This May Change Your Mind

Still Eating White Bread?

No-Knead Bran Bread
This No-Knead Bran Bread is not only rich in the nutrients discussed in this article, but remarkably easy to make. Click here to see the recipe.

By Terry Dunkle, DietPower CEO

As a boy, I hated whole-wheat bread. It smelled like hay and tasted scratchy. But I've learned to love whole-wheat—and so have millions of others. In 2010, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money on wheat bread than white.

That's a healthy trend: whole grains offer powerful protection against leading killers. I'm not quoting fringe science here, but careful studies reported in the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Read on, and you may find yourself reaching for the Roman Meal.

Pig Food?

Well, actually, the Romans preferred white bread. "The wheat of Cyprus is swarthy and produces a dark bread, for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria," wrote Pliny the Elder in 70 A.D. Four hundred years earlier, Socrates declared whole wheat "pig food." For 2400 years, brown bread was seen as food for the poor; white bread for quality folks. Not until the Industrial Revolution did white flour become affordable to the masses.

Before going any further, we need to distinguish between "brown" and "whole-wheat." Not all brown bread contains wheat flour. Pumpernickel, for example, takes most of its color from molasses, coffee, or cocoa. (Some unscrupulous bakers even use artificial colors to make their breads look "healthful." There's a special oven for them in hell.) To be sure you are buying whole-wheat, always check the ingredients label. The first item should be WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, not UNBLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR or some other look-alike.

A Grain of Wheat

A look inside a grain of wheat

This begs the question: Just what is whole wheat?

A grain of wheat is a football-shaped fruit with three main parts: a tiny seed, a drop of starch, and a hard skin or "bran." Grinding the grain cracks the bran, releases the seed inside, and pulverizes the starch into about 20,000 particles of white flour. Throw away the bran and you have white flour. Leave it in and you've got whole wheat.

Whole-wheat flour is far richer in vitamins, minerals, and fiber than white flour. So, in 1941, government regulators began forcing millers to put some of these nutrients back in. "Enriched" flour contains added iron and the B vitamins thiamin and niacin. But, as we'll see, it's still nutritionally flabby. That's why the Dietary Guidelines recommend eating three ounces of whole grain per day— equivalent to three slices of 100% whole-wheat bread per day. (Do you get that much?)

Fights Heart Disease...

The authors of the Guidelines were 13 professors from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and other leading medical and scientific institutions. Over a period of five years, they reviewed 46 major studies of nutrition and disease, as well as 12 studies following large groups of people over time. All studies were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.1

One of the panel's main conclusions: If you're an average adult, getting three servings of whole grain per day reduces your risk of coronary heart disease by 20 to 30 percent. This alone could add years to your life.2

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In some cases, the numbers were even more amazing. A study of 31,208 Seventh-Day Adventists3 found that whole-wheat bread eaters lowered their risk of heart attack by 44 percent.

What's the magic bullet? Scientists have ruled out fiber, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and other individual nutrients. Some think it may be a synergy of all or most of these. Others point to the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium. The latest studies suggest that it's not just the bran. Nor is it an accident of a healthy lifestyle—statisticians have corrected for that. The effect is real.

I don't know about you, but if I could nearly halve my risk of keeling over by switching to whole-grain bread, I wouldn't care if it tasted like sawdust.


Another major conclusion: Adults who eat the most whole grain are 20 to 30-percent less prone to diabetes. This is true even after adjusting for lifestyle and other confounders. Among men, the effect may be more pronounced: one study pegged their advantage at 42 percent.

How does it work? Whole grain apparently lowers fasting insulin levels, which measure how well your pancreas and liver keep your blood sugar in check. In one study the drop was 10 percent. Fiber seems to be the active ingredient. It works whether it's from whole grains or cereals.

(Pardon me while I have a bowl of Raisin Bran.)


Where was I?

Oh, yes: whole grains also fight obesity. Three studies linked them to lower body weight and better fat distribution. One even showed a dose response: for every 1.4 ounces per day, people gained one pound less over several years.

Download DietPower free trialAs in diabetes, the hidden weapon appears to be fiber. In a ten-year study of 2909 young adults, those eating the most fiber ended up weighing eight pounds less than those eating the least. Another study showed high-fiber eaters gaining three pounds less over 12 years than low-fiber eaters did.

...and (Maybe) Cancer

Finally, whole grains may prevent some cancers. A meta-analysis4 of 40 studies found a 21- to 43-percent drop in gastrointestinal cancers. The relationship seems unusually strong for rectal cancer. The jury is still out on colon cancer.

Bottom Line

According to today's best science, eating three ounces of whole-grain bread or cereal every day may cut your risk of diabetes and heart disease by 20- to 30-percent each. It also tends to make you less prone to weight gain, and may prevent rectal cancer.

Now how do you like white bread?


Peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, and the Journal of the American Medical Association are the gold standard for reliability. They publish studies only after review by experts in the same field.


To see how your health risks affect your lifespan, visit


Because Adventists shun alcohol, tobacco, and (often) meat, studying them excludes those as risk factors.


In a meta-analysis, scientists analyze data from a group of studies that were done independently.

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