The smooth texture and mild taste of white bread makes it a popular choice among adults and children. Although white bread does contain vitamins and minerals, thanks to manufacturers enriching the white flour they use to make the bread, the lack of dietary fiber and the blood sugar response that white bread triggers make it a less healthy choice than whole grain breads.
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Manufacturers produce white bread using white flour. Although all flours start with wheat or another cereal grain, to produce white flour the grains are milled to remove the two outer layers known as the bran and germ. These two outer layers contain the majority of the nutrients including the vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Since white bread utilizes only the endosperm of the grain, it naturally contains fewer nutrients. Most white flours and white breads are enriched, or fortified, with vitamins and some minerals, but this attempt to make white bread healthier falls short.
One slice of commercially produced white bread contains about 66 calories. White bread serves as a good source of some B vitamins, iron, calcium and folic acid, but only because manufacturers add these nutrients back into the flour. White bread contains a generous amount of thiamin. It also provides other B vitamins including riboflavin and niacin. These three water-soluble B vitamins help the body break down food and convert it to energy. White bread may actually contain more folic acid, also known as vitamin B-9, than whole grain bread due to the enriching process. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects in pregnant women. White bread also serves as a good source of calcium, necessary for strong bones and teeth, and iron, which supports the formation of healthy red blood cells.
White bread lacks one very important nutrient – dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is the portion of a plant-derived food that the enzymes in the intestines cannot break down. Whole grain breads serve as a good source of dietary fiber, offering roughly three times the fiber of white bread. Studies, such as one conducted by Mozaffarian et al. and published in the April 2003 issue of the "Journal of the American Medical Association," show that consuming dietary fiber can reduce your risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. When shopping on the bread isle, be wary -- you cannot choose bread by color alone anymore. Not all brown breads contain whole grains and may provide even less nutrients that some white breads. And not all white breads are void of fiber, as some contain whole grains. Always read the ingredient label and choose bread containing "whole grain."
In the past, carbohydrates were classified as either simple or complex. The simple carbohydrates included sugary foods like fruits and table sugar while complex carbohydrates included starchy foods like potatoes and bread. Complex carbohydrates were considered "better" for you because the body takes longer to break them down. But not all complex carbohydrates trigger the same reaction within the body, sparking the need for a more detailed system. The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates based on how they affect blood sugar levels. White bread serves as a control food against which all other foods are measured. This means that white bread ranks high on the glycemic index – causing rapid increases in blood sugar levels. Eating foods with a high glycemic index is associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.