Why White Bread Might Not Be "Bad" for You

June  9, 2017

There are few foods as maligned as white bread, though our cultural distaste for it has long been cushioned by the belief that it makes you sick and wan. It is processed, after all. Earlier this year, researchers from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, skeptical about this claim, grouped together 20 random participants, all young and healthy, and subjected them to two weeklong trials of eating of two kinds of bread.

These two varieties came from antipodal universes. One was artisanal, whole wheat sourdough straight from a bakery; the other was achid, the Israeli analog to American Wonder Bread, preservative-laden and mass-manufactured. Participants ate roughly three to four slices of one bread each day for one week, followed by a two week dormancy period in which they ate no bread at all. Then, they did the reverse, eating three to four slices of the other bread.

The results of this study, recently published in Cell, are fascinating: Scientists looked at such variables as glucose levels, fat and cholesterol levels, and levels of essential minerals like calcium and iron. What the team wanted to focus on was how this bread affected these participants’ bodies, testing the reigning belief that white bread damages your body. They concluded there was little difference in the respondents' biological reactions to these two breads on average.

Averages can obscure more granular, individual responses to these foods, though, and that's where these findings get especially compelling: Researchers also zeroed in on the glycemic response, a vital indicator of diabetic risk, of participants two hours after consumption. They discovered that the subjects responded differently to the breads on an individual level. Half saw a spurt in blood sugar after consuming white bread. Others had that same reaction to sourdough.

The takeaway here isn’t necessarily that no bread is “healthy”; it’s that existing notions of dietary limits are severely limiting. Our bodies are odd, fickle creatures, and imposing understandings of nutrition may call for more specificity and rigor than imposing one-size-fits-all philosophies upon them.

Well, this is the best news I've heard in some time. I was heartsick for white bread when our household abandoned it during my childhood, just around the time it became popular to summarily besmirch white bread. Consider my childhood predispositions towards white bread vindicated. Give it to me.

Read the full study here.



