Health effects of white bread

Staff of Life

A doctor once recommended bread to aid the digestive tract.

That doctor was the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, who
recognized the nutritional value of fiber, bran, vitamins and
minerals found in stone-ground flour. Needless to say, none of the
bread of Hippocrates’ time resembled today’s commercial white
bread, which was first developed about a century ago.

In the past 100 years, widespread consumption of white bread has
done nobody any good. And as two new studies show, your choice
of bread may have a lot to do with whether or not you become
overweight or develop type 2 diabetes.

Culprit caught

Researchers at the Cancer Council in Victoria, Australia, didn’t set
out to study bread. The original scope of their study was designed
to examine associations between type 2 diabetes risk and the intake
of different kinds of food. The foods were evaluated by using the
glycemic index (GI).

In the e-Alert “So Five Minutes Ago” (2/23/04), I told you how
foods that are classified as low GI (such as most fruits and
vegetables) prompt a slow increase in blood sugar levels, while
high GI foods (such as processed baked goods and starchy foods)
produce a quick spike in blood sugar levels. A steady intake of
high GI foods promotes a gradual insensitivity to insulin – the
precursor of type 2 diabetes.

As reported in the journal Diabetes Care, the Australian team
studied the medical records and eating habits of more than 36,700
men and women over a period of four years. The subjects’ ages
ranged from 40 to 69 years at the outset of the study, and none had
been diagnosed with diabetes.

More than 360 cases of type 2 diabetes were identified by the end
of the study period. The data confirmed that a diet with a high GI
rating was associated with an elevated risk of diabetes. More
specifically, the researchers singled out white bread as the one
food most strongly related to the development of diabetes.

The researchers wrote that diabetes risk might be reduced by
cutting white bread products from the diet, and replacing them
with breads that have lower GI ratings.

Whole grain, plus something extra

As I’ve pointed out in other e-Alerts, many of the whole grain
breads that line grocery store shelves consist of mostly white bread
with a little coloring added to give them a whole grain look. And
according to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, it’s well worth your time to read nutrition panels
carefully to make sure the bread you buy is genuinely whole grain.

A research team lead by the Harvard School of Public Health used
periodic questionnaires to follow the dietary habits of more than
27,000 men for eight years. The subjects measured and reported
body weight at the beginning and end of the study. Unlike the
Australian study, this research specifically examined the intake of
whole-grain, bran and cereal fiber.

The Harvard team found that subjects who consumed the most
whole grains tended to have the lowest weight gain. This
association held true even when added bran or fiber intakes
fluctuated. So while it’s not a surprise that whole grains would turn
out to be a healthier choice than highly processed flour products,
the researchers concluded that “additional components in whole
grains may contribute to favorable metabolic alterations that may
reduce long-term weight gain.”

In other words, the value of whole grain food may go well beyond
the positive benefits of good fiber intake. Which probably would
come as no surprise to Hippocrates.

Checking the index

In addition to helping regulate weight, true whole grain breads also
contain enough fiber to inhibit blood sugar spikes. That’s why
whole grains tend to rate low on the glycemic index. And there’s
one more clear advantage to choosing a genuine whole grain bread
over a white bread: Whole grains don’t trigger carbohydrate

This is one of the worst aspects about foods with a high GI: They
actually make you hungrier than foods with a low GI. As a result,
you end up eating more. And if the foods you’re eating more of are
high GI, you’re caught in a vicious cycle that can only lead to
weight gain and all of the other problems that come tagging along
as the pounds increase.

The solution is to become aware of the GI value of the foods you
eat, and a web site operated by the University of Sydney now
makes that very easy to do. The site ( provides
a GI Database where you can search for the glycemic index of
different types of food. The slight drawback for those of us in the
U.S. is that the database is sometimes specific about brand names,
which are mostly Australian and European. Nevertheless, the
database still offers an excellent guide for making low GI dietary



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and another thing

For those who wish to kick heartburn or acid reflux without using
expensive and dangerous drugs, I have one more detail to add to
last Thursday’s e-Alert “Sweet Relief” (11/11/04).

HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., notes that sometimes the
combination of acidophilus and digestive enzymes isn’t enough to
treat the problem, or there may be stomach trouble due to LOW
acid, which can weaken the stomach’s defenses and set the stage
for potential ulcers.

For these cases, Dr. Spreen offers this suggestion: “I add DGL, a
form of licorice that has one component removed (DGL means De-
Glycerrhizinated Licorice). I use Enzymatic Therapy brand but
there are other good ones. Chewing or sucking on one 20 minutes
before eating can be very helpful in difficult cases. Avoiding
refined sugar and white flour products also seems to help.”

Avoiding white flour products? Hmmm. Where have I heard that
one before?

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“Glycemic Index and Dietary Fiber and the Risk of Type 2
Diabetes” Diabetes Care, Vol. 27, No. 11, 11/27/04,
“White Bread Linked to Diabetes” CBS News, 11/5/04,
“Changes in Whole-Grain, Bran, and Cereal Fiber consumption in
Relation to 8-Y Weight Gain Among Men” American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 5, November 2004,
“Wholegrains Strongly Associated With Keeping Weight Off”, 11/8/04,