Put down that Wonder Bread: The truth about white bread and whole grains
Why You Need to Eat Whole Grain Foods.
You need to eat whole grain foods instead of refined flour products like Wonder Bread (or any other bread that can be rolled up into a doughy ball), if you want to be as fit and healthy as you can be. But when you hear this you may say...
- But, I don't like wheat bread. It's not soft, like white bread, and it has chewy things. Why do I need to eat it?
Wonder Bread and other soft, smooth white breads get their soft, smooth texture from refined wheat flour. Refined wheat flour has had the natural wheat fiber removed from it. This makes a bread that tastes good to you, but that no longer gives you all the nutritional benefits of natural wheat.
Breads and other grain products that have still have their original fiber are much better for you. And not all 100% whole grain breads have chewy bits of wheat. Many whole wheat breads are made with fully ground whole wheat flour that produces a smoother bread.
- Why do I need to eat fiber?
You need to eat fiber because you cannot digest it. That's right, you need to eat a certain amount of non-digestible carbohydrates, or fiber every day in order for your digestive tract to function properly.
You may already know that fiber helps you to be more "regular"--in other words, it keeps you from being constipated--but it does something else too. It helps you to feel more satisfied with your food.
If you eat plenty of fiber, you'll be less hungry between meals. This is not only because the bulk from the fiber fills you up, but also because fiber regulates how carbohydrate energy is absorbed into your body.
Digestible carbohydrates (starches and sugars) that give you energy are easily absorbed when you eat them all by themselves. This is why eating sugary foods give you a quick burst of energy, or what some people call a "sugar high".
Plain white bread is digested almost as quickly as plain sugar. So, while it gives you energy, it does not provide the kind of long lasting energy that keeps you on your toes all day long, and your mind off of your next meal.
The fiber rich carbohydrates in 100% whole grain breads on the other hand, are absorbed more slowly. When you eat these you have a higher level of sustained energy, and you can concentrate on the important things you need to do.
Wheat is not the only type of complex carbohydrate you should be eating. A variety of whole grains are good for you. Oats are renowned for their health benefits; and then there are barley, rye, wild rice, brown rice, bulgar, quinoa, kamut, spelt, buckwheat and aramanth. 100% whole grain pastas are also easy to find at your supermarket.
- What about potatoes?
Potatoes are very nutritious and an excellent carbohydrate source; however they are more like white bread and white rice in that they are easily digested.
A term you will commonly hear nutrition experts use is Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index scale rates how quickly the sugars (or glucose) from a food are absorbed into your blood stream from your digestive system.
Potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they are more of a quick energy source. They are still an excellent source of nutrients, just not a very good source of fiber. (French fries, by the way, do not count as a nutritious potato. The way that they are prepared robs them of most their potatoey virtues.)
- So, is fiber the only thing I'll be getting from whole grains?
No, whole grains also offer the benefit of additional nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and potassium, and B vitamins for starters (click for an interesting nutrient comparison).
Some people argue that in fact white breads have more nutrients because they are fortified; but you can also find fortified whole grain breads. It is always better to get as many nutrients as possible from their original source rather than relying on vitamin and mineral fortification alone.
- How can I tell if I'm buying a whole grain product?
When you shop for whole grain products, you have to read labels. Some manufacturers will label their foods deceptively, knowing you are looking for "whole grains". Make sure your bread or pasta says 100% whole grain. Then, turn the package around and check the fiber content, and also make sure no "refined flour"is listed in the ingredients.
Even Wonder Bread is jumping on board the whole grain band wagon:
And they make a fortified bread called Wonder Kids. This bread supposedly has "all the fiber of 100% whole wheat bread". This is an interesting concept. But we cannot say yet that white bread with added fiber is as good for us as whole grain, long term. Inevitably, when foods are refined and processed and then re-fortified, inevitably some nutrients are lost.
Wonder Bread also makes a white bread that is made "with the goodness of whole grain nutrition". This is one of those slightly deceptive products mentioned earlier. It is not 100% whole grain, and you should wonder just how much "goodness" is in it.
Wonder Bread does not list the fiber content of its American breads on its website (Australian Wonder Bread does), so the writer will be doing some supermarket research and updating this later. Until then the writer reserves recommendation of these new Wonder Breads until their nutritional content and taste have been fully evaluated!