When is White Bread Preferable to Whole Wheat?

In my recent post “Are Your Nutrition Priorities in the Right Order?” I observed that portion size has a bigger impact on blood sugar than whether a grain product is whole or refined.

Laura’s not buying it! She comments:

So you’re saying that eating 1 peanut butter sandwich on white bread is better nutritionally than eating 2 on whole wheat bread? I find that hard to believe.

Fair enough. Let’s take a look at how these two options stack up.

Nutrient Facts PB on White
1 sandwich
PB on Wheat
2 sandwiches
Calories 321 653
Carbs 32 g 59 g
Fiber 3 g 11 g
Protein 12 g 31 g
Glycemic Load 15 22

 

As you can see, the 2 peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat offer more protein and more fiber.  Not surprisingly, they also provide significantly more carbs and calories.  And the glycemic load of two peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat is quite a bit higher than the glycemic load of one peanut butter sandwich on white.  In other words, portion size has a bigger impact on blood sugar than whether a grain is whole or refined.

Are You Better Off Eating White Bread?

I’m not saying that white bread is better than whole grain.  Whole grains have less of an impact on blood sugar than a similar sized serving of refined grains.  But that part in italics often seems to get overlooked.  People get lulled into thinking that whole grains have NO impact on blood sugar–which they clearly do–or that the more whole grains you eat the healthier you’ll be.

Actually, You’re Better off Eating Less Bread

Let me add another option to the two Laura has suggested: 1 peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat.

Nutrient Facts PB on White
1 sandwich
PB on Wheat
2 sandwiches
PB on Wheat
1 sandwich
Calories 321 653 327
Carbs 32 g 59 g 30 g
Fiber 3 g 11 g 6 g
Protein 12 g 31 g 15 g
Glycemic Load 15 22 11

 

As you can see, in terms of glycemic load (effect on blood sugar), 1 sandwich on whole wheat is best, 1 sandwich on white is not as good, but 2 sandwiches on whole wheat is the least good.

 

19 thoughts on “When is White Bread Preferable to Whole Wheat?

  1. Thank you! I found that last post really helpful, and this one as well. I think that I have also made the error of thinking that eating a larger portion size was fine as long as it was a whole grain (i.e. huge serving of whole wheat pasta). Your post made me wonder what the “right” priorities are; for example, is it more important to eat plenty of vegetables or to reduce added sugar? I don’t know if it would be possible to make such an “official” list (I’m sure those two are both very important!) but I know I’d be interested!

  2. I get why two sandwiches has a higher impact on blood sugar than one made with either type of bread, but what if you need to eat more calories? If someone has a large daily calorie requirement and does not want to do a high-fat diet, it seems that meals with high GL are inevitable. I mean, how much protein and fat can you eat at a meal? You’ll have to get quite a bit of calories from the carbs you include. If you eat 200-300g carb a day – some from whole grains, some from fruit, and some from veggies (NS and starchy), it would be hard to keep the total GL of the day under 100.

    1. Terri, you’re right: To some extent glycemic load will be a factor of calories. To continue using our somewhat arbitrary example of the peanut butter sandwiches, if you’re looking for a 600 calorie meal, then you’ll need two sandwiches. Two sandwiches on whole wheat will have a lower glycemic impact than two sandwiches on white.

      My only point here really is that the portion sizes for grains have to be appropriate to your calorie needs–regardless of whether you’re choosing whole grains or refined grains. So many people have the false impression that as long as they’re choosing whole grains, portion sizes don’t matter.

  3. To add, I guess you could spread out the meals, but studies seem to show that fewer meals in better for blood sugar control.

    1. What about this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8116554

      I’m trying to gain weight currently (thyroid medication messed up my metabolism), and spread my meals out. I also eat a high-fat diet, practically living on peanut butter. Has this particular study been overwhelmed by other data? Do you think high-fat worse than high-carb? Probably there’s another post on these subjects, which I’ll search for when I get a chance…

    1. Jessica, as I tried (unsuccessfully?) to explain in both the posts and answers to commenters, the answer is that a small portion of refined grains could be better than an inappropriately large portion of whole grains–which I guess is what you’re saying, as well. Whole grains represent a nutritional advantage when substituted for an equivalent portion of refined grains. However, eating whole grains in excessive quantities defeats any nutritional advantages!

  4. I totally agree that whole wheat is better then white break and that generally you should eat less bread. I stopped eating any glutten including white bread at all last year. It was not easy at first. I was feeling a little miserable cause I love bread! After about 3 weeks I started noticing an improvement in my general sense of wellness. My thinking became more focus and I lost weight without even trying. Since then I have added whole wheat bread back into my diet though in a much reduced amount. My question is is rice better then bread nutritionally? Having less bread naturally send me to search out other sources of carbs. It makes me wonder how rice and bread stack up against each other nutrintionally. Any thoughts on that Monica?

  5. Why are you comparing 1 sandwich to 2 sandwhich. Why not compare one to one? I’m ruining my eyes reading senseless articles like this. Whole grain bread contains way more calories than white. You eat whole grain to get to the glucose to give your cells energy. Just eat, watch your calories and shut up

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