For as long as most of us can remember, white flour and foods such as white bread and pasta have been a staple in Western diets. Fluffy white bread smells delicious, looks delicious and for the most part, is delicious – more so than many whole grain options at first. We all know we should eat less of it, however eliminating it altogether can be a huge challenge.
Just think of what you eat from breakfast to dinner. Chances are, in the last couple of weeks you’ve probably had at least one of the following: toast, bagels, pancakes, pizza, spaghetti, or a pre-dinner breadbasket. While these foods have a bad rap, there are ways to still enjoy them regularly; it’s simply a matter of opting for better ingredients and swapping out white flour.
Why You Should Swap White Flours and Breads for Something Healthier
Anyone who has tried white bread and whole grain bread knows how different they are from each other. White bread is smooth while whole grain bread is full of crunchy or chewy kernels. Because white bread is completely smooth and has no grains to really process, your body can convert it into energy and spikes your blood sugar very quickly and easily. On the other hand, your body takes much longer to break down breads filled with whole and intact grains.
At first glance, eating white bread seems to make more sense – why not get a boost of energy sooner? However, it’s this slower process that makes you feel fuller for longer, keeps your blood sugar balanced and your weight more in control . Plus, whole grains have more fiber which helps clean out your colon and aid digestion.
A Very Brief History of White Flour
Throughout the 1800s, grinding grains between stones to make flour took a ton of time and work. Since so little flour could be made this way, it was limited to the diets of small, wealthy populations. But as food production became increasingly industrialized and high-speed steel rollers could make fine flour in less time for lesser money, the average Westerners diet changed very quickly. And not necessarily for the better.
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The natural stone-ground flour is coarse and gives your body something to work with. But when white flour is ground so finely, there’s nothing left. But do you know what parts of the wheat are removed during the processing of white flour?
A single whole grain of wheat is made up of three layers: bran, germ, and endosperm. During the refining process, both the bran and germ (which are full of fiber and nutrients) are stripped from the grain. Once the two outer layers are gone, you’re left with the largest part of the grain that happens to be about 83 percent starch. So, you ultimately end up losing all or a significant amount of:
- Unsaturated fatty acids
- Vitamin E
Phew, that’s a lot of lost nutrition! In short, the only significant thing white flour can give you is a spike in energy and blood sugar that will leave you crashing and hungry within a few hours.
Additionally, many mass-produced mills will give their starchy flour chlorine gas baths to whiten and ‘age’ it faster. According to the VP of the North American Millers Association Jim Blain, who says: “Today, the US milling industry produces about 140 million pounds of flour each day, so there is no way to store the flour to allow it to age naturally. Plus, there is a shelf life issue.”
If you leave unbleached flour to age for an average of at least three weeks (i.e., allow the oxygen in the air to ‘bleach’), it whitens naturally. But with the overabundance of flour being sold every day, three weeks (at least) becomes far too long when it comes to running a business. This seems to be one of the reasons for giving flour a chloring gas bath, so more flour can go out and be sold faster.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that chlorine gas can be dangerous to inhale, very irritating and lethal, you may not feel these physical effects. But a study published in the British Medical Journal stated that “it has been clearly proved, by both chemical and biological methods, that even treatment with chlorine dioxide at about the ordinary commercial level causes an almost complete destruction of the vitamin E which is naturally present in the flour.”
There have also been claims that bleached flour produces a by-product called alloxan. Some researchers suggest that due to alloxan’s high toxicity and link to diabetes, avoiding bread made with white flour is a smart choice.
In short, wheat:
- Gets stripped of its fiber and nutrients
- Spikes blood sugar (dangerous high, if you eat too much)
- Goes through chlorine gas baths (to be bleached)
- Contains the contaminant alloxan
- Can increase diabetes risk
Delicious and Nutritious White Flour Alternatives
If you’re overwhelmed and not sure where to start, the list below can be an excellent starting point. Here are some of the best alternatives you’ll wonder why you weren’t already eating.
- Almond flour
- Amaranth flour (gluten-free)
- Arrowroot flour (gluten-free)
- Brown rice flour (gluten-free)
- Coconut flour
- Chickpea flour
- Cassava flour
- Chestnut flour
- Tigernut flour (gluten-free)
Next time you’re cooking or baking something that requires flour, try one of these with the comfort of knowing it will taste great and not be harming your body!
 Kennedy, L. (2011, April 28). Why You Should Avoid White Flour | Reader’s Digest. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/why-you-should-avoid-white-flour/
 The Little-Known Secrets about Bleached Flour… (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/03/26/The-Little-Known-Secrets-about-Bleached-Flour.aspx
 UK Indymedia. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/08/347999.html
 Impey, S. G., & Moore, T. (1961). Nutritive Value of Bread Made from Flour Treated with Chlorine Dioxide. Bmj,2(5251), 553-556. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5251.553, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1969479/?page=2
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