough white bread is blech! I skip bread several days a week. Steel cut oatmeal, cooked in a small crock pot. 1:4 ratio oatmeal to water. 2 hours (use a timer). Add cinnamon, powered ginger, nutmeg, raisins or dried blueberries. A splash of buttermilk. No sugar necessary.

Posted by: dshipwright | February 26, 2011 7:29 AM | Report abuse

White bread is devoid of bran, which contains a mineral-controlling molecule called phytate or inositol hexaphosphate. Human societies become fat without bran. White bread is even fortified with iron to make things worse. Cereals and flour in Eastern Europe are not fortified with iron and there is little obesity. It is bran that must be re-introduced. If fearful of legislation to standardize bread, we already have that in rules regarding vitamin fortification of flour.

Posted by: billsardi | February 26, 2011 9:04 AM | Report abuse

If they are so interested in everyone eating whole grains, how about bringing the cost down? If I can buy a larger load of white bread for a dollar, why should I buy a smaller loaf of wheat bread for two dollars?

Posted by: gmclain | February 26, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

To stay healthy, humans need both fiber and natural vitamins and minerals. White bread lacks both fiber and natural vitamins.

The British medical journal, The Lancet, reported that during an experiment, dogs fed exclusively on white bread died of malnutrition while dogs fed stone-ground, whole-wheat flour lived in good health. Like drugs, synthetic vitamins are synthesized isolated chemical compounds that have toxic side effects.

In many countries, white bread is fortified by spraying vitamins and minerals (normally vitamins B1, B2, B3, and iron are added) into the mix. Despite the fortification, white bread is lower in zinc, fiber, thiamin, niacin, trace elements and good fats and oils.

Large bakeries know whole wheat bread is much healthier for you. This is why they charge more - to rip-off the people who know better.

Posted by: alance | February 26, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

A plumber told my husband that if he was working on water pipes that white bread would plug the pipe until he finished soldering. We don't eat white bread so he tried to use the wheat we had in the house. It didn't work. He bought some white bread and sure enough it plugged the pipe. It seems that is an old plumbers trick.
If white bread will plug water pipes what is it doing to a persons digestive tract?

Posted by: EFDTN | February 26, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

I don't see anyone telling you that you cannot eat white bread. I only see people recommending that you eat more whole grains.

Whole grain foods taste so much better than the library paste "taste" of while flour products that you have to wonder why anyone would eat them. Of course, the answer is that you eat what you're used to eating, that people fight change.

Naturally, if you're used to flavorless white flour, then adding the flavor of whole grains seems strange to your taste. I grew up on white bread. I learned to enjoy whole grains and now avoid white flour products to the extent possible in our society. I totally dislike the bland tasteless nature of while flour products.

Regarding price, it's a matter of two things. Supply and demand affect price. Vast numbers of brainwashed people buy white bread helping to keep the volume high and the price down. Also, read the weights of what you're buying instead of looking at the size. Most white bread is less dense than whole wheat and so looks bigger.

Real whole wheat bread often is prepared these days without preservatives making it harder to ship over long distances and to keep on store shelves for long times. White bread just naturally doesn't spoil as quickly because of its lack of nutrition. These facts also keep the price differential.

If, however, you eat real 100% whole wheat bread, you'll find yourself more satisfied with less. Your overall cost just may drop.

Given that early humans were unable to harvest, grind, and bake bread, it's a relatively new addition to our food. Is it really healthy, even in whole grain versions? Nobody's looked into diets without grain to see how they would affect our health. Is white flour bad and whole wheat flour just less bad? I don't find any answers to such a simple question.

Posted by: harry4 | February 26, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

White is right.

Posted by: Axel2 | February 26, 2011 9:53 PM | Report abuse

not everyone can eat whole grains. for people who are on a restricted diet due to kidney disease, whole grains are on the list of foods to avoid because they increase potassium and magnesium stores in the body, minerals that the kidneys can no longer handle. i should know.

it's been hell trying to put hubby on a nutritious diet since the "good for you" foods are on the list. and he's trying to lose weight for a transplant. it's a catch-22.

Posted by: fantasyjoker | February 26, 2011 11:36 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that can't have a tomato sandwich using whole wheat bread. Mayo, plenty of salt and pepper, fresh garden tomatoes (thinly sliced) on soft white bread. There is no substitute.

Posted by: jmcdon7230 | February 27, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

To be honest with you, my kids, teenagers all, won't eat white bread, won't touch the stuff. I only buy it extra cheap, as a treat for myself, to use as toast (with real butter only please) for eggs....yummy!

Posted by: bproulx451 | February 27, 2011 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I'm worried about the over-availability of mock food in a sedentary society. It seems like there should be reasonable ways for caring parents to feed their kids at a reasonable price. So yeah, lets treat wonder bread like candy and dried beans like a valued resource by chefs.

Labeling, education, marketing and taxes were used to teach us bad habbits, why not teach us a few good ones.

Posted by: TinMan2 | February 27, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Be sure you search out the struggle by USDA officials to urge Congress to enrich white bread in America! It would be in the time frame 1946-50. The result has been better nutrition for all in America. England has been slow on this!

Posted by: CSLADD | February 27, 2011 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I grew up on whole wheat bread, and we still buy it. I agree that the price is higher because there is less demand.

If you want whole wheat, read the label. If whole wheat is not the first ingredient, it is "imitation" whole wheat.

Kids learn from their parents. If your kids don't see you eating whole wheat, they will be reluctant to try it. Toasted whole wheat has a lot more flavor than white bread, BTW. Yes, it costs more, but everything that is healthy costs more. Just think - that means there is not enough demand for healthy food.

No wonder America is fat!

Posted by: Whazzis | February 27, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Is unbleached flour at least better for you?

Posted by: Cossackathon | February 27, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I’d like to remind everyone about the importance of both whole and enriched grains in a healthful diet. The most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls for Americans to select half of their daily grain foods from whole grain sources, leaving the other half for enriched grains like white bread, pasta, white rice and tortillas, which provide their own unique health benefits.

Enriched grains are a source of essential B vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin and niacin as well as iron and folic acid. Folic acid is critical in the prevention of neural tube birth defects, which often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. Since 1998, when the FDA mandated that enriched grains be fortified with folic acid, the rate of neural tube birth defects has decreased by approximately one-third in the U.S. As such, the FDA continues to recommend that women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. The need for folic acid is particularly critical among Hispanic women, who are twice as likely to have a baby born with a neural tube defect. CDC acknowledges that enriched grains, rather than supplements, are responsible for lowering the rate of neural tube birth defects as they are the largest source of folic acid in the American diet.

The updated Guidelines also stress maintaining calorie balance for a healthy weight, and both whole and enriched grains have a place in a nutrient-dense, calorie-controlled diet.

Posted by: glenngaesser | March 2, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

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