Margaret K. December 17, 2017
There's no news here. They're saying that gluten tolerance is person-specific -- in other words, some people are less gluten tolerant than others. We knew that already. What they didn't test for is "the difference that makes the difference" -- that today's wheat is hybridized and way higher in gluten than any wheat our ancestors ate. It doesn't matter if it's turned into Wonder Bread or your favorite organic 12-grain loaf, it's still hybridized wheat, and many more people have trouble digesting it than did in the past. They need to run a study that compares hybridized wheat and original wheat, which would be Einkorn.
Sway December 17, 2017
That has to be the most ignorant study done by anyone! You don't compare two types of white breads to get answers. You compare their archic (most like USA Wonder bread) with a KNOWN HEALTHY bread that is 100% WHOLE WHEAT/WHOLE GRAIN, not to another poor nutrition value bread. Wheat/grain bread has higher fiber, vitamins and overall nutrients. Sourdough is not that different from white, so you cannot draw any valuable conclusions from this study. Anyone who's researched bread for even a minute knows white, sour, French, Italian rolls, etc, all are about the same nutritionally.
Mary June 17, 2017
I grew up with white bread, but the kind made in a mom and pop bakery. I don't understand the folks who consider Wonder type bread to be comfort food. Squishy, sticks to the roof of your mouth, and smells of preservatives. I can barely choke the stuff down, let alone understand why anyone would consider the calories involved in eating it to be worthwhile.
SandyToes June 17, 2017
You said it yourself, comfort food is what you grew up with. It brings back the cozy feelings most of us recall from childhood. The white bread I make in my Zo machine is about halfway between the 2 white breads. It's softer and lighter than most homemade white bread, but not squishy-spongy like Wonder Bread. It's pretty close to what Mom bought for us when I was a kid.
Alexandra June 16, 2017
This is horribly misleading and I hope that Food52 does not continue to spread misinformation of this nature in the future. If you don't understand how science works or how to read a study, DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT. Even unintentional spread of misinformation is harmful. It does not take into account the fact that diet does in fact affect your microbiome over time and those with microbiomes more conducive to eating processed bread vs whole grains without a significant spike in blood glucose may have likely gotten to this point because they were ALREADY eating a high fiber diet otherwise as it is known that high fiber increases the health of your gut microbiome. The conclusion they draw is only that a short switch to eating an unhealthy bread doesn't affect it significantly if you already have a healthy gut--a healthy gut microbiome afforded by eating a high fiber diet. As a science student, and as someone passionate about preventing the spread of misinformation, this almost made me want to write off Food52 as a whole when this shameless click-bait entered my email inbox.
Isabella P. June 18, 2017
not a science student but concur! I hope that people don't take this article too seriously/change their diets after reading it :|
Anke T. June 18, 2017
My body disagrees. I grew up in Germany, where all kinds of bread are eaten, and my house was no different - wheat, rye, whole grain and white, each had its place. I have always liked the hearty, darker, "more wholesome" ones better, and as an adult tried to eat a healthy, high-fiber diet, so you'd think my gut biome should be used to the stuff, right? However, the older I get the clearer it becomes to me that my personal digestive system works better (and by a wide margin so!) if I eat more carbs, especially white bread, and less "roughage" - just generally, a lower fiber diet. I much regret that since I actually LIKE to eat veggies and whole grains, but that's the way it is for me. I don't know about the blood sugar part, but it seems perfectly plausible to me that such individual differences exist at that level also. We simply are not all the same, and it just may be that some of us react differently to different foods.
Isabella P. June 18, 2017
Very interesting! I wouldn't disagree with anything you're saying, I was just commenting on Alexandra's comment about the validity of the research. I don't think we should take scientific research lightly as many "news" sites tend to (including many articles arguing the opposite of this one).
Jessica June 15, 2017
I just want to be able to eat again without a calculator going off in my head of how good or bad said food is....
Margaret K. June 15, 2017
Hybridized flour is almost literally in everything on the supermarket shelves, including organics. According to Dr. William Davis, it's the cause of the little and big tummies we've all developed, the mysterious digestive and auto-immune epidemic, and many other illnesses.
SandyToes June 15, 2017
I've always found it amusing that white bread gets such a bad rap, but pasta doesn't.
EmmyLoop June 15, 2017
I think the take-away from this piece is that it's not logical to put every single person under one umbrella of nutritional rules: "...existing notions of dietary limits are severely limiting. Our bodies are odd, fickle creatures, and imposing understandings of nutrition may call for more specificity and rigor than imposing one-size-fits-all philosophies upon them."
Margaret K. June 15, 2017
"Bad for you" isn't about the glycemic levels, it's about the gluten levels. Today's hybridized wheat (white or whole wheat, organic or not) has been designed to have way higher gluten than the wheat our forefathers ate and we're not set up to digest it. The only unhybridized wheat is Einkorn, and that's hard to make a decent 'modern' loaf of bread with. But I'll keep trying!
rob June 15, 2017
So many issues here, touched on by others, too. One week on each bread, very small sample size, all 'healthy' subjects. Doesn't take into consideration long term effects of white vs. whole wheat, sourdough vs. plain, health subjects vs. the 'average' subject, long term effects of acrylamide in the body and on and on. Increase in carbs (assuming the average consumption of bread in the subjects before the testing began was less) over a week isn't going to give enough of a glimpse into A1c and diabetic tendencies in just a week's time.<br /><br />I think there have been better studies to consider.
Andre June 15, 2017
Yes the study seems very Ridiculous.....
Abby June 15, 2017
I agree. Most of the arguments against white bread aren't about short-term glycemic responses, they're about nutritional issues and their long-term effects. None of which this study captures.
FS June 15, 2017
So, this research has basically proven that different people react differently to certain foods. <br />Wow, who would have thought? ;)
Kt4 June 15, 2017
I think this should have been the main take away from the tiny study, not whether or not bread of any style is 'good' or 'bad' for everyone.
Bernard N. June 15, 2017
Good article. I had given it up for a while too, then I decided to just eat it less, but still enjoy it. Too many foods that are ok in moderation have been demonized in the last few years. Maybe are portions were off because the food pyramid was not proportionally correct, but I feel if we eat a diet heavy on vegetables, a little protein and a little fruit, the occasional white bread, chips, soda, candy, slice of cake or pie should be okay.
witloof June 14, 2017
I read a memoir by a man who was an obsessive bread baker whose wife was gluten intolerant. They discovered that she could enjoy breads made from a sourdough starter with no digestive distress.
SandyToes June 15, 2017
There was a 2-yr period when I couldn't tolerate gluten at all, and some research pointed me to an Italian study of gluten sensitivity. It was found that many people who don't tolerate gluten well do just fine with slow-rise sourdough. I found a bakery that made traditional sourdough and it worked for me, too.
Alexandra S. June 9, 2017
Fascinating! Thanks for sharing the findings. Opening champagne immediately.
Stephanie B. June 9, 2017
One week is a very short trial period, and they used a small sample size. I would hesitate to extrapolate conclusions from this study that extend beyond the trial period. That being said, I prefer white bread to whole wheat (though I don't eat the wonder bread kinds) and I don't think it's "bad" for you.