A Slice of Whole Grain Bread Raises Your Blood Sugar More Than a Snickers

Have you heard someone tell you that, “A slice of whole wheat bread raises your blood sugar more than a Snickers bar?” Or possibly one of the variants for whole grain bread? …or maybe you’ve heard “two slices of wheat bread”?  I’ve been trying to dig up the research everyone keeps talking about, and the best that I could come up with is this article from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In it, the authors provide a table measuring the Glycemic Load and Glycemic Index for a variety of foods. The full details behind the table are in the article, but I’ve made a composite image from the pertinent sections of the table below. Have a look:

Table of Glycemic Index and Load Values for Snickers Bars, Wheat Bread and Whole Grain Braid

If we compare Glycemic Index for an American (sorry for the bias) Snickers bar at 68/97, we see that it has a higher GI than all varieties of Whole Wheat bread in the study, and is higher than both common varieties of Whole Grain bread found in America. So it would appear that the apocryphal reports are NOT correct, except in the case of 2 slices of bread.

The authors also indicate the Glycemic Load for all these foods, and by that measure, the Snickers bar clearly carries a higher load.

So what’s that mean? Well, Glycemic Index

“is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates in food on blood sugar levels. It estimates how much each gram of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate minus fiber) in a food raises a person’s blood glucose level following consumption of the food, relative to consumption of glucose. [...] Glycemic index is defined for each type of food, independent of the amount of food consumed.(source)”

Glycemic Load, on the other hand,

“is a number that estimates how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it. One unit of glycemic load approximates the effect of consuming one gram of glucose. [1] Glycemic load accounts for how much carbohydrate is in the food, and how much each gram of carbohydrate in the food raises blood glucose levels. Glycemic load is based on the glycemic index (GI). Glycemic load is defined as the grams of available carbohydrate in the food x the food’s GI / 100.” (source)

So it appears that while whole grain or whole wheat bread is not the health food it is marketed as, the oft reported comparison is not true, unless you compare to 2 slices of wheat or whole grain bread. If you want to compare gram for gram glycemic responses between Snickers and the breads, you’d look at Glycemic Load and see that the Snickers bar clearly has a higher value than the other two. The trouble is, both of these values (Glycemic Load and Glycemic Index are calculated…which is often a fancy way of “guessing by formula”). A more interesting (and perhaps more informative) value would be direct measure of blood glucose response to these foods, or even the respective Insulin Index values for each. Until that comes along, this is apparently the best we can do…

Lastly, it is worth noting that there are many breads that a single slice of which will raise your blood sugar more than a US Snickers bar (which has a GI of 68/97)…if the Glycemic Index can be believed. You can browse the table yourself to see. I’ve included some of the more interesting ones below.

Breads that have a higher Glycemic Index than a Snickers bar:

  • Bagel, white, frozen (Lender’s Bakery, Montreal, Canada)
  • Baguette, white, plain (France)
  • Kaiser rolls (Loblaw’s, Canada)
  • Melba toast, Old London (Best Foods Canada Inc, Etobicoke, Canada)
  • White flour (Canada)
  • White flour (USA)
  • White flour (Sunblest; Tip Top Bakeries, Australia)
  • White flour (Dempster’s Corporate Foods Ltd, Canada)
  • White flour (South Africa)
  • Wonder, enriched white bread
  • Stay Trim, whole-grain bread (Natural Ovens, USA)

Resources:

17 Responses to “A Slice of Whole Grain Bread Raises Your Blood Sugar More Than a Snickers”

  1. Hannah

    I once heard that flour of any kind is like a big bowl of sugar to your body. I can’t believe I used to think that stuff was healthy!!

    Reply
    • mjoneill

      I know. Once you understand that it’s really just another form of glucose, you start to see everything differently…

      Reply
  2. Even if were closer, most people would choose the ww bread as healthy and the Snicker’s bar as not so healthy.

    Reply
  3. While I’m in agreement with the overall views of this site/blog, I am soooo tired of this whole topic in particular. I declare this horse dead.
    GI is measured by having a test subject fast overnight, measuring fasted blood glucose, and then feeding them ONE thing and one thing only. Although this provides some interesting data, nobody, NOBODY eats this way in the real world.
    You’d eat that bread with butter, peanut butter, mayo or something on it, and most likely as part of an entire meal that might include eggs, or meat, or who knows what. Now you’ve eaten protein, fat, fiber, etc and the entire meal has a completely different glycemic index/load than the score of any one item. Judging individual foods by their GI score is completely useless. Arrrgh. OK rant over.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Paul!

      I tend to agree with you.

      I’m not a terribly big fan of Glycemic Index either. I wrote this post when I was trying to track down the source of the, “A slice of whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than a Snickers bar” quote.

      I’m A-OK with anyone who wants to rant about GI.

      -Michael

      Reply
  4. Eileen Harrison

    “NOBODY eats this way in the real world.
    You’d eat that bread with butter, peanut butter, mayo or something on it”

    You might in the US but in many European countries with a bread-eating culture (I’m thinking of France and Italy especially) they are flabbergasted at the idea of eating bread of any sort at any time with butter. Mayo is for accompanying fries for Dutch/German tourists, peanut butter rare.
    I’ll concede bread tends to be eaten alongside other foods which will change the glycaemic load – but in France it is likely to be jam/jelly and milky coffee for breakfast and in Italy the meat/fish at dinner is not so likely to be served with a creamy sauce. But the bread will be pretty pale in colour and fine in texture. Breakfast in southern Italy is even more likely to be a couple of sweet biscuits/cookies with black coffee.

