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Choosing between brown and white bread

If you approach the bread shelf at the supermarket, you’ll find a variety of bread, some of them made from whole wheat flour. If you are health conscious, chances are that you would prefer buying brown bread, believing that it is made from whole grains like wheat and barley.

Whole wheat brown bread has a “nutritional advantage” over white bread. This is because brown bread, made

from whole wheat, usually contains more fibre than white bread, as well as greater amounts of important nutrients such as vitamins B-6 and Vitamin-E, magnesium, folic acid, copper, zinc and Manganese.

Slice for slice, wholemeal bread contains almost four times as much fibre, over three times as much zinc, and almost twice as much iron as white bread.

But this is not always the case. It is dependent on the brand and other constituents added to it, like vitamins and fibre. Also, its colour cannot be used as yardstick in determining whether it is healthier eating brown or white bread.

“Some brown bread is no better than white ones. For instance, if the bread is not 100 per cent whole wheat or 100 per cent mixed grains, it is probably as bad as white bread, irrespective of its colour,” Dr Funmi Akinyele, Chief Executive Officer, Food Basket Foundation, Ibadan, said.

Also, the constituents of the bread determine the best option. Many white bread brands come fortified with vitamins and fibre. Also, white bread usually contains more calcium than brown bread.

In ensuring that one is buying the most nutritious bread option, she said individuals should read the label and check to see if it is either whole wheat or “whole meal” flour.

“If the label reads ‘enriched’, the flour is the same as that for white bread. Also, the presence of caramel as an ingredient often indicates bread colouring to darken white bread to brown,” she added.

When it comes to food, the thumb rule is to opt for naturally brown or dark coloured food, because of richness in nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help the body to deal with cell damaging free radicals.

Although brown and white bread have similar amounts of calories and carbohydrates, the main differences lie in processing and nutritional content.

Brown bread is made up of the entire wheat grain, which is high in vitamins, minerals and proteins, whereas white bread is made up of only the endosperm (the central part of the grain) which is rich in proteins and carbohydrates. Hence, brown bread is considered healthier than white bread.

But the carbohydrates in wholemeal bread are digested more slowly than those in the more refined white bread, and so keep you going for longer time.

As part of the manufacturing process, white bread is bleached with chemicals and fortified with vitamins and minerals through an artificial process, unlike brown bread. Also, in terms of taste and texture, white bread is softer and tastier.

Nevertheless, whether it is the white or brown bread, checking out its best before date is also important.

“If preservatives are added, it will not spoil quickly. The shelf life of bread depends on a variety of factors, such as the best buy date, the preparation method and how it was stored. Howbeit, bread is better eaten before it starts to go stale and loses its nutritional value.

“Even its length of storage in the freezer before consumption is also important. Due to unstable electricity supply, the best nutritional values cannot be derived from a bread that one freezes and defreezes,” she stated.

So what should you do the next time you’re facing the bread shelf? Don’t let the “wheat” or “whole wheat” label mislead you.  Read the list of contents on the label and choose bread that contains 100 per cent whole grain or “sprouted whole grains”.

Also, always make sure that the bread contains the fewest ingredients possible to ensure that you are buying the healthiest one.