Thursday, July 15, 2004

Bread and obesity

'White bread could spoil your diet', says a story from BBC News. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston looked at five different diets where one food-type was prominent - 'healthy food' (ie, whole grains, fruits and vegetables), white bread, alcohol, sweets or meat and potatoes - in 459 healthy men and women. Those who ate a diet with a relatively large amount of white bread saw the biggest increases in their waist measurement. In a year, their girth increased by an average of about one centimetre, three times more than people who ate a diet high in fibre and whole-grain foods such as brown bread. Professor Katherine Tucker said: 'Waist circumference was very much associated with this high-refined grains pattern.' White bread is the mostly commonly consumed food in Britain, with an average daily consumption of three slices.

However, this is a small study with a variety of flaws, which make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions.

To determine whether white bread causes weight gain, you would need to have a controlled study in which the only difference between two groups was the consumption of white bread. Unfortunately, that was far from the case here. As a spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation told BBC News: 'Looking at the data, those that ate white bread consumed more calories, more fat and less fibre, than those that ate wholemeal bread, so it is hard to say that white bread is the reason for this weight gain.' Nor do we know if there were differences between the exercise levels of the various groups.

However, this study fits with the widespread prejudice that refined food is bad, and 'wholefood' is good. In reality, there is no such thing as bad food. A diet where a variety of different foods are eaten is probably better, if only from the point of view of avoiding boredom, but human beings have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to live perfectly healthily on diets made up of entirely the 'wrong' things.

Snootiness about bread quickly disappears when that bread is from France or Italy - despite these countries’ preference for the white stuff. Both countries have lower levels of obesity than Britain or the USA, too - which suggests that this study bears little relationship with reality. Still, researchers have got to earn a crust.…

White bread could spoil your diet, BBC News, 13 July 2004

First published on spiked's Don't panic page.