Whilst we have been making breads and other grain-based products for centuries, the ability to produce white bread, pasta, and other foods is a newer technological development.
Some people will tell you that there is virtually no difference between the two, whilst others insist that a sniff of white flour will instantly make you obese.
So, what is the actual difference between the two?
All of the foods in question come from grains, with wheat, rye, barley, and many others being common in our food supply. A grain is made up of 3 sections:
- The bran - This is the outer husk of the grain, not unlike the shell of a nut. It is also packed full of fibre and nutrients
- The endosperm - The largest part of the grain, this provides all of the energy that the seed would need to grow. Think of this like the centre of a potato, full of energy but not so full of nutrients
- The germ - The small centre of the grain which holds the embryo for the new plant. This has a mixed bag of carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
When we want to make whole-grain bread or pasta, the traditional way, we simply grind up the grains until they become dust and this is the flour given to the bakers to work their magic.
If we want white bread or pasta though, things get a little trickier. Firstly, the bran and germ of the grains are removed, leaving only the endosperm. This also removes much of the fibre, vitamins, and minerals from the grain, leaving mainly carbohydrates and fats.
White flour can also be bleached using the same kind of bleaches that you would use on your hair or toilet. This makes the flour whiter and softer by breaking down the gluten within.
Thankfully, the European Union saw fit to ban all foods containing bleach in the 1990’s, so us living in the EU need not worry. However, bleached flours are still on sale in the USA and other areas of the world, with unbleached alternatives often being more expensive.
So, white bread and pasta are just the same as brown, but with the most nutritious parts of the grain removed. However, many breads and cereals are fortified with additional vitamins, minerals, and fibre, meaning that their nutrient content is often comparable.
Studies which have looked at whether we tolerate white or brown products better have not been able to find any difference. When you consider that a slice of white bread has 83 kcal and wholemeal has 79 kcal, switching from white to brown will not cause the pounds to start dropping off.
As a general rule of thumb, the less processed a food is, the better. This means that whole-grain products are generally going to be more nutritious than any made with white flour. But don’t worry too much if you aren’t a fan of brown rice, bread, or pasta, the white alternatives won’t kill you.
Now, can we please all get back to loving carbs!!