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The Truth About Grains: White vs. Whole Wheat

on September 17, 2012 by Jami Balmet 16 comments

During my Real foods Explained series, I have shared my journey to whole foods, what a whole/real foods diet is, and 4 benefits to eating whole foods. Now I would like to transition into some more practical topics of what it means to be a whole foods diet.

Before starting on my whole foods journey I didn’t know very much about grains. I knew the basics: white bread doesn’t contain very many nutrients; eat whole grains. So I bought my family a mid line (not too expensive but not the cheapest) whole wheat bread. Basically whatever whole wheat was on sale that week is what I got. But I didn’t really understand the basics of grains, carbs, and what we were eating as “healthy” bread. Here are the basics of grains.

This whole discussion can also be applied to corn, rice, pasta and more but for this post we will focus on bread.

What is “White” Flour

White flour is highly refined. Meaning, it has gone through an extensive process of making it shelf stable. Real pure whole wheat spoils very quickly. If left in the heat or in a pantry too long, pure whole wheat spoils! So back before refrigerators, or the ability to transport food across the country in refrigerated trains, an alternative to whole wheat was sought. They wanted flour that they could transport for weeks without it spoiling. Thus they started stripping whole wheat of all the things that cause it to spoil quickly.

Unfortunately, what makes flour spoil fast is all the good and healthy nutrients in it. See Understanding Grains to get a better picture of this. So in being able to store flour for a lot longer and being able to transport it across the country, we lost the nutrients in flour and are left with simple carbs instead of healthy and much needed complex carbs.


How Your Body Digests Grains (Carbs)

To understand what the difference between white and whole grains are, we must first understand how the body digests carbs. I didn’t fully understand this until last year, and suddenly whole grains made so much sense!

There are two types of carbs: Simple and Complex. I’m sure you have heard this before but if you are like me, never fully understood what it means.

Simple Carbs: are simple sugars. Simple sugars are things like table sugar, candy, refined flour (white flour), and soda. Simple carbs are absorbed into your blood steam very quickly as sugar. When you eat a piece of white bread, your body doesn’t think it’s getting nutritious wheat, it sees it purely as sugar entering your blood stream. Not only are the good qualities and nutrients of wheat taken out of white flour, it is basically sugar entering your body.

Complex Carbs: are still technically sugars but they are different. Complex carbs are made up of 3 or 4 sugar molecules linked in a chain. Because they are complex, it takes the body much longer to break them down. Because they take longer, not as much sugar enters the blood stream and these complex carbs contain all the nutrients of whole wheat. You may still get a little bit of sugar, but you are also reaping all vitamins, minerals and nutrients of the bread! You still don’t want a diet composed entirely of complex carbs, but they certainly have a place in a balanced diet. Read Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates for a more in depth look at carbs. See also, Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains for a comparison.


Whole Grains Defined

So knowing now that white flour and breads are not healthy, how do you go about finding a healthy whole wheat flour or bread?

The first thing you want to look for is the label and how the bread is described. Stay away from products that are labeled “multi-grain”. This just means there are multiple grains involved, not if they are whole or refined.

You want to look for “100% whole grain”. This claims that the grains involved are 100% whole and not refined. Next, take a look at the label. Check how much sugar is in it. We find that even the healthiest whole wheat breads can contain a lot of unnecessary sugar. Check how much sodium is in it (especially if you are on a low sodium diet).

Then wonder down to the ingredients. Real, fresh bread only needs a handful of ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, yeast, maybe a bit of salt (although I leave salt out of my homemade bread), sometimes some honey or other additional items like nuts. If your bread contains 30-40 ingredients, there is something wrong!

Shop around and check stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, health food sections of your normal grocery store or make your own bread! I got a bread machine at a thrift store for $10! 3 years later and it still makes amazing bread, all I have to do is throw the ingredients into the machine and turn it on. One of our favorite recipes is Honey Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread.

Some argue that grains should be cut out of our diets completely. Some people may not be able to digest grains properly so maybe they should cut out grain from their diet. However others argue,

Some nutritional scholars believe that grains should be avoided completely, arguing that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains and they cause a downward spiral in many facets of your internal health. Source

Did you catch that? Some argue that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains. Well I have a problem with that right there. I do not believe in evolution. And in fact, when I study the Bible I see many instances of man eating bread and grains as a staple of their diet since the days of Adam. I think that grains can be a healthy and natural part of your diet as long as you are eating good, complex, whole grains that are as close to how God designed them to be as possible. And not pigging out on carbs alone.

