The Whole Grains Robbery

Or how the industrial food system transformed a healthy food into a cardiovascular and diabetes risk factor

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The picture above shows state of the art steel roller mills. Wheat comes from above and the mill grinds it into white flour.

Those steel roller mills were invented in the 1870s and were a revolution, similar to the electric car in our current days. It was a fast and efficient method that allows the production of the purest and finest white flour at low cost. Even the poorest citizen could now buy white bread, a food reserved previously to the richest. As you can see from above, it is a nice, clean, efficient and modern environment.

By seeing all the benefits, the steel roller mill became so popular that within 10 years most mills in the western world had been replaced. The mechanics of the steel roller mill was soon extended to other grains, such as rice, oats and barley. And thus was born the first processed food and the beginning of our industrial food system.

So what’s not to like?

Steel roller mills strips away wheat grains to only its starchy center or endosperm. Gone are the wheat bran (source of lipids, amino acids, glutathione, fibre, favonoids, vitamin E, minerals, phylosterlols, enzymes), wheat germ oil, middlings or wheat germ (dietary fiber, protein, antioxidants, Vitamin E, minerals, phytosterols, phenolic acids). All robbed from us!

White flour brings indeed “food” to the body but the additional health benefits are gone : cholesterol regulation, prebiotic effects, gut transit improvement, increased antioxydants, decreased tumor growth, good immune system stimulation, and more.

Research shows that whole grain wheat is good for your health. In randomized controlled trials, consumption of whole grains decrease incidence of coronary heart disease and stroke through blood pressure lowering mechanisms. Epidemiologic studies show that those who eat whole grains had a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease vs those who chose refined white grains.

On the other hand, a Harvard study showed that higher intake of white rice was associated with a higher risk of Type 2 Diabetes, compared to intake of brown rice.

It seems stripping grains from the bran and germ is also a shortcut to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

In simple terms, white flour and byproducts such as white bread or pasta will make you sick. But whole grains wheat (different from “whole wheat”) brings positive health effects.

So should we go whole wheat?

In Canada and many other Western countries, “whole wheat” is merely white flour with some bran and industrial filler added back in. That’s missing a whole lot other nutrients! That means choosing brown bread vs white bread is a false health choice in restaurants and other food shops. Whole wheat is just a marketing word at the moment.

A gluten-free diet isn’t much better. Groceries shops offer gluten-free options but those are made white rice starches, refined cornstarches, white potato. It’s not necessarily better and could be even worse, by confusing health-oriented consumers.

If you are looking to reap the whole benefits of whole grains wheat, this is what I would recommend:

  • A first option is to research stone-ground whole flour, in the organic section of your grocery or health store. In my case, I buy stone-ground Red Rife whole four made from whole grains, and I always check expiry date .True whole flour degrade quickly due to the fatty amino acids. Whole flour that has been shelved for months will taste bitter so make sure it is fresh.
  • A second option is to get whole grains, with the germ, barn and … everything on it. The best is organic heritage wheat or a variety like Red Rife. You will have to mill your own with a grain mill, such as this cheap one on Amazon. You can also go for the more fancy stone mills. Home milling sounds like a chore, but you can view it as a good healthy exercise and can be a fun time with the family.
  • A few brands also offer baking mixes from true whole grains, vacuum packaged so it doesn’t degrade as soon as you open it. This is challenging to find in a store and the best is to look it online.

References:

  • Paula Tighe, Garry Duthie, Nicholas Vaughan, Julie Brittenden, William G Simpson, Susan Duthie, William Mutch, Klaus Wahle, Graham Horgan, and Frank Thies. Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial. American Society for Nutrition 2010.
  • Eva Qing Ye, Sara A. Chacko, Elizabeth L. Chou, Matthew Kugizaki, and Simin Liu. Greater Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Weight Gain. American Society for Nutrition
  • Mark A Pereira, David R Jacobs Jr, Joel J Pins, Susan K Raatz, Myron D Gross, Joanne L Slavin, and Elizabeth R Seaquist. Effect of whole grains on insulin sensitivity in overweight hyperinsulinemic adults. American Society for Clinical Nutrition 2001
  • Chandrika M. Liyana-Pathiranaa, Fereidoon Shahidia. Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of whole wheat and milling fractions. Food Chemistry Volume 101, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 1151–1157

3 thoughts on “The Whole Grains Robbery”

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