Outrageous: experts who say whole wheat flour no better than White Flour?

Bread is called the staff of life because it has more nutrients per weight that fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, and potatoes. Whole wheat flour is better than refined white flour for four reasons according to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Associate Professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard:

In white flour, all of the bran has been removed.  Bran has soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, B vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and tocopherols (see what vitamins and minerals that have been stolen).

In white flour, the germ has been removed.  The Germ has  numerous healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (see what vitamins and minerals that have been stolen).

Whole grain flour is a solid rather than a liquid, so it’s digested more slowly.  You can’t add artificial fiber and micronutrients to fix the issues with white flour, because the health effects, as in fruits and vegetables, result from synergistic effects of multiple constituents that are unlikely to be matched by supplemental fiber alone, added bran, or isolated micronutrients.  The so-called artificial “fiber” added to commercial bread products (sometimes from wood pulp) is just one kind of fiber, not a diversity of fibers that create a healthier gut flora.

Glycemic load.  White flour only has the endosperm which is mainly starch and some protein and no fiber, so it’s rapidly digested, increasing the glycemic response (like eating sugar). The experts who are saying wheat flour is no better than white flour are only criticizing wheat flour for this one aspect alone, not the other three above.  And i’ts NOT TRUE if you mill your own flour with a Family Grain Mill, because the Family Grain Mill is incapable of grinding a really fine flour.  To say that whole wheat flour is no better than white flour for this one reason is not scientific, irresponsible, and flat out wrong.

Here are the so-called experts who say are incorrectly saying whole wheat flour is no better than white flour:

  1. March 2013 Harvard School of Public Health conference “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives”. The speaker at a bread baking talk said that there was no reason to bake with whole wheat flour, since it was no healthier than white flour because it had been ground so finely there was no fiber.
  2. Dr. David Ludwig, pediatrician, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation on March 1, 2013 in Seeking A Grain Of Truth In “Whole Grain” Labels.  Same criticism, most flour is ground too fine.
  3. Dr. Robert Lustig at UCSF on NPR’s Science Friday on Jan 11, 2013 in The Fallacies of Fat.   “All the benefits that you get from whole grain are gone as soon as you pulverize it,” though a dense German fitness bread with  nuts and seeds is good, a very different kind of bread than what’s commercially available. A lot of the fiber that they tout in these breads is actually added soluble fiber, such as cilium and things like that.

I wrote several experts to see if they agreed, and  Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Associate Professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard replied:

There are at least 4 different, interrelated metrics that can definite carbohydrate quality:

  1. whole grain (bran, germ) content
  2. fiber content
  3. glycemic load
  4. structure (solid vs. liquid)

Each may have independent health effects, and each can be independently altered.  For example, a finely milled whole grain has all the dietary fiber and has whole grain, but it has a high glycemic index, potentially nearly as high as white bread.  So, based on glycemic load alone, most finely milled whole grains are very similar to refined grains.  On the other hand, based on whole grain and fiber contents, they are still superior to refined grains.  There is no single metric or grade that can capture all these issues at once, making it challenging to define carbohydrate quality unequivocally.  But, all else being equal, higher fiber is better than lower, higher whole grain content is better than lower, lower glycemic load is better than higher, and solid structure is better than liquid.  If a grain has all 4 characteristics, that’s the best.  But 3 of 4 (whole grain flour) is still better than 0 of 4 (white flour), in my book.

We discuss these issues, and present a related table of different carbs, in our manuscript in Circulation, “Components of a cardioprotective diet: new insights.”

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD DrPH
Co-Director, Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology
Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public 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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