    Never mind the GI/GL story – the Mediterranean diet that is said to be so healthy doesn’t exist anywhere in the area I’ve been! Go shopping with an Italian housewife in Puglia sometime…

    Mind you – like Paul – I’m generally in agreement with your sentiments on the blog ;-)

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Eileen!

      I’ve not been to Italy, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the other side of the Adriatic, and while (in the locations I visited) “butter” was a veritable “unknown/WTF?”, bread was typically served with either a savory or sweet spread. Sweet would be your typical jams or jellies. Savory would be a butter/cheese type thing called “kajmak“.

      I also noticed that while they grew corn, it was the high starch kind. Sweet corn was something unknown/unavailable in the region (but I hear that is changing). One of the dishes they make from this corn is “pura”, which to my palate, tasted very much like polenta. This was typically served with plenty of kajmak as well.

      Interestingly, in the region, pasta had the reputation of something that only impoverished people ate… (it carried that reputation/connotation in the region and was not something frequently found on menus except in places catering to tourists…)

      All of this could have changed completely 50 miles from where I was. This is part of why I find travel so fascinating…

      -Michael

      Reply
      • Eileen Harrison

        Absolutely – pura is Croatian region polenta. Almost all the countries have their version of corn “porridge”. There isn’t the connotation of pasta being for the poor in Italy – but it is rarely eaten with meat sauce in the south. They ARE poor. But they eat loads of cured sausage (mortadella type stuff) and soft cheeses. And sweet pasta too for Christmas and Easter and things.

        But you see what I mean about bread and jam – not “boiled eggs and soldiers”. And yes – travel is so fascinating when you meet real people and eat their food and see the things that parallel “home”. Even when the local delicacy is donkey (Cremona) – but I tried something else going out and it was not on the menu the following week on the way back by which time I’d decided that yes, I would try it. I assume you are in the USA – has the horsemeat “scandal” got to you? My attitude is either you eat meat or you are a veggie – so who cares what the meat is as long as it is clean. A newspaper had a “shock horror” report about “unidentifiable meat” being found in curries – as a student 40 years ago I remember a couple of dead Alsatian (German Shepherds) dogs being found in the deep freeze at the local Chinese – plus ca change!

        Reply
        • Hi Eileen!

          The donkey “scandal” was in the news a bit here (yes, I’m in the USA). It seemed like a lot of falderal, to be honest. I thought much of the press coverage was just playing up the titillation of people actual eating horse meat…as opposed to the real problem behind it (as I see it): food labeling.

          People have the right to know what they are consuming.

          I’m a firm believer that food needs to be labeled correctly so that people can make their own decisions about what they eat…whether it’s GM food, corn flakes, or horsey burgers. I don’t feel any particular sense of superiority over people who consume horse steaks, and I would be loathe to play the “Ewwww….I’d never eat that!” game, considering that it’s not even something that’s available here.

          Reply
  5. I’m reading “Wheat Belly’ by William Davis, MD. On page 34 he states that the GI of whole grain bread is 72 and a Snickers is 41. I haven’t confirmed this info from his cited sources. Just sharing.

    Reply
  6. I completely agree, the media is to blame, the media and the press and tv, will point fried chicken as “junk food” and mac and cheese as junk food, but not the biscuits, and not bagels with or without cream cheese.

    Much like the pastor who banned fried chicken but is banning the rolls, no.

    The only problem with your argument is that while of course glucose is toxic, the sugar in the snickers has triglycerides since its fructose and has be metabolized in the liver, thus causing insulin resistance, much the reason agave is so controversial, but yes, a small snickers provides satisfaction with your salmon and salad, rather than listen to the media.

    Reply
  7. Mary Jenson

    The main problem is that the Dr who wrote this book and the writer in this blog is citing the WRONG column in this chart. You should be looking at the G load per serving or the last column. In this column the snickers G load is 2 times higher. This is like saying than watermelon or peas are worse for you than a snickers bars .No even with the very high GI number if you look at the per serving number you will see this argument is very flawed. These foods are much lower calorie and have a lot more fiber which changes how quickly they are digested…And snickers are one of the better candy bars because of the peanuts…… Either this Doctor does not understand the charts or is lying to the public to sell books. Glucose is not toxic. Excess glucose is bad for you….. No glucose means NO energy and you could not function…..Miss using the GI to eliminate grains from your diet is just as foolish as ignoring the importance of glucose in your diet.

    Reply
  8. It makes no sense what so ever to think a snickers bar is better for you than a couple slices of whole wheat bread- therefore it makes no sense to base your food choices on GI /GL of individual food items. Previous replies noted the snickers bar is a group of food types in itself as well. And another mentioned two slices of bread should have something in between them!
    Whole wheat bread releases carbs at a slower rate than white bread.
    A proper diet is so simple:
    Every meal needs a balance of lean protien, good fats and good Carbs.
    Ironically the Subway sandwich diet is actually a representative example of a perfect balance and the correct ratio for a meal: example:
    6 inch whole wheat sub with turkey and everything from the veggies they can throw on it – mayo, oil and vinegar – perfect!

    Reply
  9. JUST ONCE…. I’d like to see actual raw data cited regarding serum glucose levels in response to various foods. Let me see the number of subjects, mean increase, etc….does it even exist? This topic is so misunderstood by the masses and the biochemistry cherry picked to a point of view.

    Reply

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