Brown bread no better than white bread – at least for half of us

(Vegan baking/Flickr)
(Vegan baking/Flickr)
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Some people may prefer brown bread while others favour white – but there has been little dispute that wholemeal is healthier.

However, a new study has made the surprise finding that processed white and artisanal whole wheat loaves are equally healthy.

Although it’s not quite that straight forward because while white and brown bread is equally healthy for the population at large half of the population do better from one and the other half from the other.

Down to your microbiome

And finding out which one you are best suited to is far from simple. Determining whether you are a white or brown bread person would involve an indepth analysis of all the bacteria and viruses in your body – your microbiome – by a scientist.

“The findings for this study are not only fascinating but potentially very important because they point towards a new paradigm: different people react differently, even to the same foods,” says Eran Elinav, of Israel’s Weizmann Institute.

“To date, the nutritional values assigned to food have been based on minimal science and one-size-fits-all diets have failed miserably,” he added.

Bread is one of the most commonly eaten foods in the UK, where households get through nearly 12 million loaves a day – three quarters of it white.

All about 99

Around 99 per cent of Britain’s households eat bread at some point, while the average family buys 99 bread loaves and rolls a year.

Men eat bread more frequently than women: with 44 per cent of males consuming it twice a day compared with a quarter of women.

All of the participants in the study normally consumed about 10 per cent of their calories from bread. Half were assigned to consume an increased amount of processed, packaged white bread for a week- around 25 per cent of their calories – and half to consume an increased amount of whole wheat sourdough, which was baked especially for the study and delivered fresh to the participants.

After a 2-week period without bread, the diets for the two groups were reversed.

The participants were monitored before, during and after the study to determine the health effects of their bread consumption. This included an analysis of the level of glucose in the body when they woke up as well as the volume of key minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium in the body as the day progressed. Fat and cholesterol levels were also tested, along with kidney and liver enzymes and tissue damage and inflammation.

The effect of white and brown bread on these factors varied from person to person but overall, each person was found to have a “better response” overall from one or the other, the research suggests.

The study is published in the journal Cell Press.

“These findings could lead to a more rational approach for telling people which foods are a better fit for them, based on their microbiomes,” said Dr Elinav.