This topic is controversial and complicated. With the popularity of books such as Wheat Belly and Grain Brain and the explosion of the gluten free movement; there has been a full scale war against wheat and anything made with it. I believe this section will help you to unravel all the information about this subject and cut through the confusion so that you can clearly see the dangers and benefits of wheat, whatever form it may take.
First, we must cover refined grains. Refined flour, or refined carbohydrates, present one of the clearest dangers to your health. This process of refining grains has had one of the biggest impacts on damaging our health.
What is refined flour?
A whole grain consists of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The refining process gets rid of the bran and the germ so that the endosperm can be ground up into white flour. This is great for the manufacturers who sell white flour and the products made from it because it allows the products to have a long shelf life without spoiling. The problem is that most all of the nutrients your body needs are found in the bran and the germ.
When you include the bran and the germ, whole grain flour is full of important nutrients. One cup of whole grain flour contains a significant portion of your daily value of the B-complex vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, and a big dose of manganese. It also contains 16 grams of protein, over 14 grams of fiber – which helps to eliminate constipation and protect against blood-sugar/insulin spikes because it digests more slowly, and it contains soluble fiber, which is a prebiotic(it stimulates the growth of probiotics – healthy gut bacteria).
So the big dangers of refined flour are the removal of half to two-thirds of these nutrients, the removal of about a quarter of the protein, and the removal of the fiber.The removal of the fiber causes constipation. Constipation leads to a wide variety of disease and problems, including diverticulosis.
What about enriched flour?
When grains were first starting to be refined and sold on a mass scale, there were large increases in vitamin deficiency diseases like pellagra(lack of vitamin B3) and beriberi(lack of vitamin B1). To solve this problem, manufacturers began to “enrich” the flour with the needed vitamins. That is what “enriched flour” means.
Enriched flour is definitely not nutritionally equivalent to whole grain wheat flour. First of all, the vitamins that are put into the flour to “enrich” it are isolated synthetic vitamins that your body doesn’t even recognize as vitamins. Vitamins are part of a biochemical complex and you can’t just take one part of a vitamin, isolate it, stuff it in some processed food, and expect the body to recognize and utilize it. (For more on the difference between synthetic and whole food vitamin complexes: read this)
Secondly, out of the over a dozen nutrients that are reduced through the refining of flour, only five are added back in AND at levels way out of proportion than they were originally. Enriched flour is not healthy for you contrary to what the food manufacturers try to sell to you as truth.
Also, the body requires B-vitamins to digest carbohydrates. Whole grains have a good supply of B-vitamins naturally occurring within them. Since refined flour is depleted of B-vitamins, the body will deplete itself of B-vitamins by using what is already in the body.
How about bleached flour?
Then there is bleached flour. Flour is bleached in order to make the flour look more white and also produce an “aged” effect which enhances the baking qualities of the flour. The problem is that most manufacturers use chlorine gas to bleach the flour and a byproduct of this process is alloxan. Alloxan is something that is given to rats and mice in order to give them diabetes so that doctors can study treatments for diabetes! This creates yet another danger for eating refined flour.
In addition to the refining, bleaching, and enriching processes, another danger of white flour is the toxic mix of preservatives and other ingredients that are added to make it taste good. A lot of bread made with this refined flour contains high fructose corn syrup, GMO soybean oil, mono and diglycerides, bromine(bromate), and a host of other poisonous ingredients.
Diabetes and Weight Gain
The last danger of refined flour we will talk about is how your body recognizes the flour as a simple carbohydrate or sugar. This is because of the removal of the bran and the germ. What is left is the endosperm which is mostly starch and your body processes this as sugar. When you consume any white flour products your blood sugar will spike high. After this your pancreas will produce insulin to bring the blood sugar level back down. Eventually the insulin receptors will get sick of the sugar spikes and you will experience insulin resistance which leads to diabetes.
Insulin resistance means that when your body produces insulin to bring blood sugar down, the insulin starts to not be able to bring the blood sugar down anymore. If the flour still had the bran in it which contains most of the fiber, it would help to slow digestion of the flour and in turn slow the spike of blood sugar.
The insulin spikes also cause you get fat. The hormone insulin causes excess calories from carbohydrates to be stored as fat in the body. Read more about that here.
Is wheat better than white?
Be careful also of being deceived by false advertising on flour products. Manufacturers know that a lot of people have caught onto the fact that white bread and white flour products are bad for you, so they throw the word “wheat” on the package or in the ingredients. This is deceptive. You need to read the ingredients of the product and if it does not say “whole grain wheat flour” as the first ingredient, it is not made from whole grain wheat. Some names that are used to fool you are wheat flour, enriched wheat flour, bread flour, all purpose flour, and some companies will even say “contains whole grains” on the front, but it’s only a small percentage mixed together with a bunch of other junk.
The dangers of refined and white flour are clear. Products like pizza, bagels, pastries, pasta, bread, cereal, etc. are the main source of this flour and form a big part of the average American diet. If you start to cut out products made with refined flour, you will notice a big improvement in your health.
There will be more detail added to this section in the future concerning the gluten controversy and the truth about modern day wheat.