The Whole Grain and Nothing But the Grain
To really understand the problems with the processing of whole wheat grains into white flour/white bread, it’s important to understand that there are three main parts of any whole grain: 1) The bran, (fiber) which is the outer layer; 2) The nutrient rich-germ or inside of the base of the grain; and 3) The endosperm or the starch in the center. Whole grain refers to the entire grain-the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
Nutrients lost During Refinement of Whole Wheat
In the refining process, nutrient-rich bran and germ are removed, resulting in primarily empty starch (“white” flour). After white flour is rolled, it’s then bleached to improve color and texture, but unfortunately, any vitamin E is completely destroyed. In the refining process, up to 70 percent of the essential nutrients are lost. The milling process destroys 40% of the chromium present in the whole grain, as well as 86% of the manganese, 89% of the cobalt, 68% of the copper, 78% of the zinc, and 48% of the molybdenum. By the time it is completely refined, it has lost most of its phosphorus, iron, and thiamine, and a good deal of its niacin and riboflavin. Its crude fiber content has been cut down considerably as well. Yet all of these nutrients are needed for a healthy body. (For a visual picture of the refining of wheat, see the “Nutritional Information” link on my website, www.lifedesignnutrition.com)
How Enriched Is Flour?
Because so many B vitamins are lost during processing, yet are still needed for energy, manufacturers add them back in a process called “enrichment.” Here is the history of “enriched” flour. In the 1940s, public health officials tried for years to get people to switch from their white flour to whole-wheat flour because of a severe outbreak of pellagra and beri-beri, two diseases which could be prevented by B vitamins found in wheat bran. But people were resistant to change, so the government added an “enrichment” compound of a handful of isolated, synthetic B vitamins to their refined wheat, corn, and rice.
Sadly, enriched bread is still low in nutrients. In contrast to “enriched” white bread, whole grain products maintains all the key ingredients found in wheat, maximizing its health benefits
Populations who eat whole grains show decreases in the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Let’s look at how whole grains keep us healthy.
Whole Grains Help Prevent Cancer
It is estimated that one out of three people will get cancer of the colon. That’s not hard to imagine, when we consider that the average American diet still consists of hamburgers, white bread, mashed potatoes with gravy, pancakes made with white flour, smothered with syrup, peanut butter and jelly on white bread, French fries, and few, if any, vegetables!
Colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death, is at epidemic proportions in our country because of two reasons: The percentage of pesticides and toxins we are taking into our bodies; the low fiber content of the foods we eat. There is a definite parallel between the increase of colon and gastrointestinal disorders and the decrease in dietary fiber. That’s why the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association recommend that we increase our fiber intake from our typical 7-10 grams to 35-40 grams. The solution lies in eating fruits and vegetables that contain enough fiber to help bind toxins and eliminate them from the colon
Traditional cultures eat almost four times more fiber than we do-forty, sixty and even one hundred grams per day. The common denominator for all of those healthy cultures we discussed earlier was the amount of fiber they ate. No wonder they have lower rates of disease.
Whole Grains Help Control Blood Sugar Levels
Because white bread lacks fiber, it digests quickly in our bodies, spiking blood sugar levels and adding to the increase of triglycerides. The fiber in whole grain products takes longer to break down which helps you better control blood sugar. This is why eating whole grains helps to lower your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Whole Grains Help Weight Loss
Additionally, whole grains support weight loss because it’s much harder to overeat whole grains, and secondly, they are slower to turn into sugar in your body. The more you eat processed white flour foods, the more you crave them. We eat between 250-500 grams of carbohydrates a day, and most of them are made from processed white flour, without the protective parts. The result: Obesity has increased 30%, cravings are rampant, and heart disease and diabetes have skyrocketed.
Whole Grains Help Protect From Heart Disease
According to research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating whole grain foods may have health benefits that include protection against disease. The study, which looked at more than 30,000 adults in Norway, found that those who ate the most whole grain foods had a 23% reduction in risk from heart disease. The vitamin E in whole-wheat flour acts as an antioxidant to prevent rancidity too.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to increase your fiber intake is to eat legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and whole grains-which all contain good plant based fiber.
Relying on commercially-prepared fiber cereals isn’t the answer, though. It’s no surprise that most kid’s breakfast cereals have fructose, corn syrup, and fat; it’s like eating candy bars for breakfast! These cereals were designed to satisfy their taste buds but not their bodies. Many of these foods actually have little fiber, so a good rule of thumb is to purchase cereals with at least 4-6 grams of fiber per serving.
Teach your children how to eat properly at a young age. When children grow up having eaten “real” foods, sugared, processed foods cereals and snacks taste artificial to them.
When shopping for breads and cereals, read labels! Just because the label says “wheat bread” and comes in a brown label doesn’t mean that it’s really made from whole grains. Many of these bread labels, for example, which say “multi- grain” or “cracked wheat,” usually contain far more white flour than anything else. By law, bread that is labeled whole wheat must be made from 100% whole-wheat flour. Wheat bread may be made from varying proportions of white and wheat flour. The type of flour used is listed first on the label.
Sometimes a dark color is provided by using caramel coloring, which is also listed on the label. A rip off again folks! Remember, a healthy, whole-grain bread spoils in a few days. Unless you are buying breads that are in the freezer section, they are probably not whole-grain breads.
Many commercial products, both crackers, breads and cereals are still high in fat, sugar and preservatives. It’s far better to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and even take a fiber supplement than to eat these processed foods.
Next week, join me for a blog on the issue of gluten.
Adapted from Why Eat Like Jesus Ate? To order a copy, click here.