White Foods and Your Health, Should You Say Goodbye to White Foods?
What is White Food?
White food is a food or foods that are white in color and have been refined and processed, like flour, sugar, salts, potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, crackers, cereals, and simple sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar. By now, most semi health-conscious Americans have an awareness of what the “bad carbohydrates” are, and good alternatives to refined grain products and simple sugars. When we think of the foods to avoid when trying to lose weight, we often think of white flour and sugar. White foods like flour and sugar are loaded with refined carbohydrates, which some call “bad carbs”. These two white foods are thought to be a main constituent in the American obesity epidemic in both adults and children. White flour and sugar are in found in many processed foods, containing one or both white foods. As a society, we have been enjoying foods rich in white flour and sugar since childhood. Popular cookies, cakes, crackers, white pasta dishes, cereals, bread, most desserts, soda, and many energy drinks contain high amounts of refined sugars.
Let’s Break Down White Flour
There are two fiber-rich and nutritious parts of the wheat seed. The outside layer is the bran layer and the second is the germ or the embryo layer. Since white flour is highly processed both components are “processed out” of the seed. The bran and germ layers are important components of the wheat seed and slow down the absorption and digestion of the grain in our body so that we don’t elevate our blood sugars. The bran and germ are very nutritious, and we should be eating more foods with bran and germ instead of white flour, retaining the weed seed nutrition and health qualities. Savvy consumers are moving towards diets rich in “good carbs” like whole-grain products and dietary fibers.
Why Is White Flour White?
It may not be natural. Ever see a bag of flour say “bleached” flour? The word bleach when used in connection with food, may be enough to make you run to another aisle.
Some flour mills still use chemical bleaching agents such as benzoyl peroxide, oxide of nitrogen, chloride, chlorine, and nitrosyl which are mixed with various chemical salts to make your white bread white. Pretty scary and many believe it’s not good for you to consume these chemicals.
Further, Azodicarbonamide is the chemical additive is found in frozen dinners, bread, boxed pasta, and packaged baked goods like cake mixes, or dough. The U.S. allows the processing of flour with bleaching agents and additives, while most countries wait for the flour to naturally whiten, some American food companies package the processed flour immediately, instead of waiting the time for the flour to bleach naturally.
If you must use flour, consider 100% whole wheat flour.
Why is White Sugar So Bad?
It’s estimated that the average American consumes as much as 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, this is equal to around 335 calories, most of which offer only a caloric benefit, but not the right type of calories. Imagine replacing those 335 calories with something good for you, something offering a nutritional benefit. Let’s first understand how sugar is processed in our body. Insulin is our body’s tool to manage your sugar intake. The more food consumed containing high levels of sugars, the faster and more intensely our blood sugars will rise and the more insulin our body will eventually need to pump to manage the sugars. The biggest concern is that insulin promotes the storage of fat and the more insulin is pumped, the more fat we store. If too much is consumed, the pancreas will get sluggish and insulin production will stop, leading to Type II Diabetes sets in.
What’s the Skinny on Salt?
Salt hasn’t always been so readily available or inexpensive as it is today. Before the Industrial Revolution, salt was expensive and was even traded as currency. In fact, the word salary comes from the Latin word for salt, interesting! If you think about it, salt carries a weight and sense of prestige even today. We hear phrases like, “salt of the earth” when referring to a good person, or “she’s worth her salt” when referring to a successful person. Once salt became easier to claim from the sea and mine from the earth, salt was found to be a valuable preservative. Today, the taste of salt lingers on. If you watch any cooking channel, you will see pinches of salt in almost every dish. Our sodium crush has the “average” American consuming as much as 3400 milligrams (mg) per day, this seems like a lot, but compared to the consumption back in the 19th century with average daily intakes reaching a staggering 7000 mg per day, we are doing pretty well.
