White Flour is Killing You

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:



Artery-narrowing plaque



Blood pressure

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)

C-reactive protein

Cholesterol and triglycerides lowered





Gastrointestinal disorders

Gum disease



Inflammatory diseases

LDL cholesterol

Macular degeneration

Metabolic syndrome



Varicose veins of the legs

Weight regulation (loss), lower BMI

Further reading

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

Alminger M, Eklund-Jonsson C. Whole-grain cereal products based on a high-fibre barley or oat genotype lower post-prandial glucose and insulin responses in healthy humans. Eur J Nutr. 2008;47(6):294-300.

Basu S, Aman P, Vessby B. Whole-grain foods do not affect insulin sensitivity or markers of lipid peroxidation and inflammation in healthy, moderately overweight subjects. J Nutr. 2007;137(6):1401-1407.

Bazzano LA, Song Y, Bubes V, Good CK, Manson JE, Liu S. Dietary intake of whole and refined grain breakfast cereals and weight gain in men. Obes Res. 2005;13(11):1952-1960

Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Lipids significantly reduced by diets containing barley in moderately hypercholesterolemic men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(1):55-62.

Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Whole-grain diets reduce blood pressure in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106(9):1445-1449

Brunner EJ, Mosdol A, Witte DR, Martikainen P, Stafford M, Shipley MJ, Marmot MG. Dietary patterns and 15-y risks of major coronary events, diabetes, and mortality. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1414-1421.

Gibson GR, Tuohy KM. Whole-grain wheat breakfast cereal has a prebiotic effect on the human gut microbiota: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(1):110-120.

Chan JM, Wang F, Holly EA. Whole grains and risk of pancreatic cancer in a large population-based case-control study in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;166(10):1174-1185.

Costabile A, Klinder A, Fava F, Napolitano A, Fogliano V, Leonard
de Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, van Dam RM. Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes:

Djousse L, Gaziano JM. Breakfast cereals and risk of heart failure in the physicians’ health study I . Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(19):2080-2085.

Erkkila AT, Herrington DM, Mozaffarian D, Lichtenstein AH. Cereal fiber and whole-grain intake are associated with reduced progression of coronary-artery atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease. Am Heart J. 2005;150(1):94-

Esmaillzadeh A, Mirmiran P, Azizi F. Whole-grain consumption and the metabolic syndrome: a favorable association in Tehranian adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(3):353-362.

Esmaillzadeh A, Mirmiran P, Azizi F. Whole-grain intake and the prevalence of hypertriglyceridemic waist phenotype in Tehranian adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):55-63.

Good CK, Holschuh N, Albertson AM, Eldridge AL. Whole grain consumption and body mass index in adult women: an analysis of NHANES 1999-2000 and the USDA pyramid servings database. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008;27(1):80-87.

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr. 2008;11(6):554-563.

Heidemann C, Schulze MB, Franco OH, van Dam RM, Mantzoros CS, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in a prospective cohort of women. Circulation. 2008;118(3):230-237.

Hsu TF, Kise M, Wang MF, Ito Y, Yang MD, Aoto H, Yoshihara R, Yokoyama J, Kunii D, Yamamoto S. Effects of pre-germinated brown rice on blood glucose and lipid levels in free-living patients with impaired fasting glucose or type 2 diabetes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2008;54(2):163-168.

Jacobs DR, Jr., Andersen LF, Blomhoff R. Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1606-1614.

Jensen MK, Koh-Banerjee P, Franz M, Sampson L, Gronbaek

Jensen MK, Koh-Banerjee P, Hu FB, Franz M, Sampson L, Gronbaek M, Rimm EB. Intakes of whole grains, bran, and germ and the risk of coronary heart disease in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(6):1492-1499.

Karmally W, Montez MG, Palmas W, Martinez W, Branstetter

Katcher HI, Legro RS, Kunselman AR, Gillies PJ, Demers LM, Bagshaw DM, Kris-Etherton PM. The effects of a whole grain- enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(1):79-90.

Koh-Banerjee P, Franz M, Sampson L, Liu S, Jacobs DR, Jr., Spiegelman D, Willett W, Rimm E. Changes in whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber consumption in relation to 8-y weight gain among men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(5):1237-1245.

Kusterer K, Hammes HP. Clinical benefit of a short term dietary oatmeal intervention in patients with type 2 diabetes and severe insulin resistance: a pilot study. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2008;116(2):132-134.

