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White bread is the food of choice for many people, and for many different reasons. It's cheap, available almost anywhere, and serves as the base for wonderful sandwiches. If you have ever made your own white bread, you know that nothing compares to the smell of a loaf baking in your oven, and that it's hard to find something as tasty as your own lovely white bread — the kind with a crunchy crust and a soft, squishy center.
Is bread that great? You'd think so when you are confronted with the figures. Bread made up 40 percent of the diet among the British poor in 1911, but today it's as much as 50 percent. The situation in other developed western nations is similar. Refined flour products lurk everywhere, so it's not just about bread. Though white bread obviously harbors refined flour, the same holds true for pasta, cakes, donuts, pancakes, breaded meats and vegetables and even sauces.
Something is wrong with this picture. While your body certainlyneeds carbs, there are much better sources than refined-flour products — and the real heart of your diet should always be fresh fruits and vegetables, which can provide you with all the necessary vitamins and minerals. If white bread makes up a large portion of your diet, you are likely to be both deficient in essential nutrients and overweight.
What's worse, you may not even be better off if you consciously choose to buy bread and pasta that contains “whole wheat”, because the labels on our food can be surprisingly deceptive and your products are highly likely to contain mostly white, refined flour despite a whole-wheat label.
Why Refined Flour Products Are Bad For You
Whole wheat grains offer many nutrients — vitamins B2, B3, and B6, vitamin E, folic acid, iron, magnesium and calcium — as well as fiber. The refinement process essentially serves to strip flour of all the things that could benefit your health. During this process, 93 percent of vitamin E is lost, as well as 87 percent of Vitamin B6, 81 percent of Vitamin B2, 80 percent of Vitamin B3 , 70 percent of iron and 56 percent of calcium! In addition, white flour is much lower in fiber than wholewheat flour.
What do refined flour products contain instead of nutrients and fiber? A large amount of high-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. Yes, the starch in white bread and pasta is definitely a complex carbohydrate, but despite the good reputation of complex carbodydrates, that doesn't mean these foods are OK.
The glycemic index categorizes carbohydrates in a manner that gives us a better insight into what actually happens to the body when we consume these products. High GI foods (scores of 70 or higher) such as white bread and other refined flour foods lead to a rapid rise in blood glucose levels.
Research that indicates that high glycemic index foods increase the risk of ovulatory disorders and colorectal cancer is also underway. At the same time, there is evidence that low-GI foods (scores under 55) reduce the risk of these diseases, and encourage weight loss. Highly-processed, high GI foods are foods that are best limited, in other words.
That isn't to say that bread, as such, is bad for you — you just need to look for wholegrain bread that has not been processed to remove all beneficial contents. Unfortunately, that's harder than you might think. In the next section, we'll discuss what some of the food labels really mean, and what you can do to improve your diet.