From the savory cereals to dusty pancakes and delicious pastas, grains and their flour derivatives have always been a mainstay on so many family dining tables.
The “white or wheat” bread controversy and whole grain vs. processed flours debate have been closely examined for the past several years. If you’re considering making some important changes in your diet, it is worth getting the facts.
First things first
Flour reacts in the body at a much faster pace as compared to any of its whole grain ingredients.
Here, it helps to know what really happens when a grain is processed into white flour and why such a bad press.
The whole-wheat berry comprises of three parts, including the bran, germ and starch, also referred to as the endosperm. White flour, the ingredient in question, is essentially obtained only from the endosperm. Interestingly, if you remove the bran and germ, the resulting endosperm is the easiest way to obtain softer, fluffier breads, which also explains its widespread usage. Since the starch content is digested very fast, it causes the levels of insulin to rise. The additional, temporary feeling of satiation is another downside of such high content of starch.
Now since you know how white flour causes the damage, let us delve into whether the wheat flour or the whole-wheat flour is actually the right substitute.
The Carb Effect
The real measure of the difference between the white flour and whole-wheat flour lies in the negligible gap in their glycemic index. While the whole wheat flour bread ranks at around 67 on the gylcemic index, its counterpart, the white flour, ranks somewhere in the early 70s. Also, consider the fact that a small cup of white flour will have around 95.39 grams of carbohydrates, closely followed by 86.36 grams in a cup of whole grain wheat flour.
This effectively explains that the carbohydrate-intake itself creates health issues, regardless of the type of flour you consume.
Here is how it works:
The carbohydrates we consume on a daily basis can belong to any of the three groups, including simple sugars, complex carbohydrates and fiber. Each one of these has a different pace at which they break down into glucose and hence provide energy. While the latter two are the healthier version of carbs and have a longer processing period, the simple sugars break down into glucose almost immediately, causing a rapid increase in the blood sugar level.
It is this logic that explains why processed flours, whether white or wheat cause such an immediate spike in sugar levels, as against those derived from whole grains.
We know how each type of flour is obtained from a different part of the grain.[i] Even the white flour contains only about 75% of the wheat grain, with most of its bran and wheat germ having been removed during milling. Similarly, even in the brown flour, a major portion of the bran and germ has been removed while processing.
Hence, effectively, the flour you consume, whether white or wheat/brown has been derived from the individual components of the whole grain, i.e., the bran, wheat germ or endosperm. This further implies that the rate at which these will convert into starch and increase your blood sugar will almost be the same.
In other words, whether we consume the white flour or whole-wheat flour, we are actually having one or the other form of processed flour, derived from the original whole grain.
So, if you are an emotional eater on a binge, remember not to delude yourself into thinking you are only consuming the healthier flour by eating wheat. At the end of the day, either way it is the carbohydrates at work, which will lead to the increase, in sugar levels and eventually, obesity and other health issues.
The Crushing Fact
Centuries ago, man had a near eureka moment when he learned to grind the coarse seeds into the seemingly edible flour. However, little did he realize that he was triggering a flour-debate that would probably run down into scores of decades to come!
When you take a whole grain and run it through the entire processing cycle, what you get in the end is a processed powder, which has been stripped of almost all of its essential nutrients. This version might be tastier and easier to digest. However, it will not only cause a drastic increase in appetite, but also lead to adverse effects like obesity and even heart problems.
So how do you lay out a healthy spread?
Good health calls for labor and dedication. It is imperative that you know your facts and have your analysis in order.
Here are some of the quick pointers you can follow:
- Go for the whole grains, avoiding the crushed and powdered flours as far as you can, say the experts. The best way to do that is to grind your own whole grains at home, though that might sound tedious to some.
- Another way to good health is to avoid making your daily diet fully dependent on any of the varieties of flours. Instead, you can include a host of other grains like oats, corn, and rice to being a variety.
- Opt out of eating grains altogether. Try a salad instead of a sandwich. And ask yourself, is toast with my eggs really necessary? How about some sautéed veggies, instead?
- Watch out for the fine print on the jars and packets you buy. Avoid using food products that have any versions of the processed flours listed. A few common examples include enriched wheat flour, all-purpose flour, bleached four, cake flour or bread flour.
Of course, white or wheat would be better left alone. The preventive health Cardiologist, William Davis, MD, did not really exaggerate when he commented, “If we were evil scientists and we said, ‘Let’s make the perfect poison,’ it would be wheat.” [ii]
[ii] Davis, MD. “The Truth About Grains: Whole and Refined.” Experience L!fe, Web. 3 February 2017