White foods are controversial foods in nutrition circles. There are two types of white foods, the processed ones and the natural ones. Foods that are white in color and that have been processed and refined, like flour, rice, pasta, bread and simple sugars like table sugar are generally referred to as processed white foods.
Natural, unprocessed white foods include cauliflower, turnips, white beans, and white potatoes, which are the healthier counterparts. It is generally recommended to avoid processed white foods, due to health concerns over refined sugars and flours.
Facts And Myths Regarding White Foods
1. White Bread
Myth 1: Avoid eating white bread.
You should totally avoid eating breads made with white flour as consumption of white bread can cause bloating, lead to an increase in wheat allergies and spark weight gain.
The standard white sliced bread contains vital vitamins and minerals and could be an important source of nutrition. A review of this topic by the British Nutrition Foundation (Weichselbaum 2012) concluded that there is no scientific evidence that regular consumption of bread causes bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort, unless there is a sudden increase in the intake of fiber.1
Myth 2: Bread does not contain any nutrients.
Though it is a fact that nutrients are lost during the milling process of flour that is used in a whole host of products including bread, but the amount of nutrients lost will depend on the amount of bran and germs removed.
According to the Government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), bread provides more than 10% of our daily intake of protein, folate and iron, and around 20% or more of fiber, calcium and magnesium.
Cutting bread from the diet would reduce average fiber intake, and a diet low in fibers have been associated with constipation, which leads to gastrointestinal discomfort.
Myth 3: White bread is bad for you because it has a high GI (Glycemic Index).
The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a measure of how quickly glucose is released into the bloodstream after eating. Though white bread has a relatively high GI, the addition of fat and protein along with the white bread slows down the absorption of carbohydrates.
Therefore, if bread is eaten with a meal or in combination with other foods (e.g. a sandwich), the carbohydrate is broken down more slowly and glucose enters the bloodstream at a slower rate.
Note – Although for most people it is advisable to consume wholemeal or multigrain bread rather than white bread, for increased fiber intake. But for those who may need to eat a lower fiber diet, such as toddlers or older people with poor appetites who may not be able to get all the nutrients they need if they eat a bulky, high fiber diet – white bread is a good alternative to wholegrain.
2. White Rice
Myth: White rice is an empty source of calories and should be completely avoided.
White rice remains a food staple for much of the world’s population. Studies have found that those who eat rice are also less likely to be overweight.2
Though white rice is produced through a refining process that removes much of the inherent nutritional factors, but it still provides us with many nutrients and health benefits through our diet. White rice actually has health advantages over other carbohydrates and is considered safe in moderation.3
Note – When buying white rice, choose parboiled versions of white rice which take longer to cook, but retain more nutrients.
3. White Sugar
Myth 1: Sugar has no nutritional value.
Sugar is a source of dietary energy, perhaps the most fundamental element of nutrition, but in moderation.
Myth 2: Sugar is an unnecessary addition in food.
It is a fact that excess refined sugar is not great for your health. Also, there is actually no evidence that small amounts of refined sugar in the context of a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet (and active lifestyle) are harmful. Sugar has it’s own place in your diet, when taken in required amounts.
Myth 3: Brown sugar is better than white sugar.
Brown sugar and white sugar both contain about the same number of calories per serving. Molasses and brown sugar do contain more essential nutrients than white sugar. However, the amount of these essential nutrients you would be getting from brown sugar is very small and won’t do much to meet your daily nutrient needs.
Myth 4: Artificial sweeteners are a good alternative for white sugar.
Research has shown that artificial sweeteners causes a disturbance in gut flora and can actually cause diabetes. 4. Our bodies need sugar (or glucose) to function, but the form we need to take it in and how we should give it to our body for best physiological functioning is what needs to be taken into consideration.
4. White Potatoes
Myth: Avoid potatoes in your diet.
Plain boiled potatoes showed to be the most satisfying food tested according to energy. From a nutritional point of view plain boiled potatoes are an excellent choice of diet food, full of vitamins and fibers.
Potatoes do not make you gain weight, as long as you do not eat them with butter, sour cream, cheese etc. The negative connotations for white potatoes is mainly due to the method of preparation of white potatoes.5.
Thus, white refined foods can be part of a healthy diet, but moderation is key.