Up to 30 chemicals are added to white flour, and often chemical dyes as well, to make what is now a starch behave like flour again after the bran and germ were removed (and vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, phytochemicals, etc). Some of these chemicals are banned in Europe. The World Health Organization considers the average height of a nation’s people to be a good indicator of health, and Americans are shrinking from bad nutrition. For 200 years we were the tallest people on earth. Not any more. Nor can you eat poorly and make up for it with vitamin pills, because several long-range studies have shown that Vitamins Pills Don’t Work.
In 1970, Dr. Roger Williams conducted an experiment at the University of Texas. He fed 64 young rats only bread from enriched white flour. Forty were dead within 90 days, and the rest had stunted growth. The control rats dining on whole-grain bread were healthy.
Whole grains have been shown to have a positive effect in thousands of scientific studies. Of course, it’s hard to tease out exercise, sleep, diet, and other factors, but there is so much evidence, going back for decades, that the FDA allows whole grain health claims to be made.
The March 2008 addition of Consumer Reports contains an article called “Nine Ways to a Longer Life”. Their #1 recommended action: eat whole grains.
Why do we eat white flour?
Since Roman times, sifted white flour bread has been regarded as the food of upper classes. But this flour was far from white compared to today’s flour.
Modern flour began in Paris in 1876, when white flour bread rolls became a fad. The bread was super-white because a miller had figured out how to remove the bran and the germ from grain, leaving only the starchy endosperm.
It wasn’t long before this new method of milling caught on in America, because flour without the oil-laden germ and bran won’t spoil and can sit on grocery store shelves for years.
Grain mills made three times as much money by splitting grain into 3 different products – white flour for people, and the bran and germ for animal feed, or separately bought at the grocery store.
White flour justification
The only argument I’ve heard from people in favor of white flour is that people can make up for the empty calories of white flour by eating other food. And Americans sure have. Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, and white flour is a large component of the food we eat — cereal, bread, pizza, pasta, cookies, crackers, chips, ec. It’s almost, but not quite, a sugar. You can only eat so many calories in a day and not gain weight, so why not make each calorie count by eating whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit?
When you eat white flour, you aren’t being protected from the diseases below. For decades, scientific research has shown that whole grains lower your risk of:
Cancer, especially these types: Bladder, Breast, Colon, Esophagus, Gallbladder, Kidney, Liver, Larynx, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Ovarian, Pancreatic, Prostate, Rectal, Stomach
Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Attacks)
Cholesterol and triglycerides lowered
Varicose veins of the legs
Weight regulation (loss), lower BMI
The American Society for Nutrition brought researchers together to review the evidence of health benefits associated with whole grains. Their findings were published in The Journal of Nutrition in May 2011:
Jonnalagadda, S. S. et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium 1-3
And here’s Dr. Joanne Slavin’s 2004 Nutrition Research Reviews meta-analysis “Whole Grains and Human Health” of recent studies on whole grains and health that showed they’re protective against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
Even More References
Bernasek, 5th World Congress on Breads and cereals, Dresden, 1970. (cited in Aubert, 1989).
Campbell, Judy, et. al. 1991. Nutritional Characteristics of organic, freshly stone-ground, sourdough & conventional breads. Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University
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The Whole Grains Council has many other up-to-date articles and references about whole grains and health.