So, what’s all the fuss? Why does salt have such a black eye when talking about blood pressure and other health concerns? The reality is that the human body can survive on very little salt, as little as 200 mg per day. When compared to the average daily consumption of as much as 3400 mg per day. You can scour medical journals, dating back to the early 1970’s finding contradicting and compelling evidence to suggest that there is a link between sodium and high blood pressure or hypertension. The guidelines currently suggest that adults should consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. Further, all middle-aged and older adults, people with hypertension, and all African Americans should consume only 1500 mg per day. If you’re a lean twenty-something, you may be able to get away with more, family history and genetics all play a part in where you fit in and how much salt is good for you personally. It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of adult Americans suffer from prehypertension or hypertension. It’s also said that the average 50 + year old has as high as a 90% chance of developing hypertension as time passes. If you’re like most adults, you’ll likely agree that salt moderation is good for you. It’s another favorite “white food” to pay close attention to.
Not All Potatoes are White
True, at least for the outer skin. The inside of most potatoes cultivated for human consumption are white. For some, potatoes can be okay in moderation, like almost anything. For other’s potatoes can fall into the “bad carb” category. The starches found in potatoes are not a good choice for people concerned about their blood sugar, are diabetic or prediabetic. Red, white, and Russet potatoes share similar starch and sugar profiles. One medium potato has on average 2-3 grams of sugar and as much as 23 to 30 grams of starch, translation, not necessarily the best option when concerned about certain dietary issues. The good news is that some potatoes are loaded with fiber. In fact, a medium red potato has as much as 4 grams of fiber, sweet potatoes have slightly more.
What About White Drinks?
As much as 22% of our daily caloric intake can be attributed to our beverages. Setting sugary drinks like sodas, and energy drinks aside, our focus will be on drinks made with dairy products such as milk or cream. The great debate on the benefits of milk and dairy products in adult diets remain controversial and any number of articles in support or the contrary can be found. Daily caloric intake is an important step in monitoring weight and controlling weight loss. Beverages high in calories can lead to surprise weight gain. The cup of morning Joe with sugar and cream once or twice a day can add 100’s of calories to your daily intake. It adds up quickly. If you enjoy rich coffee house drinks, you can easily add 500-600 calories.
Are Dairy Foods Considered White Foods?
Yes. Many dairy products including milk, cheese, sour cream, butter, cream cheese, ice cream, buttermilk, and heavy cream can all be high in calories. The argument on the benefits and risks of milk and dairy products consumption is a topic of great debate. For purposes of this white food discussion, let’s consider both sides. Milk comes in numerous forms, including sheep, camels, goats, and cows. There are a variety of milk alternatives such as soymilk, almond milk, coconut milk, almond milk and even hemp milk. We are discussing only cows milk.
Milk and dairy products have been attributed to bone health, brain health, reduction in depression and an increase in heart health. A diet rich in dairy can promote weight gain, and trigger allergies, such as lactose intolerance, and even increased cases of certain cancers in both men and women. Dairy may be a white food worth consuming in moderation.
What about Eggs?
The controversy continues with the discussion of eggs. In America, we often enjoy our eggs with other known highly saturated fat and cholesterol foods such as sausage, bacon, or bread with melted butter. Eggs may get a bad rap for contributing to higher cholesterol levels in adults. In countries such as Japan, where eggs are an important part of the diet, studies indicate that heart disease and elevated cholesterol is much lower than that of American statistics. Americans consume eggs, as many as 300 per year yet cholesterol levels are significantly higher. Personally, eliminating eggs altogether is not something I’d consider. Eggs in moderation provide protein and necessary amino acids necessary for a healthy diet.
White Foods that Are Good for You
Not all white foods are bad. There are many unprocessed white foods, such as organic chicken, garlic, onions, cauliflower, turnips, and white beans that are good for you.
It’s always a good idea when starting a new diet or making dietary adjustments to talk to a registered dietitian or your doctor in determining the best decision for you.
