Have you ever wondered how the food-related diseases of our Western culture develop? I’m talking about problems or diseases like obesity, bowel cancer, diabetes, kidney stones, gout, arthritis, infections of the kidney & bladder, stiffness in the joints, digestive disorders and so on.
We must keep an eye on our health and our eating. Have you noticed that what we sow, we eventually harvest? Early signs of deteriorating health can be headaches, depression, low energy, constipation, dental decay, back pain.
Many people unknowingly suffer from metabolic disorders linked to a lack of Vitamin B1 as a result of eating a high proportion of white flour. 1 A lack of vitamin B in the diet comes through the combination of white flour, which is low in vitamin B, and high consumption of refined sugar, which is a Vitamin B robber.2
What actually happens to wheat as it’s commercially milled and prepared for making our daily bread and why is it the broken ‘staff of life’? Let's have a look at the process used in NZ.
1. In the process of milling the grain is broken open and ground into flour. However, mainstream flour production, takes nutritious grain and refines it into nutritionally poor flour. To understand why, let’s have a look at the structure of a wheat grain.
The Bran is the husk; it contains protein, many vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. During milling the bran is discarded and used as animal feed, or (and this is ironic) the vitamins, minerals and fibre it contains are reprocessed to be sold as supplements.
The Germ, or wheat germ, is the young plant within the seed. It contains proteins, highly unsaturated fatty acids, good sugars and is high in B vitamins. The protective layer around the germ contains many essential chemicals (amino acids) that help us digest the proteins and starch in the wheat. Our bodies can’t make these amino acids so we must have a dietary source. Whole grains are a very good source.
The Endosperm is the only part used in white flour; it contains a lot of proteins and starch.
- The majority of the nutrition is contained in the bran and the germ.
- The endosperm is the only part of the wheat grain used to make white flour. Thus, you can see that white flour is missing many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fibre.
- The germ is removed during milling as it contains plant oils that will go rancid very quickly and so limit the shelf life of the flour.3
3. Addition of synthetic vitamins to fortify the pre-mix. If you look at the labels on baked goods you’ll see that many baked goods are fortified. In NZ, unlike many other countries, the actual flour itself is only fortified with folic acid. The other ‘enrichments’ are added by the millers when the pre-mixes are put together for the various breads, cakes, biscuits, pancakes etc.
Nutritional analyses have been carried out on flour samples from New Zealand flour mills.
Approximate nutrient content (mg) per 100g of flour4
|Nutrients||(Supermarket Retail) |
|(Supermarket Retail) |
Note: Supermarket wholemeal flour has undergone the same treatment as white flour and the millers add some “stabilised-for-the-shelf” bran and wheat germ back into the mix and call it wholemeal.5 It’s a little bit like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, it doesn’t work very well – once it’s broken, it’s always broken.
You can see that even supermarket wholemeal flour is much more nutritious than refined white flour. So why not ‘up’ your nutrition by using more whole grains?
- Be adventurous, give other whole-grains a try, like; amaranth, buckwheat (called kasha in the Middle East), millet, brown rice, or wholegrain couscous.
- Buy good quality, freshly baked wholemeal bread made with freshly milled flour (good)
- Buy freshly milled wholegrain flour and make your own bread in a bread maker or by hand (much, much better)
- Mill your own flour in a small home mill to make your own bread (the best)
A note about storing flour: Wheat, and in fact all grains, contain oils (like wheat germ oil for example) that go rancid very quickly. Now white flour doesn’t contain much in the way of these good oils so it can sit on supermarket shelves for several months, but a good stoneground wholemeal flour will be full of wonderful oils and you’ll need to protect these nutrients in the freezer. So for best results freeze wholemeal flour in an airtight container and use within two to three months.
A final note: Milling your own flour just before baking your bread ensures that you are getting fresh whole grain flour and maximising all the vitamins and minerals. It is also much cheaper. A kilo of wheat grain is only $2, about a third the price of “genuine” wholemeal flour. If you bake bread on a regular basis then you can pay for a flour mill in about 18 months. After that you get to keep the weekly savings, plus enjoy very nutritious home baked bread and have the delightful smell of freshly baked bread wafting through your home daily. We use our Wonder Mill all the time, producing fresh flour to make our own bread, pizza, pastry, biscuits, etc.
- Bruker: Gesund durch richtiges Essen, p18
- Puttner Karin, Nutrition Awareness - Ten Steps to Healthy Eating, Karin Puttnre, 2006
- Cranton, Elmer, MD, Modern Bread, the broken staff of life, 2005
- New Zealand Flour Millers Association http://www.flourinfo.co.nz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7:nutritional-aspects-of-flour&catid=5:flour-&Itemid=58 15/08/12
- Basey, Marleeta F. Flour Power: a Guide to Modern Home Grain Milling. Albany, Or.: Jermar, 2004. Print.