When buying loaves of bread for sandwiches or toast I only buy 100% whole wheat bread. It is a little more expensive, but I’ve been buying it for years and even convinced my husband to buy it when he did the majority of the grocery shopping.
The difference between whole wheat bread and white bread is the type of flour used. Whole wheat flour is made using all three components of the wheat kernel — the bran containing fiber, the germ containing protein and the endosperm containing starch. White flour is made using only the endosperm component of wheat.
Bread made with whole wheat flour does not rise as well as white flour. Because of this, more flour is needed to make a loaf of whole wheat bread. This results in whole wheat bread being slightly more expensive than white bread.
In the US you will not likely be buying plain white flour unless you are buying organic flour. In general, if you are buying a bag of flour that is not whole wheat flour, it will be enriched flour.
Enriched Grains are Good Too… However…
Since white flour does not have the nutritional benefits of the wheat bran and germ, the flour is enriched to add nutrients back in. Since 1941 refined flour has been enriched with iron and niacin as well as 2x the original amount of both riboflavin and thiamin. Since 1998 enriched grains have also been fortified with 2x the original amount of folic acid.
Enriched white flour is cheaper and therefore used in higher quantities by food manufacturers. Low income families are also more likely to buy cheaper, low quality products. Thus, the government has stepped in to require fortification and enrichment of refined grain products to make sure low income families (as well as all Americans) are getting the recommended nutrients for themselves and in some cases their unborn fetuses.
For example, good sources of folic acid include the natural options of legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, some fruits and whole grains; and the not so natural options of fortified cereals and enriched grain products. As Americans, in general we do not consume enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains and we consume too much of baked goods, pizza crusts, gravies and other refined grained products.
While enriched flour is not actually bad for us, it gives us a false sense of the nutritional value of the processed foods we eat. Let’s take control of our own health and eat real, whole foods rather than relaying on the government to enrich less healthy, refined foods for us.
Here are some whole grain substitutions to help you take control of your own nutrition:
- Buy whole wheat bread instead of white bread
- Use whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta
- Use brown rice instead of white rice
- Bake with whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour (or use a blend of the two)
- Look for cereals where whole grain is the first ingredient.
I choose to substitute whole grain products in my family’s diet when practical because heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US. The FDA agrees: “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”