You would agree that white flour bread is one of the most popular staple foods in Nigeria. And it is not just Nigeria. East or west, north and south, bread can be found on many families’ dining tables globally.
Bread is even more preferred than other staple foods like rice because of its convenience – just as it can be eaten for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is also a source of carbohydrates, a class of nutrient for growth and energy. However, nutritionists have raised concerns about the health benefits of white bread in our diet.
They note that white flour, which is used to make most breads and pastries, has been bleached with chemicals, making it less nutritious to the body.
Scientists in a 2012 study describe foods made from white flour as bad sources of carbohydrates which could increase its consumers risk for obesity and diabetes. According to the lead nutritionist in the study, Dr. Joseph Atkins, people who eat white flour foods which contain refined sugars have an increased chance of developing heart diseases and Type 2 diabetes.
Atkins notes, “Breads and other products made from refined white flour contain large proportion of high GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates. These carbohydrates cause sugars to be released quickly into the bloodstream. This causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels which triggers a similarly rapid release of the body’s own sugar regulating hormone, insulin and eventually leads to diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetes is a rapidly spreading disease brought on by our diet, it won’t hurt to take white bread out to live longer. The disadvantages of eating it outweighs any little nutrient we get from it.”
This is definitely not good news to many, but physicians maintain that if you want to improve your health, lose some weight and avoid the possibility of ending up with Type 2 diabetes, then white bread will have to replaced with healthier alternatives like wheat bread.
Atkins says, “White flour is produced from the whole wheat grain which is then subjected to the refining process which removes all traces of the husk, or bran and along with it all the goodness contained in the grain.
“ It is then bleached using chemical bleaching agents which contain chlorine and dried in kilns at high temperature to kill any remaining beneficial constituents. White bread is made from this refined white flour containing several unwholesome constituents and very little in the way of nutrients and dietary fibre, essential for a healthy digestive system and a stable metabolism.”
He likens eating mass-produced white bread to eating cardboard, noting that many of them lack useful dietary benefit whatsoever. Apart from the lack of nutrients, Atkins insists, white bread – on digestion – contains some substances that could make its consumers vulnerable to heart diseases and some cancers – including bowel and colon cancer.
He adds that white flour bread, when digested, produces bad LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream of those who eat it frequently, which could lead to health problems such as sudden heart attacks.
Another negative effect of eating white bread is indigestion, which doctors say increases accumulation of fat around the belly.
“Weight loss is so difficult for people who continue to eat white bread because it does not digest easily. When your food does not digest, it makes you feel more sluggish and less inclined to want to exercise.”
Finally, white bread has little fibre, which is essential for all the foods we eat to digest. Atkins explains that when one eats foods with little or no dietary fibre regularly, the colon (the large intestine) suffers because it becomes difficult for it to effectively remove waste products from the body.
He notes that this could lead to such diseases as Crohn’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and cancer of the colon.
You don’t have to give up bread from your diet; the problem is just white bread. The viable alternative is, of course, whole wheat or brown bread, otherwise known as wholemeal or wholegrain bread.
They are produced from wholemeal flour which is not refined in the same way as white flour. Nutritionists say wholemeal flour retains the husk of the wheat, or bran which is where all the nutrients and dietary fibre exist .Also, they have not been bleached with chemicals that could strip off their colours and nutrients.
Atkins says, “Wholemeal flour products like brown bread contain high levels of dietary fibre. This is essential for the functioning of the colon and the complete digestion of food and waste elimination. They also contain lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol with higher levels of good HDL cholesterol. This means healthy arteries and a better normalised blood pressure, bringing with it better health and less concern over the negative effects of white bread.”