White Bread vs. Whole-wheat bread

Bread Food FightBoth varieties are similar in calories and nutrient content, but whole wheat bread contains a good source of natural fiber and nutrients. White bread often has less fiber and artificially-added nutrients.

The Doughy Truth: Most bread is made of flour that comes from wheat grain kernels comprised of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Whole grains, like whole wheat bread, have all three parts. Refined grains, like white bread, have the bran and the germ removed. When removing these parts, key nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals go along with it. The part that is left, the endosperm, is the carbohydrate-rich part of the whole grain.

Some bread is considered “enriched” or “fortified.” Bread that has been enriched means many of the lost vitamins and minerals, due to stripping the bran and germ from the whole grain, are artificially added back into the flour. Fortified refers to adding nutrients that were not present naturally in the grain. To fortify means to strengthen, so by adding nutrients like folate to bread turns it into a fortified food.

White bread and whole-wheat bread generally have similar calorie contents, but often differ in fiber content and the effect on blood sugar. When the bran is removed from the grain in white bread, the natural fiber is removed, too. Fiber helps prevent constipation, lower blood cholesterol and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Literature suggests fiber also helps control blood sugar levels by reducing the speed of digestion. When food is digested slowly, blood sugar levels rise gradually and steadily rather than spike. Whole-wheat bread contains a good source of natural fiber and may be beneficial to those struggling with blood sugar control.

The Verdict: Most health experts recommend whole-grain breads as the healthier choice. The USDA recommends adults and children consume at least half of their grains as whole grains since they have more beneficial fiber and naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals. While there are other sources of folate and iron, white bread is often fortified with folic acid and iron – two nutrients often ”off limits” to individuals following a plant-based diet. 

Tip: When shopping for wheat bread, make sure the label reads “100-percent whole-wheat or whole-grain.” This ensures only whole-wheat flour is used. Labels that claim “multi” or “7-grain” often refer to a mix of white and whole-wheat flour.

Julia E. Salomón, MS, RDN, CD; Public Health Planner, Winnebago County Public Health
Courtney Immel, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Dietetic Intern