Grains and what type of bread to buy can seem so daunting at first! But you really just have to remember a couple of things: Don’t buy white bread or flour, look for “whole grains” not “multi-grain”, and read the label and ingredients list! You will quickly get the hang of it and buying good nutritious bread will become second nature (or you will fall in love with making homemade bread like I did)!

Read more in the series {here} and come back all month long for more information, great recipes, tips, and a few awesome giveaways!



Get instant free access to my Finding Joy in Your Home video course.

  • Do you want to discover more joy, peace, & tranquility within your home?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and like your house is out of control?
  • Join my free course and learn the essential habits for Christian homemakers
  1. Hi Jami! I love your blog πŸ™‚ I have been eating whole foods only for a few months now and feel great! No Gluten for me but that’s because my body doesn’t digest it well…I don’t argue that gluten is bad for everyone. Anyway is it just me or do you feel a little closer to God eating whole foods? I know it might sound funny but the less processed junk I eat and the more whole delicious real foods I eat the closer I feel to Him. Like I’m using what He wants us to use for our bodies. It’s a nice thought I carry around πŸ™‚ Congrats and Best Wishes with the twins!

  2. You make me want to get my bread maker fixed! My mom grinds her own flour and makes her own bread, and she stores the freshly ground flour in the freezer – and only grinds as much as she can use in the next couple of weeks. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying whatever bread is cheapest, but as you say, that’s not the healthiest. Thanks for explaining things so well. πŸ™‚

  3. I have a bread machine and I do love using it! But how do you store your bread? My kitchen seems to stay warm and it goes bad very quickly. Any tips would be great!

    • I love my bread machine πŸ™‚ hm…ours stays fine left out. Do you live in a really humid climate?? I don’t grind my own wheat (yet!!) so I store mine in the fridge and freezer too!

      • I am in Maryland. We are in a middle townhouse with no natural light in my kitchen. If I leave out fruits and veggies they wil go bad very quickly. What I was doing with fresh bread was wrapping it in plastic and then in a larger zip lock bag. But after 3 or 4 days we would notice mold. And hubby just tosses, lol! I recently have been trying a local bakery bread and are getting the same results with mold. πŸ™ This week i started putting the bread in the fridge and we will see how that goes!

        • Oh that is such a bummer! I usually keep most of my fruit and veggies in the fridge. I have no natural light in my kitchen either. I always keep our bread in the fridge…we just don’t eat enough bread to use a whole loaf before it does bad. If there is even a tiny bit of mold on one piece…my hubby don’t eat it! lol!

  4. Oh, thanks for this article. I actually am completely grain-free right now, because my body doesn’t absorb any grains well at all….so I’m grain-free for awhile, until I can heal the bacteria in my gut…then I might be able to have some grains again πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ In any case, thanks for this article. I think grains are good…but just not for me. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather πŸ™‚

  5. Totally agree about the grains and evolution. I think it’s useful to reduce overall carb consumption – complex or otherwise – because we’re all used to eating them as the majority of our diet. But I think they do play an important role, and leaving them out entirely would eventually be just as deleterious to our health as leaving out fat or protein.

  6. Hi Jami! Just stumbled onto your blog while researching grains (so glad I did by the way!) I had the same problem with people cutting grains out of their diet – my rationale was that if Jesus ate it, it’s good enough for me! BUT after more research, I found that the difference in the grains years ago and now is that we don’t allow our grains to sprout. Grains that are not allowed to sprout are full of phytic acid, a mineral blocker. What is your take on sprouted grain vs. grain that is not sprouted or is this new information to you as well?

    • So glad you found your way here!!! πŸ™‚ I also think that eating healthy and taking care of our bodies is important BUT we need to make sure that we don’t make food an idol. The Lord is still sovereign and we can’t dominate our life with healthy eating, it cannot become our God!

      Yes, I am aware of the sprouted theory. It does seem that sprouted grains are healthier but also take a lot more time. So for now, I am happy eating super healthy whole wheat and may find the time to do sprouted later. There is only so much time in my day and sometimes things like spending time with my family or Bible study takes the precedents over sprouting my grains. But that is just where I am personally at!! I would love to one day get there πŸ™‚

      Overall, we don’t pig out on grains of any kind. We do like the occasional pasta and bread with dinner but our diet isn’t composed of grains. Maybe people who eat too much grains in their diet but our family has it balanced pretty well. So if we have some really healthy whole wheat bread with dinner that isn’t sprouted, I am okay with that because the whole wheat is still every healthy (especially compared to white!!!).

      But as you look into it more let me know if you find out more things about sprouted πŸ™‚ I know it’s under a lot of debate right now (if it’s really healthier or not or worth the extra time). Maybe after my babies come then I can have some more time to look into it. Thanks for bringing it up and sharing! πŸ™‚