A study presented at the European Congress on obesity recently proposed the idea that two or more servings of white bread per day can put people at a 40 percent higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

It should be pointed out right off the bat, that the research in this study shows an association between white bread intake and overweight/obesity, not an actual cause and effect relationship between the two. In addition, this study has not been published yet in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The relationship between white bread and obesity probably is not that simple.

There are a few reasons why there could be an association between white bread and overweight/obesity:

  • White bread made from white flour is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Because of this, if you eat white bread you may not feel full or satisfied. This could lead to over-consumption of calories, in turn, leading to added weight.

Alternatively, substituting white bread with whole-grain bread with fiber, takes the body longer to digest and may leave you feeling fuller for an extended period of time, thereby curbing appetite for added food and calories. Study authors did note that participants who consumed both whole grain and white bread had no higher increased risk of becoming obese compared to participants who ate white bread only.

  • White bread made from white flour is a carbohydrate that, as people with diabetes know, causes blood sugar to rise. With a rise in blood sugar comes a natural insulin response from the pancreas in the body. Insulin is the hormone in the body that helps control blood sugar. But insulin is also a “storage” hormone and there are many theories that exist today suggesting a correlation between increased refined carbohydrate intake, increased insulin response in the body, and obesity.

Whole grains can help decrease insulin response just as they can increase the feeling of satiety. As whole grain bread is more slowly digested, it is more slowly broken down and absorbed as glucose in the bloodstream. If the release of glucose in the bloodstream is slow, so is the insulin response by the pancreas.

  • Eating white bread may displace healthier foods. If you are eating white bread every day, you may be eating or craving other “empty” refined carbohydrates.

The good news? There are many whole grain breads that can be substituted for white bread. And many of these grains are becoming more and more widely available in restaurants and grocery stores. These breads have not been stripped of the bran and germ portions of the grain, as white bread made from white flour has. The bran and germ in whole grains provide valuable nutrients and, most importantly in relation to weight and blood sugar control, fiber. These alternative grains also contain quite a bit more protein than processed white flour.

Enjoy white bread every now and then, but include whole grain breads and other foods more often for overall health and to prevent weight gain.

To learn more about problem foods:

Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat Potatoes?
Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat All-purpose Flour?