Is Whole Wheat Bread Healthier than Commercial White Bread?

A recent post had me stating that I believed that “Wonder Bread, an industrial product, is far less nutritious than a loaf of whole-grain bread,” a statement which has been since challenged.

As challenges to my posts often create a fair bit of re-evaluation, I considered the source of my belief. And, as luck would have it, no one less than Marion Nestle provided information in a recent post. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Dr. Nestle notes the difference in the flour, which happens to be the basis of my belief:

Wheat grains have three components ? the nutrient-rich bran and germ (?chaff?), and the endosperm, which is mostly starch and protein. One hundred percent whole wheat flour contains all three in the same proportion as in the original grains.

White flour contains about 80 percent of the original components. It is mostly endosperm.

Nutrients in the chaff are lost…

Sums it up pretty nicely, eh? This was information that I had picked up over the past few years of studying whiskey and beer (both grain focused drinks). This information quickly became defacto knowledge, and thus never really examined again. In my head, Whole Wheat flour was simply more nutritious than white flour and that was that.

But it doesn’t really answer the question on whether one type of bread is more nutritious than the other. From a logic point of view, it doesn’t take into account that nutrients can be added to the bread later on down the production line. This is exactly what happens, but not extensively. Dr. Nestle further explains:

Nutrients in the chaff are lost, so bakers are required to replace the five nutrients least likely to be available from other foods: niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid and iron. The (other nutrients that have been lost) are not replaced.

Neither is fiber. White flour contains only trace amounts of fiber.

(snip)

In response to dietary advice, commercial bakeries have introduced whole grain breads acceptable to white bread eaters. These grind the wheat bran super fine, add extra dough conditioners to keep the bread soft, and toss in some bran or cracked wheat to make the bread look like whole wheat. Check for fiber grams and the position of chaff ingredients on the list. The further down the list, the smaller their contribution

So the answer to the question is this – it depends on the commercial baker.

But there is a bigger picture question here, one which I don’t wish to answer today. I’m of the belief that one of the primary areas where American food culture is lacking is in the community baker. For a product that has seen societies rise and fall around their ability to literally keep bread on their citizen’s table, we Americans have handed off this responsibility to large companies, under the presumption that they can make bread better for cheaper. But is this actually the case? And what did we sacrifice in order to give them this responsibility?

Like I said, I won’t answer this today. But it is something we should think about.