Myth: White foods have no nutritional value.
Fact: There are plenty of exceptions to this oversimplified dietary rule.
It would be nice if there was a simple colour rule for healthy eating. But there isn’t. This rule seems to have come about to discourage consumption/over-consumption of sugar, salt and white flour products, but eating well is a bit more complex than that. Brown sugar is on a par with white in the ‘little nutritional value’ stakes, and pink salt matches white for sodium, gram for gram. So forget about colour signifying health for these ingredients.
When it comes to grains, white rice and white pasta are important food staples around the world providing energy, vitamins, minerals and even a little protein, but they do have something missing – they have been refined and in the process lost some of their nutritional goodness. For example, white bread and flour have no bran or germ as a result. Choosing ‘brown’ or wholegrain versions of popular staples such as bread, rice and pasta delivers extra benefits in terms of fibre and B vitamins, however there’s no need to banish refined white bread, rice and pasta from the menu completely. You can still enjoy a soft white bread roll, yeasty Turkish bread (pide) or crispy pizza base. Although they’re not as good as their wholegrain equivalents, there’s no convincing evidence of harm in eating some refined grain foods in your diet according to a systematic review by Dr Peter Williams published in Nutrition Reviews. But don’t take this as license to live entirely on the whiter side of life: a study by Mozzafarian and colleagues in New England Journal of Medicine found refined grains were one of the foods associated with weight gain. And it’s a good idea to choose lower GI versions of your ‘white’ (refined) grain foods such as basmati rice and sourdough bread – white pasta is already low GI. The general recommendation for good health is to make sure at least half your grains are wholegrains – traditional oats, brown rice and pasta, and wholegrain (or wholemeal) bread and cereals.
What about eggs? Some people choose brown eggs and some like white, but truth be told, the colour of the egg has no effect on the contents. In general, chicken breeds with white ear lobes lay white eggs, and chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs (but even this isn’t a hard and fast rule). And of course, once you peel or crack the egg, they are all the same inside.
As for white foods such as milk, white veggies (cauliflower, onions, cannellini beans, new potatoes) and white fish – I don’t think the rule was intended to apply to these nutritious foods.
The bottom line: Enjoy a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods of all colours, including some ‘white’ ones for variety, health and enjoyment.
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and author of Food Myths released on February 1 and available in bookshops and online and from www.greatideas.net.au