If you read “clean eating” blogs and follow #fitspo Instagrammers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that processed white bread is basically poison. Even if you pride yourself on eating a normal, balanced diet, you may still opt for brown or wholemeal instead because your mum once told you it was healthier.
We assume white bread has low nutritional value and contains scary amounts of sugar, salt and worse, and is therefore bad for us. The reality isn’t that simple, though, and processed white bread could actually be just as good for you as brown, according to a new study.
Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, monitored the effects of eating a traditional supermarket white loaf compared with artisanal wholewheat sourdough – and there was little difference between them.
In fact, we may all react differently to different types of bread and one shouldn’t be labelled as “healthier” than another, the researchers suggested. Sales of processed white bread in the UK have dropped by 75% since 1974, while sales of brown and wholemeal have risen by 85%, suggesting we've all taken the "unhealthiness" of white bread as a given.
For the study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the scientists analysed the gut bacteria and levels of fat, cholesterol, glucose and essential minerals such as calcium and iron in 20 healthy volunteers.
Half were asked to eat a higher-than-average amount of fresh wholewheat sourdough bread for a week, while the others were given the same amount of white bread. They were then given a two-week break before the two groups' diets were reversed.
The results were a surprise – even to the researchers. “The initial finding, and this was very much contrary to our expectation, was that there were no clinically significant differences between the effects of these two types of bread on any of the parameters that we measured,” said Professor Eran Segal, senior author of the study, reported The Sun.
He said the results "are not only fascinating but potentially very important – different people react differently, even to the same foods.” This is because we all have a unique array of microbes in our gut.
However, the findings shouldn't be considered conclusive, the team warned. The sample size was small and the volunteers only ate each type of bread for a week. There also wasn't a control group, so there may have been other factors affecting the results (people often change their normal behaviour when they're taking part in a study).
Wholemeal and brown bread do have other benefits, though, as some have pointed out. Bridget Benelam, from the British Nutrition Foundation, highlighted that it contains more fibre than white. She said: “Going for wholegrain bread and other wholegrain foods is important as, in the UK, we eat much less fibre than is recommended,” The Sun reported.
Dr. Elizabeth Lund, an independent consultant in nutrition and gastrointestinal health, also touted the benefits of wholegrains. “It should not be forgotten the health benefits of whole grains may be much longer-term than a one week study can show, especially in relation to gut health and prevention of conditions like bowel cancer.” Turns out the concept of "gut health" is far from a load of shit, after all.