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The Brown Food Myth


We think brown food is healthier, don’t we?

I remember summer camp in the 80s when we would fight for the fluffy pieces of white bread to smear with peanut butter and raspberry jam. It was always the brown loaves that were left behind. Brown bread was the healthy bread.

In more recent years, shortly after my transition to living the UnDiet life, I was at a party where peanut M&M’s were being served (a former weakness) and I somehow convinced myself that if I stuck with the brown ones, I would be better off.

Cracker and cereal companies got in on it pretty quickly with ridiculous products like “Whole Wheat” Ritz Crackers, “Whole Grain” Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and “Whole Grain” Cheerios. According to the nutrition labels on these products, the browner versions don’t actually have enough fibre to offer health benefits, or even move them into the “healthier” category. Crap is still crap and flakes of brown stuff (often just caramel colour) in them doesn’t make them better.

Brown food looks more rustic, more homemade, more artisanal — all characteristics that we’ve come to associate with being healthier. If they’re coming packaged in a big supermarket, chances are great that they’re not. And besides, ever order a meal in a pub? All brown. Not healthy!

Let’s take a look at three of the most common misleading brown foods.

Brown Bread

If we’re talking homemade bread made with actual grain that is typically as dense as a brick, sure, these will be better than their white counterpart. But for the most part, the fluffy brown bread we buy at the store or the local sandwich shop is just white bread with a suntan. Manufacturers will use colouring agents, molasses or a sprinkle of fibre flakes to add colour and specks to their bread. What you are getting is white bread in disguise.

What To Do: I don’t recommend the consumption of commercial bread products because they are a complete chemical starch nightmare. If you do choose to eat them, you might as well go for the one you love the most because brown bread is no less colon-clogging, glycemic-spiking, wheat belly-making, or brain-degenerating than white bread.

Swap It: Instead, make your own breads from scratch or find a local baker who is actually using whole grains. Generally, it would be great to reduce overall bread intake.

Brown Sugar

In most cases, conventional brown sugar is white sugar that has been ground slightly less fine. After the processing and refining, molasses is added back in to give it that brown, caramel-y, sticky texture. “Sugar In The Raw,” often found in those earthy brown packets, is most often the same thing as brown sugar, just refined into larger sucrose crystals but still not any healthier. In my research, I actually found a recipe for brown sugar that you can make at home by adding one tablespoon of molasses to every cup of refined white sugar.

What To Do:It used to be that sugar was sugar and we knew it was not great for us but still indulged in the rare treat anyway. As I share in UnDiet, sugar has actually been proven more addictive than cocaine. And to add insult to a sugar hangover, if you are buying processed sugar in North America, you are pretty much guaranteed to be buying and consuming a genetically modified (GM) product. Most of our corn supply and now beet supply (two of the major sources of sucrose for refined sugar) come from GM sources. At the very least, ensure your white sugar is organic/non-GMO.

Swap: There are so many amazing naturally sweet substitutes now widely available. I am a huge fan of raw honey and maple syrup for local sources of sweetener. Coconut crystals and coconut syrup are my top pick for low-glycemic sweeteners, and I also recommend sucanat (a truly brown sugar), demerara, and date sugar.

Brown Eggs

How they make brown eggs is simple — the eggs are acquired from the types of hens that lay brown eggs. The colour of the shell typically has nothing to do with the health of them. Nor does the price. Brown eggs often cost more just because they’re larger. That’s it, that’s all.

What To Do: It’s not the colour of the shell but what’s inside that counts (like you and me!). And what’s inside is determined by how the hen lived. Did she get to roam in the fields and eat her grubs in the sunshine, or was she in a cage and fed grains and antibiotics in between having her eyes pecked out by a neighbouring hen? We can determine the strength of the egg not from the colour of the eggshell, but from the firmness of it (like how the strength of our fingernails is an indication of health) and the colour of the yolk. The more vibrant, the better.

Swap: Trade in the store-bought conventional brown eggs and head to your farmers’ market (or perhaps even a local farm) and talk to the farmers about their hens, what their diet is, how much sunshine they get and how much space they get to roam free. In the case of a healthy egg, it starts with a healthy hen, and we get healthy hens from healthy, conscious and caring farmers.

All of this is not to say we should throw the brown food out and go back to the white versions. The fact is that we can never judge a book by its cover, a man by his shoes, a fish by her ability to climb a tree, or a food based on its label or packaging.

What we want are foods that are whole, as least processed as possible, and most naturally flavourful.

6 responses to “The Brown Food Myth”

  1. Deena says:

    What about the supermarket bread that says it is 100% Stoneground whole wheat with no high fructose corn syrup?

    • Meghan Telpner says:

      Is this on the package or in the ingredient list? The ingredient list will give the most accurate information (though not completely accurate)

      • Deena says:

        Yes…the first ingredient of Publix Premium Whole Wheat Bread is:
        Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour. This is followed by: water, brown sugar, yeast, wheat gluten, etc. I am trying to make healthy choices for myself and my kids, but we don’t have nearby access to Whole Foods or bakeries. Your opinion?

        • Meghan Telpner says:

          This does kind of fall into the fake-healthy brown bread category. A great thing to try, if you don’t have access to any health food stores, is to first try and eat less bread- wrap sandwiches/ burgers in wraps or lettuce. As well- if you’re up for the challenge, you could even try your hand at baking a loaf too!

  2. Lauranne says:

    Thoughtful list! Many thanks for sharing. I do have a few questions, I hope you don’t mind me sharing them!

    Re: Bread
    I would be interested to hear your thoughts other varieties of bread, eg: rye, spelt, sourdough. I noticed that you mentioned it would be preferable to reduce overall bread intake – is that due to reasonings such as those found in books like Wheat Belly, or do you have other reasons to include too? Thanks so much in advance, if you do happen to have the time to draft a reply :)

    Re: Sugar
    Great swap list. Rice malt syrup seems to be on the trend rise as well, and I am hearing a few things about rapadura.

    • Meghan Telpner says:

      Thanks for your questions.

      Reducing bread is important as there is too much wheat in our overall diet. My reasonings do relate a lot to the gluten-factor so partially based on Dr. Davis’s book as well as the book Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter and the research and work of Dr. Thomas O’Brian (both worth checking out). Most of us are having wheat three or more times a day and that’s too frequently for any food, let alone one that is so well researched at this point and linked to many health challenges.

      And yes- those are both good sweetener options. Not as sweet as say honey or maple syrup just keep that in mind when making swaps.

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