Lammert A, Kratzsch J, Selhorst J, Humpert PM, Bierhaus A, Birck

Larsson SC, Giovannucci E, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. Whole grain consumption and risk of colorectal cancer: a population-based cohort of 60,000 women. Br J Cancer. 2005;92(9):1803-1807.

Leitzmann MF, Thompson FE. Dietary fiber and whole-grain consumption in relation to colorectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(5):1353-1360.

Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Fung TT, Meigs JB, Rifai N, Manson JE, Hu FB. Major dietary patterns are related to plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(4):1029-1035.

Lutsey PL, Jacobs DR, Jr., Kori S, Mayer-Davis E, Shea S, Steffen LM, Szklo M, Tracy R. Whole grain intake and its cross-sectional association with obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, diabetes and subclinical CVD: The MESA Study. Br J Nutr. 2007;98(2):397-405.

Rimm EB. Whole grains, bran, and germ in relation to homocysteine and markers of glycemic control, lipids, and inflammation 1. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(2):275-283.

Mellen PB, Liese AD, Tooze JA, Vitolins MZ, Wagenknecht LE, Herrington DM. Whole-grain intake and carotid artery atherosclerosis in a multiethnic cohort: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1495-1502.

Merchant AT, Pitiphat W, Franz M, Joshipura KJ. Whole-grain and fiber intakes and periodontitis risk in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6):1395-1400.

Nettleton JA, Schulze MB, Jiang R, Jenny NS, Burke GL, Jacobs DR, Jr. A priori-defined dietary patterns and markers of cardiovascular disease risk in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(1):185-194.

Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Loehr LR, Rosamond WD, Folsom AR. Incident heart failure is associated with lower whole-grain intake and greater high-fat dairy and egg intake in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(11):

Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Mayer-Davis EJ, Jenny NS, Jiang R, Herrington DM, Jacobs DR, Jr. Dietary patterns are associated with biochemical markers of inflammation and endothelial activation in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6):1369-1379.

Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Ni H, Liu K, Jacobs DR, Jr. Dietary patterns and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 2008;31(9):1777-1782.

Newby PK, Maras J, Bakun P, Muller D, Ferrucci L, Tucker KL. Intake of whole grains, refined grains, and cereal fiber measured with 7-d diet records and associations with risk factors for chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(6):1745-1753.
obese subjects with elevated fasting blood glucose. Br J Nutr. 2007;98(5):929-936.

Panlasigui LN, Thompson LU. Blood glucose lowering effects of brown rice in normal and diabetic subjects. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2006;57(3-4):151-158.

Priebe MG, van Binsbergen JJ, de Vos R, Vonk RJ. Whole grain foods for the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008(1):CD006061

Qi L, van Dam RM, Liu S, Franz M, Mantzoros C, Hu FB. Whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber intakes and markers of systemic inflammation in diabetic women. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(2):207-211.

Ramakrishnan R, Holleran SF, Haffner SM, Ginsberg HN. Cholesterol-lowering benefits of oat-containing cereal in Hispanic americans. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(6):967-970.

Rave K, Roggen K, Dellweg S, Heise T, tom Dieck H. Improvement of insulin resistance after diet with a whole-grain based dietary product: results of a randomized, controlled cross-over study in

Rose N, Hosig K, Davy B, Serrano E, Davis L. Whole-grain intake is associated with body mass index in college students. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39(2):90-94.

Sahyoun NR, Jacques PF, Zhang XL, Juan W, McKeown NM. Whole-grain intake is inversely associated with the metabolic syndrome and mortality in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(1):124-131.

Schatzkin A, Park Y, Leitzmann MF, Hollenbeck AR, Cross AJ. Prospective Study of Dietary Fiber, Whole Grain Foods, and Small Intestinal Cancer. Gastroenterology. 2008; 135:1163-1167.

Slattery ML, Curtin KP, Edwards SL, Schaffer DM. Plant foods, fiber, and rectal cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(2):274-281.

van Dam RM, Hu FB, Rosenberg L, Krishnan S, Palmer JR. Dietary calcium and magnesium, major food sources, and risk of type 2 diabetes in U.S. black women. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(10):2238-2243.

van de Vijver LP, van den Bosch LM, van den Brandt PA, Goldbohm RA. Whole-grain consumption, dietary fibre intake and body mass index in the Netherlands cohort study. Eur J Clin Nutr.

The Whole Grains Council has many other up-to-date articles and references about whole grains and health.


About Alice

I've milled and baked with whole grains for many years, because whole grains are delicious, and white flour is missing the nutrition that protects you from cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases. Plus it's a good emergency food.
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