White, Whole Grain, or Whole Grain White?

Written By: Owennie Lee, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

Despite your attempt to whip your family’s diet into shape by buying whole grain breads and brown rice, do you find the kids or adults in your house turning their heads away because they are used to fluffy white bread and white rice? The heavily advertised “whole grain white bread” and “whole grain white rice” that promise the taste of white but nutrition of whole grains may sound like a happy medium, but you may think twice after reading on.

Whole Grain Look-Alikes: What They Promise vs. What They Deliver

“Smartwhite” Bread

The Wonder Bread Smartwhite website proudly describes this as white bread “with all the fiber of 100% whole wheat.” What you will not see on the product label, however, is any trace of whole wheat flour. It is true that Smartwhite provides 5 grams of fiber per 2 slices (compared to 4 grams per 2 slices found in Wonder’s Whole Grain Whole Wheat bread). However, it’s from cottonseed fiber, which is softer than wheat bran but does not deliver the same nutrients at all. To compensate for the lack of nutrition in white flour, vitamins and minerals have to be added back in. In fact, the super-long list of ingredients actually lists water first, and also contains high fructose corn syrup and many other additives that you probably cannot pronounce. Not such a smart choice, in our opinion.

Whole Grain White Bread

Unlike Wonder’s Smartwhite, this second variety of whole grain–wannabe, including products made by Wonder and Franz, actually contains some whole wheat flour. When you look closely, however, you will find that the first ingredient is still “enriched wheat flour,” which is white flour plus added vitamins and minerals. You will find whole wheat flour third on the list after water. These first three ingredients are followed by some 40-plus other ingredients that are added in order to simulate the texture and taste of white, but the nutrition of whole wheat. The fiber content of a 2-slice serving of whole grain white bread is 4 grams. Depending on the brand, you may also find high fructose corn syrup as the main sweetener.

White Whole Wheat Bread

Not to be confused with the previous entry, white whole wheat bread is in fact made with all whole wheat and has all the nutrients that whole wheat offers. Instead of using red wheat, which is the type found in traditional whole wheat bread, white whole wheat bread is made with white wheat (an albino variety of wheat). The resulting product is softer and milder in taste. White whole wheat bread is not widely available commercially, but you can make your own by starting with white whole wheat flour.

Whole Grain White Rice

You won’t just find “whole grain white” in the bread aisle. The same concept has migrated over to the rice aisle. For instance, Uncle Ben’s now makes a Whole Grain White Rice, promising “all the goodness of whole grains with the taste and texture of white rice you love.” In contrast to the whole grain white breads that start with white flour, whole grain white rice actually meets the FDA’s definition of whole grains because it starts with whole grain brown rice, which is partially milled, parboiled, and added back in alongside the rice bran and germ in the correct proportions. Interestingly, Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain White Rice contains more fiber (4 grams vs. 2 grams), iron (10% DV vs. 2% DV), thiamine (20% DV vs. 10% DV), and folate (25% DV vs. 6% DV) than its Whole Grain Brown Rice. The increase in fiber is caused by the addition of inulin, which is counted as a fiber but does not deliver the same nutritional value as rice bran. Furthermore, guar gum is added to improve the texture, while iron and B-vitamins are added as enrichment.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to the goodness that whole grains deliver, there really is no faking. Although the “whole grain white” varieties promise the taste of white while providing the nutrition of whole grains, the truth is that the processing and additives are simply not worthwhile. Work on getting used to the taste of whole grains by starting slow – perhaps begin by using half whole grains and half white – and slowly work your way up to 100% whole grains to maximize health benefits.

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