What Happened to Me When I Stopped Eating White Foods:
I’m a female in my 40’s. Outside of pregnancy, my weight hasn’t changed since 7th grade. During the last year, I have noticed rapid and concerning weight gain, approaching 20 pounds. I went to the doctor ten pounds in, during a desperate attempt to understand what was happening to my body and why nothing fits. Lab testing indicated that some of my hormone levels were out of whack. I was expecting some weight loss with the leveling out of my hormone levels. When that didn’t work, and the weight didn’t come off, not even one pound, I knew something drastic needed to happen. Frustrated and unwilling to accept my new shape, I decided to try taking matters into my own hands. I considered joining a diet center to fix, or at least understand what might be going on. I’ve talked to several of my friends, all in a similar age bracket, wondering if I am alone in this or if it is happening to them too. Come to find out, many of my friends have struggled with the same issue. This curiosity of what’s triggering weight gain in healthy and active women in their 40’s and 50’s. My summary is with age comes weight gain (for some). I am entering a new phase of my life, and not willing to give into my new shape any longer. Extensive research led me simply to eating better and staying active was a good place to start.
I have always had a sweet tooth, keeping sugar intake to a minimum but not altogether eliminating it from my diet. For years, I would talk to my kids about “white food is bad” as a general rule but wasn’t always strong enough, especially when cooking for children, to stay away from white foods completely.
I decided to test my white food theory, wondering if there was a relationship between my sudden and unexplained weight gain and my white food theory.
It took a few days to center myself enough to believe I could even eliminate white foods. August 1st was the day I decided to cold turkey white foods. Overnight, I eliminated all white flour, most sugar, (I still add honey to my tea), all potatoes, most dairy, (keeping only a small amount of organic, skim milk for my tea)., but eliminated all cheese, butter, sour cream, cream. It was hard. Much harder than I expected and the first week was almost unbearable. The cravings were ridiculous and almost to the point of obsessively thinking about what I was missing. By week two, I found some encouragement with the scale. I try to not weigh myself too often, especially in the last year as the scale has not my friend. I weighted myself August 1st and again August 17th. I always weigh myself in the morning. 17 days into the no white foods, I lost 7 pounds and physically felt “lighter”. The flour and sugar made me feel full, which is part of the habit of the white food addiction facing many. Deep into week two, entering week three, it was easier to avoid the white foods but found the remaining foods seemed boring and lackluster. I am not the biggest fan of vegetables, feeling like this whole modification in my food lifestyle is going to be taxing to stay interested. Flour and sugary foods are filling and easy. It’s easy to grab a piece of bread and add a think layer of peanut butter (even the peanut butter has a ton of sugar). Now, I don’t eat the bread at all and finding butter without sugar is impossible. I have to grind my own, which is a new flavor profile and less enjoyable but workable.
By the end of August, I was a full 11 pounds lighter. I deliberately had a date night, knowingly and anticipating “cheating”. The following morning, I weighed myself. I was shocked, One night of bread and butter, a glass of red wine, filet of sea bass with soy sauce béarnaise, a side of crab fried rice, and chocolate pot de crème for dessert, I literally gained four pounds overnight. While this seems nearly impossible, as I didn’t consume “that much” food, what I did eat, outside of the sea bass, minus the sauce, was healthy by the white food standards, even though technically, sea bass is white, it falls into the good white food category. In any case, it was a solid testament for me that white food and my chemical make up is not good. The combination of flour, dairy, high levels of sodium, sugars from the bread, rice, wine, and dessert is compelling evidence that white foods are not good.
By the end of September, I was back to my “normal” weight and feeling much better about my body and the way I feel both inside and out.
I have experimented with introducing small amounts of white food here and there. Even the smallest amounts of white foods cause an overnight weight gain. I have increased my food intake to include much more lean proteins, like grilled chicken, homemade sea bass, less the sauce, and occasionally, the “other white meat.”
While your individual results may vary based on how far you take the white food challenge, I am confident you will feel lighter and better about yourself. The elimination of white foods is a lifestyle change and it’s hard. I am not going to say it is easy or that I enjoy it. I still miss the sugar and a good slice of sourdough bread here and there. In the end, removing white foods from my diet has made me feel better about me. It’s a sacrifice but for me, I feel it’s worth it.