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Health Food of the month - Brown and White foods

June 2019

Slices of brown and white bread
Both brown and white bread add good nutrition to a diet

Previous Health Foods of the Month...



Curds and Whey


Diet & Supplements Index

We are often told how much healthier it is to eat brown bread instead of white, brown rice instead of white rice; or even whole wheat brown pasta.

Most of us know brown foods are better than white, but the reasoning behind this isn’t always fully understood. We probably know that there is more fibre in brown than white, but in fact there are other advantages too.

A grain is described as a whole grain when it includes three main aspects, bran, germ and endosperm.  The bran is the nutritious outer layer and apart from useful fibre, it also contains antioxidants and B vitamins. The germ in a grain is the nutrient rich embryo and also contains B vitamins, plus some protein, some useful minerals and some healthy fats. The central endosperm is the germ’s food supply and contains mostly carbohydrate, but also had a range of nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, copper and potassium.

A white wheat or rice product is made from the whole grain; brown wheat products or brown rice comes just from the central endosperm in a grain, with the bran and germ removed.

However, what is best for you is not totally straightforward. In white bread, food manufacturers remove the bran and wheat germ from the wheat flour but then they may well add potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide or chlorine dioxide gas to bleach the flour even whiter. These breads look and also taste great; but if you choose brown bread instead, the whole wheat flour used is likely to contain far greater levels of important nutrients such as vitamins B6 and E plus magnesium, folic acid, copper, zinc and manganese. This is on top of the extra fibre whole wheat contains plus of course there are no bleaching additives. So generally brown is better, unless the white bread has been nutritionally enriched, which can change the balances.

Rice is as interesting one. Today a lot of the white rice we buy is enriched, perhaps with vitamin B1, iron and folate. This closes the nutritional gap between white and brown rice. However, brown rice can still be the better option, especially with its high levels of manganese which is involved in collagen production essential for skin health.

Brown pasta follows the same general theories as brown bread, with brown pasta made just from the endosperm of usually durum wheat. This is a cultivated wheat with a higher protein and gluten content than other kinds of wheat and is ideal for pasta making. However, brown or whole wheat pasta has a nuttier flavour and grainier consistency than pasta made from white wheat and can take a little getting used to.

When you buy brown rice or pasta, you will find it takes longer to cook. This is because the thick bran outer layer hasn’t been removed and it takes longer to soften. Brown rice can take up to 50 minutes to cook and soften properly.

Couscous is made from durum wheat semolina and falls into the same category as pasta re nutritional advantages of brown versus white. Brown or whole wheat couscous is now available, with similar advantages as brown pasta although with negligible flavour difference.

Eggs don’t fit into the same category at all. While many people think brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, this is not the case. The colour of the egg relies totally on the breed of the chicken. Some chickens such as White leghorns lay very white shelled eggs, while others such as Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds lay brown eggs.  Sometimes eggs can become lighter as a chicken ages, but even so the difference in nutritional content is minimal.

Quinoa doesn’t come into the normal brown or white category either. Quinoa is a grain crop, but it is not the same as wheat and rice which come from a type of grass. It comes from a flowering plant and the different coloured quinoa, usually white, red or black, is caused by variations in the plant rather than differences in production methods. For all quinoa, whatever the colour, the outer bitter tasting seed coat is removed.

Red and white quinoa have the same amount of protein per serving, although red quinoa has less fat than white quinoa. All varieties offer a good course of iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium and fibre.

The general conclusion on brown against white foods is that brown generally offers more fibre content and better nutritional advantages. However, white can offer better textures and flavour, and white is much more likely to have key nutrients added during the manufacturing process which can sometimes remove the nutritional advantages of brown.

Unfortunately, all this means really that one has to read all the labels before deciding which is best for you.


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