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Choosing whole grain bread in place of refined white bread is often one of the first steps on the journey to healthier eating. But if you think this simple swap might not yield tangible results, you’re in for a surprise.

“There IS a measurable difference between whole wheat and white flour products, in every category one wishes to consider,” explains WGC Scientific Advisor Dr. Gary Fulcher. Refining whole wheat flour to make white flour greatly decreases a wide range of nutrients, including fiber, protein, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium. Below is a closer look at how whole wheat flour differs from refined or enriched wheat flour.

graph comparing nutrients in whole wheat flour vs white flour

Data from USDA Agricultural Research Service FoodData Central, (2019)

Rabble-rousing headlines claiming that studies find “no differences” between whole grain breads and white breads have been widely critiqued in the academic community, and are at sharp odds with the consensus of scientific research.  Breads do tend to have a higher Glycemic Index (GI) than intact whole grains, but, whole grain breads (GI of 69), on average, typically have a more gentle impact on your blood sugar than white breads (GI of 75). Plus, of course, the whole grain breads include all those extra nutrients.

Studies continuously support the health benefits of choosing whole grain foods over refined grain foods. For example, scientists in California found that people burned 50 percent more calories digesting a sandwich on whole grain bread with real cheese compared to a sandwich on white bread with a processed cheese product, even though both sandwiches had the same amount of calories and the same ratio of bread to cheese. Similarly, in a randomized clinical trial of 81 adults, the group eating whole grains had significantly higher concentrations of “good” gut microbes and significantly improved their metabolisms over the six-week study, compared with the group eating refined grains (keeping all other foods the same between the two groups).

Observational studies point to similar findings, linking higher whole grain consumption with a lower risk of being overweight or obese. And where are people getting those whole grains? US national survey data find that whole grain breads are the biggest source of whole grains for children and adults alike.

For more insight on the health differences between whole grain and white bread, see our May 2017 blog on US News & World Report. For more topics in this series, see our “MYTHS BUSTED” page. (Kelly)


