Flour: Whole Wheat vs. White

I am reading an interesting book right now called The Food Revolution, by John Robbins. John Robbins is the son of Irv Robbins who, together with his brother-in-law Burt Baskin, started Baskin-Robbins. John was the only son and was expected to take over the family ice cream business. But after seeing his uncle and father, as well as other family members, suffer from heart disease and diabetes, he decided to take a different route.

John and his wife moved to an island and had a baby boy named Ocean and lived off the land for less than $1000 per year. A little extreme, right? I thought so. But either way, the book has some good points.

Robbins included some interesting facts about whole wheat flour vs. refined white flour. For those of you who have tried some of my very simple/basic recipes I’ve posted, you may have noticed that I do not bake with white flour. I always knew whole wheat was more nutrient-dense than white, but Robbins provided more specific information as to why. When whole wheat flour is refined to make white flour, the following percentage of nutrients are lost:

  • Protein: 25% lost
  • Fiber: 95% lost
  • Calcium: 56% lost
  • Iron: 84% lost
  • Phosphorus: 69% lost
  • Potassium: 74% lost
  • Zinc: 76% lost
  • Copper: 62% lost
  • Manganese: 82% lost
  • Selenium: 52% lost
  • Thiamin (B-1): 73% lost
  • Riboflavin (B-2): 81% lost
  • Niacin (B-3): 80% lost
  • Pantothenic acid (B-5): 56% lost
  • Vitamin B-6: 87% lost
  • Folate: 59% lost
  • Vitamin E: 95% lost
That’s a lot of nutrient loss! When whole wheat flour is milled into white flour, 25 total nutrients are lost and only 5 are replaced. However, “replacing” a nutrient means using chemicals to add something back in. This is the case in anything labeled “enriched," such as breads you find at the grocery store. However, enriched products contain nutrients that are not as available to our bodies, meaning our bodies cannot absorb them fully and receive all of their benefits.

Another shocking statistic Robbins provided was this: The percentage of total dietary energy (calories) in most worldwide diets that is provided by whole grains is 75%. However, in America, whole grains only make up 1% of total dietary energy in our diets.

Bottom line: We eat too much refined, enriched flour and other refined grain products!

I have been baking with whole wheat flour for years and cannot even tell the difference anymore. My advice for switching to whole wheat flour exclusively? Simply throw your bag or canister of white flour out, refill it with whole wheat, and never think about it again! There are some recipes where you may have to read about substitution guidelines (such as for bread or things that need to rise), but for basic things like cookies or muffins, replacing white with whole wheat is fairly straightforward.

Other products containing the refined white flour include most boxed cereals and many types of crackers, cookies or cakes found at the grocery store. Try to incorporate whole grains into your diet and reduce refined grains. Remember the grain hot cereal I wrote about here? It’s so easy to make and so much more nutritious than a bowl of cereal (tip: make extras and keep it in the fridge for later in the week!). And for dinners or lunches, try to include whole grain breads, brown rice, quinoa, or other grains in place of white rice or white pasta. They are better for your health and will also keep you full longer!


  1. When we eat the grain hot cereal at our house (with lots of fruit & honey!) we are both full until 12:30...it is the BEST! and easy. We love this recipe!

  2. I use wholewheat for absolutely everything except for bechamel sauce. Have you made that with wholewheat? Does it work?