How Unhealthy Is White Flour?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on


White flour is common enough that you’ve probably consumed it at some point in your life. Just because it’s common, however, doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, it has a number of downsides and negative effects on your health. Take your pick — an overall lack of nutrients, highly-refined carbohydrates, or the gluten.

What is White Flour?

White flour is wheat flour that has been stripped of two main components–the bran and the germ. [1] The bran provides the fiber that is typically found in the whole grain, but when it is taken out of the wheat flour it creates a softer, lighter texture. This is why, if you’ve ever replaced white flour for whole-wheat flour, the final product is often heavier and denser. That’s the fiber and the added weight of the other components missing from white flour. The trouble is, the light and airy texture of the bread is fairly descriptive of its nutritional quality as well–light, airy, and vapid.

The Health Effects of White Flour

Proper nutrition plays an important role in reducing disease risk, especially when it comes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Even if you’re eating a healthy diet, however, white flour raises your risk for diabetes as well as many other preventable diseases. [2] Research even shows that folic acid, commonly added to white flour to fortify the refined grain, can lead to deleterious effects on breast health. [3] Our bread addiction is what is really driving disease progression in the developed world. One study has shown that even if you’re consuming a healthy diet, eating white flour can influence addictive eating behavior. [4]

White Flour is Heavily Processed

The production of white flour involves stripping away of the most nutritional aspects of the grain: the germ and the bran. It also includes the addition of lost B vitamins and iron, and bleaching it with a chemical bleaching agent to make it appear bright white. The flour itself is devoid of the fiber which aids in passing easily through the large intestine. A person following a diet that regularly includes eating white flour as well as sugar (fructose, primarily), or products made with the ingredients, increases their chances for weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. [5]

White Flour May Be Hiding in Your Wheat Bread

Wheat bread is usually touted as a more healthy alternative, but that’s little more than marketing speak at work. Most wheat breads contain “wheat” as the first ingredient; however, this term, without the “whole grain” designation preceding it, translates into refined, white flour. The color is typically added coloring to give the guise of whole wheat. Real whole wheat flour includes the terms “whole wheat flour” on both the packaging labeling and the ingredients label.

Go Wheat Free

Instead of trying to find whole wheat or whole-grain wheat, why not simply replace wheat altogether with more nutrient dense gluten-free alternatives? There are a number of alternative grains that don’t contain any gluten. And, let’s face it, gluten is a big problem and contributes to a lot of current health problems.

Do you avoid eating white flour? Wheat? What have been your experiences? Please let us know in the comments below!

References (5)
  1. Satya S. Jonnalagadda, Lisa Harnack, Rui Hai Liu, et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains--Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. J Nutr. 2011 May; 141(5): 1011S-1022S.
  2. Sylvia H. Ley, Osama Hamdy, Viswanathan Mohan, Frank B. Hu. Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: dietary components and nutritional strategies. The Lancet. 2014; 383 (9933): 1999 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60613-9.
  3. Shaidah Deghan Manshadi, Lisa Ishiguro, Kyoung-Jin Sohn, et al. Folic Acid Supplementation Promotes Mammary Tumor Progression in a Rat Model. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e84635. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084635.
  4. University of Michigan. Want pizza, chocolate, French fries? Highly processed foods linked to addictive eating. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2015.
  5. Faridah Amin and Anwar H. Gilani. Fiber-free white flour with fructose offers a better model of metabolic syndrome. Lipids Health Dis. 2013; 12: 44. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-12-44.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Smilardog

    What about homemade Sourdough bread and pancakes made from non-bleached flour??? Is it still as bad for you as plain white flour breads?

    My Mother in-law has Celiac and she can eat my Sourdough breads and pancakes with no problems, but she sure gets violently sick eating regular breads. Any comments???

    Can you make homemade Sourdough starter from any other grains

  • Well, non bleached isn’t as “bad” as bleached but it’s also perhaps not the best choice either. Here are a few sourdough breads made with alternative grains.

  • Smilardog

    Thank You! I just started making sourdough over a year ago, and that is all we eat now. We haven’t bought any bread from a store since. Except, once I had the wife buy a loaf of sourdough bread from the store just to compare it to my homemade sourdough. Sheesh man, that commercial sourdough is garbage compared to mine.

    I will research those alternative grains that you recommended, Thanks!

  • Hector Palacios

    I checked the papers in reference, and I couldn’t find a single reference of white flour.

    Why is it? Can you explain me what i’m doing wrong?

  • DoubtingThomas

    You’re not reading properly?

  • Hector Palacios

    Yes, pretty sure. I downloaded the papers, not a single reference of white flour. What about you?

  • DoubtingThomas

    I can offer the same advice I give my 7 year old when his homework is wrong… double check your work.

  • Hector Palacios

    You know, you just have to press ctrl+F to search in a document, is pretty easy to put the right words and find out if they are present in a document.

    If you talk about white flour, and you cite scientific articles, well, I expect that the words be explicit in the article. That’s why i’m asking, i’m not saying that everything said here is a bullshit, i’m asking for an explanation.

    Have you checked the article?

  • DoubtingThomas

    Sure did, and the references, everything seems to be in order. Can you be more specific as to what exactly you’re looking for where?

  • Hector Palacios

    I was pretty clear in the first comment about what i’m looking.

  • Hector Palacios

    Sorry, my mistake, only papers 2 and 3 don’t have a reference, but paper 3 is about folic acid. Thus, only paper 2.

  • JeeHoo?

    Is all purpose bleached flour with the added (fortified stuff) to it White flour as being discussed here. And is White Rice Flour different and gluten free(no wheat)?

  • Arthur Jackson

    Quacks like a duck. Almost 90% of a wheat kernel is endosperm, the ‘bad’ part, so whole wheat doesn’t really do squat. Lo and behold Wonder bread versus whole wheat bread shows a glycemic load/glycemic indices of 73/10 versus 69/9. Virtually the same. Wheat may be bad for us but white is no worse than whole wheat.

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