Is Whole Wheat Healthier Than White Bread?

We've all heard that whole wheat is better for us—but is that actually true? Here's what you need to know.

With all the trending diets, newest food crazes and most recent studies, it can be hard to keep up with the latest nutrition recommendations—are carbs good or bad? Should you cut out dairy? Is diet soda actually worse for you? And now, thanks to Nathan Myhrvold and a new study, is whole wheat bread healthier than white bread? (Here are more foods people think are healthy, but actually aren’t.)

Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Bread (which is a whopping five volumes) and winner of a James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year for Modern Cuisine, claims that whole wheat bread is no better than white, and that it actually may be worse for you.

Whole wheat vs. white

The difference between whole wheat and white bread comes down to bran, the outer part of a wheat kernel. During processing, the bran is separated from the rest of the kernel. For wheat bread, the bran is mixed back in, giving bread a darker color. Bran is chock-full of vitamins and minerals, leading scientists to believe that whole wheat bread is healthier.

But Myhrvold and his team of scientists and chefs found that whole wheat didn’t perform much better than white bread, except for a few vitamins, including manganese, phosphorus and selenium, which people aren’t usually deficient of. In fact, the scientists found that humans can’t even digest some of the vitamins and minerals found in raw grain, like zinc, iron and calcium.

(Did you know that you should actually be eating bread at the end of a meal?)

Backed by science

A study conducted in 2017 supports Myhrvold and his team. In this study, scientists split 20 people in two groups. One group ate white bread while the other ate wheat bread for one week, they took a break for two weeks, and then they switched breads for one more week.

Scientists found that the glycemic response (or the effect that food has on blood sugar levels after consumption) wasn’t affected by the type of bread, but by the bacteria found in the person’s gut. Scientists realized they could tell which type of bread would elicit a better reaction based on an individual’s microbiome. This means that nutrition could be way more subjective than we thought—and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet.

Go for 100% whole grain

Unless it’s 100% whole wheat or whole grain, bread can still contain a lot of refined grain in the ingredients. Wheat bread dough often receives additives and preservatives, as well as sweeteners, which can spike your blood sugar just like regular white bread. So be sure to do your due diligence at the grocery store and thoroughly read nutrition labels to identify the differences in nutrients.

Whatever the most recent nutrition recommendation, we say homemade bread is always the way to go. Here are our favorite homemade bread recipes to try in your own kitchen. If you want a healthier twist on bread, learn all about ezekiel bread.

If you're on a mission to eat more whole grains, try these delicious recipes.
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Alexa Hackfort
Alexa is a writer who believes there’s always room for ice cream. Based in Milwaukee, she enjoys exploring the city, tackling new recipes and planning her next trip.