There has been much debate over the nutritional benefits of brown grains vs white grains. I have to admit I jumped on the whole wheat train before doing much research myself. Wheat and white flours are present in so many of our foods today; from breads and pastas to baked goods, cereals, snack bars and processed foods. However, the more people began to ask me why whole wheat grains were the healthier choice, the more I began to wonder about the science behind it. This article breaks down the information I uncovered and I hope you find it as informative as I did, and also to make your next trip down the grocery isle less overwhelming.
How it's Made
Flour is made made from wheat grains crushed into fine powder and contributes to your overall grain intake. Whole wheat grains undergo less processing then white flour, and therefore differ in their nutritional value, fiber and vitamin content.
Even though white flour also comes from the same source it is stripped of much more of the grain components to alter it's state to make it white and it take on its new and different form from whole wheat flour. The image below really captures the layers and nutrients intact in whole grains, vs stripped out in white grains.
One of the primary nutritional differences between whole wheat and white flour is the food’s fiber content. Dietary fiber has a number of health benefits: it prevents constipation, lowers blood cholesterol and can aid in weight loss. The refining process associated with making white flour separates the fiber-rich brain from the rest of the grain, so white flour typically contains less fiber than its whole grain counterpart. For example, 1/2 cup of white flour contains 1.3 grams of fiber, while an equal serving of whole-wheat flour contains 6.4 grams. As a result, selecting foods that contain wheat flour helps you reach your dietary fiber intake goal of 28 grams daily if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet.
Effect on Blood Sugar:
Any food containing carbohydrates; including those containing either whole wheat or white flour, has some effect on your blood sugar. After you eat a meal, your body breaks the carbohydrates from your food into glucose, a simple sugar. This glucose then enters your bloodstream, so it can circulate throughout your body and provide fuel to your cells. The glycemic index, or GI, of a food serves as a measure of how quickly this process occurs. High-GI foods lead to rapid blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes that leave you hungry and irritable shortly after eating. Low-GI foods absorb more slowly to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, so you’re satisfied for longer after your meal. Bread made with 100 percent whole wheat flour has a much lower GI, while bread made with white wheat flour are much higher. If you seek to regulate your blood sugar after a meal, choose foods made with whole wheat flour.
Whole wheat flour provides a nutritional advantage over some white flours due to its vitamin content. Whole wheat flour contains several vitamins, including folate, riboflavin and vitamins B1, B3 and B5. White flour contains lower levels of these vitamins, since the processing involved in making white flour destroys the grains’ vitamin content. To combat this, some food manufacturers enrich their white flour with vitamins to replace the nutrients lost during processing. As a result, whole grain flour often contains higher levels of vitamins than unenriched white flour, but roughly compares to vitamin enriched white flour. Check the nutrition label to determine if a bag of white flour has added vitamins, and compare different brands of flour to maximize your vitamin intake.
Brown Rice vs White Rice
Much like whole wheat and white flour, brown and white rice share a similar story. They both come from the same source, but white rice undergoes heavier processing, therefore stripping down much of the nutritional content.
Here is the corresponding chart to reflect their differences.
Eat More WHOLE Grains
Making a few easy substitutions in your diet helps you reap the nutritional benefit of whole-wheat flour without sacrificing the foods you love. When you bake at home, try using a mix of whole wheat and white flours for cookies, muffins and cakes, and opt for 100% whole wheat flour to make homemade bread. At the grocery store, check your bread labels to select loaves made with 100 percent whole wheat; this bread is made using whole wheat flour, whereas those labeled simply "whole wheat" might contain a mix of whole wheat and white flours. In the pasta isle, skip the white pasta and opt for noodles made from a mix of white and whole wheat flour. Pasta made with 100% whole wheat can feel gummy after cooking, thanks to the pasta's fiber content; so choosing pasta made using some whole-wheat flour boosts the nutritional content of your meal without sacrificing texture.
Here is a handy chart to help you navigate reading labels:
The beautiful part of all of this is simply that knowledge is power. By no means do you have to create any hard and fast rules to give up your favorite pasta dishes, breads or treats if they aren't made from whole wheat. This simply will help raise your awareness to create changes if you are noticing energy crashes after a big white bread sandwich, or swapping in whole grain cereal if you didn't realize the label had used tricky wording to hide the amount of processed grains in their products. With a few simple changes you can increase your vitamin and fiber intake and create a healthier lifestyle.
Health is wealth.