Thank you so much for reassuring me that I am making a difference in the health of my family. For the past year, I started making all of my own bread products at home, everything from sandwich bread, dinner rolls, and garlic loaves to tortillas and pasta. I gradually worked from white flour to whole wheat flour so that my kids could adjust to the change. We now use 100% whole wheat flour for all of our bread products. I cannot tell you how many people have told me that it didn't make a difference what kind of flour I used. I researched it for myself, and surprisingly, a lot of different sources seemed to support those claims. But it still just didn't sound right to me. Surely, whole grain products must be better for you, it just seems to make sense. Thankfully, I came across this article, and I can see the numbers for myself. Now I no longer question whether or not the changes I have made are healthier for me and my family. Thank you :)
Hi Angie – What a wonderful story about your family’s journey from white flour to 100% whole wheat. We frequently recommend making the switch in much the way your family did, gradually substituting in more and more whole grains. I’m glad we could provide some of the scientific data you needed to back up what you already suspected was true about the whole grain flour you were using. Happy baking!
I dont wanna pu...
what does WGC stand for? i know its not world golf championships but thats the only acronym that i know for tose letters
WGC is short for the Whole Grains Council, which is one of the programs run by Oldways, our nonprofit nutrition education organization. For more information about our programs you can visit and
This is a misleading article. The lack of discernible difference is white and wholemeal not whole grain.
Hi Bazza – I think I understand your confusion. The term “wholemeal” actually means “whole grain.” In the United States, we tend to call flour made from whole grains “whole grain flour," but in many other countries (including Australia and the UK) whole grain flour is more commonly referred to as “wholemeal.” I hope that helps!
After reading many articles over the years, I find there's been a lot of inconsistencies in what is healthy and what isn't when it comes to white bread, whole wheat bread, and whole grain bread. I think there's a lot of confusion by people when it comes to the health benefits between the 3 and the difference between whole wheat and whole grain. Can you clarify, based on your research, the health differences between white, whole wheat, and whole grain breads?
Hi Rob – First let me clarify the distinction between whole wheat and whole grain, as that may be the source of some of your confusion. Whole wheat is one type of whole grain, just as carrots are one type of vegetable. Sometimes you will see studies focused on whole wheat specifically, but more often, researchers study the health benefits of whole grains as a broad category. Whole wheat differs slightly in nutrient content from other whole grains (just as carrots offer different nutrients than spinach), but whole grains as a category have been shown to offer a wide range of health benefits. I encourage you to visit our Health Studies Database for more details: This blogpost that you are commenting on provides an excellent overview of the differences between whole grain breads (including whole wheat bread) and white breads, and the reasons whole grain breads are so much more nutritious.
Hi there, First let me thank you for your article, I really appreciate the nutrient breakdown. I was wondering if you could clarify the difference between whole wheat and enriched wheat for me. I'm finding that some packaged "whole wheat breads" use whole wheat flour as the first ingredient, yet that the "white bread" versions list the first ingredient as enriched wheat flour. Does this enriched wheat flour make it more healthy than its whole wheat counterpart?
Hi Marina – The chart in the article above shows a comparison of the nutritional content of whole wheat flour (shown in the green bars) and enriched wheat flour (shown in the yellow bars). As you can see, refining a grain (shown in the red bars) removes a wide array of nutrients and the process of enriching only adds a few of them back in. While enriched wheat flour offers more nutrients than refined unenriched wheat flour, whole wheat flour offers ALL the nutrients found in the original kernel.
I just wanted to say that we are born from this world that grows everything we need and when left alone it's obviously going to be healthier for us than man can alter .. Just saying..... If it is better to refine it don't you think it would grow already refined ..... We are just used to consuming more than are bodies need and the result is bad health.....keep everything as natural as you can ....
Not the same but in concept- refining is sometime a good thing! Do you think oil pumped from deep below the earth will be as good for your car engine instead of having it refined? Same would go for iron ore, if natural state it better, why do we melt it down & process it into steel in a smelting refinery? I can go on and on but I think it's good. I know it is different than wheat but just saying the natural state of something isn't always the best.
Bronson Netz
This is accurate, however there are some inconsistencies in this argument. First, the analogy of the car is of what would be considered an unnatural object needing refined fuel, so the analogy really is technically void. The analogy of iron is correct, we do take the iron, and remove the sulfate and oxide, even more so we purify the gold and silver, and then the gold from the silver. It should be observed here though that they have removed the bran, and the germ, and left the endosperm, kept the endosperm and used it for bread. The endosperm is here is more analogous to the sulfate and oxides, or maybe even the iron, but the bran is the silver, and the germ the gold, so with food we have reversed the process of purification, and adulterated our lives and bodies with impurity’s.
Joe Church
two years ago i switched from all white grains to eating aprox 80% whole grains - wheat bread, brown rice etc - and I have lost over 30 lbs and kept it off.
i only consider calories, and whole wheat doesn't taste as good, so i'm still going to eat white bread unless i find a cheaper whole wheat, or a better tasting one
Actually, once you get used to whole wheat or whole grain, you’ll never want to go back! I actually prefer whole wheat now because just the idea of white makes me sick lol. Just try it out and I’m sure you’ll find that over time you will prefer it over white bread. Plus, it’s okay to spend a dollar more when your health will be much better.
I just had a heart attack a few days back. major widowmaker blockage. first one ever. so now they tell me toss my white bread. I use it to dip into seasoned oils as a constant snack. and now Im dipping wheat bread and seeing studies that say its worse. But I cant find the answer, the reason WHY is bread bad esp white bread for a heart attack survivor
Hi Mike – I’m so sorry to hear about your heart attack! I hope your road to recovery is as smooth as it can be. This blogpost that you’re commenting on outlines many of the reasons whole grain bread is better for you than white bread, but you may also be interested in looking at our Health Studies Database for information about whole grains and heart disease more specifically ( As you’ll see, whole grains have consistently been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. We strongly recommend reaching out to your doctor if you have other questions about your diet as it relates to your health condition.
I'm very new to stand mixers, baking, & milling grains. Got the mixer & mill attachment a week ago, & just carried in my first sack of grain a few minutes ago. I had read if you're new to try hard white wheat first, then onto hard red wheat grain later, so I got hard white. Am I to understand this won't make white bread, only lighter than hard red wheat bread will make? Thanks for your article!
Hi Frank -- It's exciting to hear that you are trying home milling for the first time! It makes such flavorful flour. You're right that using white wheat berries will give you a whole grain bread that is lighter in color (and a little milder in flavor) than the bread you would get using red wheat berries. In this case 'red' and 'white' simply describe the color of the grain, rather than indicating anything about whether the grain has been refined or left whole. To read more about whole white wheat, see our FAQ page here: Enjoy your bread making!
Don Smith
Here's what I've found. Even though Whole wheat bread has more nutritional value I find when making sandwiches I end up consuming 2 -3 times more calories because of all the extra meat and condiments I use to get a good flavor. I believe there's a reason why birds crack open seeds and spit out the shells.
Hi Don – There are so many delicious whole grain bread options these days. We encourage you to try several until you find one you like! All grains grow with an inedible outer husk or hull which we discard before eating, just like birds discard the outer shell of their seeds. But the grain inside is fully intact (with all its bran, germ, and endosperm) and packed with nutrients and flavor. The refining process it what removes the nutritious bran and germ from the kernel, not dehulling.
I find that whole wheat bread has *more* and *better* flavor than just a plain white bread. I could not imagine piling on three times more condiments and meats to cover up the taste of whole wheat bread! Consider my mind boggled.
Thank you for this article. However I think it is important to realize that for some people white bread may be the better option. My doctor actually told me to switch to white bread because I need to get in more calories. So just saying, what is healthy and unhealthy completely depends on the person.
The recommendation to switch to white bread to boost caloric intake seems odd to me. A survey of breads by the USDA shows that white breads contain only 5% more calories per serving than whole wheat breads: Perhaps it's related to the use of "enriched" flours and the relative amounts of added nutrients as shown the in figure above?
Adeel Azam
Thank you for this article. I just want to know that what is the difference between three types of wheat flour ? 1. whole wheat flour 2. refined 3. enriched wheat flour.
Hello, you can find more information about the differences between whole wheat flour, refined flour, and enriched flour in this article:
Can you please give a good whole wheat (knead and two rise) recipe without potato flakes or flour?
Hi Vanessa -- Here's a favorite of mine. There are instructions for both making in a bread machine and making by hand. I've never added the optional vital wheat gluten.
Hi CAROLINE-WGC, So what about using almond flour to make bread, i know it will be tricky but i was able to make some cupcakes and cookies which actually turn out better than i imagined.
Hi Jay -- Almond flour makes a wonderful, flavorful base for baking and I'm sure that with some experimentation and other ingredients, you could make a delicious almond flour bread. Keep in mind that almonds don't have gluten like wheat does, so you will need to use other ingredients that will bind your dough together and help it rise. And remember that almonds are not whole grains -- they will not offer you the same health benefits discussed in this whole grain blog post.
Thanks for the insight. A couple questions. What if you simply add back the missing wheat nutrients to your diet, say sprinkle wheat germ onto your cereal so you can eat white French bread or pasta, at least on occasion for example. Would that be equivalent. And also where would we find that enriched wheat bread? At a reasonable price, hopefully. Then again maybe too much of a good thing?

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