Are Brown Foods Really Better?

Whether it's an egg, a loaf of bread, or a type of sugar, brown foods somehow seem healthier, more natural. But are they?

If a baked good is brown because it is made with whole-grain flour, rather than all-purpose white, then brown is usually better. Whole-grain foods are naturally rich in fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron and zinc. Thanks to the government enrichment program, which requires food processors to add back nutrients that are lost in the milling of white all-purpose flour, white flour often contains as much if not more vitamins and minerals than whole-wheat. The main nutritional difference is the fiber that is lost when white flour is used to make bread products and other baked goods both commercially and at home.

But some dark-colored breads, such as pumpernickel or "brown bread" and other baked goods, including cereals, are browner than others because of added food coloring or dark colored sweeteners, such as molasses or dark corn syrup. They are not necessarily higher in fiber. You have to read the ingredient list on the product's label to be sure.

Brown rice tops white on the nutrition scorecard because it is naturally higher in fiber, but thanks again to the enrichment process, both brown and white rice are good sources of vitamins and minerals.

In spite of similar numbers on the nutrition facts label, however, most health experts recommend getting your vitamins and minerals naturally, whenever possible, rather than through enrichment, which puts lost nutrients back in the food, or fortification, which adds extra nutrients that were never in the food to begin with. That means, in many cases, choosing whole-grain baked goods and pastas, brown rice and other grain and cereal foods that are natural shades of brown.

There are reasons for this. The first is that added synthetic vitamins and minerals may not be as readily absorbed and used by your body as those that occur naturally in foods. So many foods are now enriched and fortified that it is becoming more likely you can ultimately get more of a nutrient than you need from food alone, which, like getting too much from supplements, can throw off the balance of nutrients in your body. Also, when nutrients are added to foods, they sometimes add a bitter taste. If that's the case, that taste has to be covered up by the addition of sugar or other masking flavors, or the product will never sell. These additions may add up to a food that actually isn't all that healthy for you.

White sugar is brown sugar that has had the molasses removed. While a few nutrients are lost during that process, the difference between white and brown sugars in not at all significant. Honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are examples of naturally dark sweetening syrups and, in some cases, they do contain trace amounts of vitamins and minerals not found in white sugar. But, like brown granulated sugars, there is not much reason, other than taste preference or specific use, to choose one over the other. What is most important is not to overuse any sugar, brown or white.

When it comes to eggs, the only difference between brown and white is the color of the shell. Different breeds of chickens lay different color eggs and even within the same breed, shell color may vary, depending on the diet and other circumstances of the chicken. There is no nutritional difference between a brown egg or white, and one is no more "natural" than the other.



Hermann, JR; "Vitamins and the Body." Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension

University of Maryland Medical Center: Carbohydrates. 2008. Web. 24 March 2011