Every cupboard has at least one bag of flour. It’s essential for both baking and cooking, making it a staple household ingredient. Bread and baked goods wouldn’t be possible without it! In fact, flour is so ordinary that you might not think twice before buying some. But what if one kind was destroying our health?
Say hello to white refined flour, a highly processed wheat ingredient. It starts out as whole grain kernels containing the bran, germ, and endosperm. To make white flour, each kernel is stripped of the bran and germ, leaving the carbohydrate-rich endosperm.1 It’s also the reason why this product is dangerous.
Unfortunately, white refined flour is a major ingredient of the Western diet. Intake has slowly increased since 1963, around the time that obesity rates started to rise.2 This surely can’t be a coincidence.
Not convinced? Check out these five alarming facts about white refined flour, and how it can affect your health.
1. Offers Less Fiber
To make white flour, the bran and germ are removed from the wheat kernel. But these are also the most nutrient-rich parts! For instance, bran is jam-packed with fiber, a “good” carb that regulates blood sugar. It works by slowing the breakdown of starch into glucose, a crucial step in preventing intense spikes. This can significantly reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, especially if you’re already pre-diabetic. It also lowers the risk of heart disease by improving blood cholesterol.3
However, when white flour is made, all of these benefits leave with the bran. It explains why the rise in consumption has such a strong link to the rise in type 2 diabetes.4
2. Contains Less Antioxidants
Antioxidant content also takes a nosedive. The bran and germ have powerful compounds like ferulic acid, caffeic acid, and phytic acid. Even antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium are found in the germ.
Most of this is removed when making white flour! Antioxidants have the ability to find and kill free radicals that cause cell damage. They can also control levels of oxidative stress, a crucial factor of chronic disease.5
While manufacturers can add nutrients to flour, it’s never as good as the real thing. What’s worse is that many nutrients are destroyed by heat. For example, 30 percent of vitamin E is lost in bread making.6
3. Increases Appetite
What if eating only made you hungrier? It sounds counterproductive, but with refined flour, this is exactly what happens. The starch in refined flour is so simple that it’s quickly broken down into the glucose, and the body absorbs it just as fast. In turn, it attempts to restore energy balance by releasing appetite hormones. It’s a setup for increased hunger, overeating, and eventually, weight gain and a higher risk of chronic disease. On the other hand, foods made with whole wheat flour actually reduce hunger.7
4. Enhances Inflammation
Inflammation is also at the root of almost every chronic disease. It goes hand in hand with oxidative stress, but by controlling one, you can control the other. Refined flour makes way for inflammation. Remember, the antioxidants in the germ and bran are removed, leaving you more susceptible to oxidative stress.
Whole wheat flour has the opposite effect. As the antioxidants help control inflammation, chronic disease will be less severe. Even the risk for inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis will drop.8
5. Possibly Contains Chemicals
In the case of bleached flour, substances are added for chemical bleaching. One example is benzoyl peroxide, a strong oxidizing agent. It’s a disturbing thought to think benzoyl peroxide is in your food. Plus, according to a 2011 animal study, researchers found that it reduces antioxidant levels in the liver of mice.9 Other research has linked neurodegenerative diseases to methionine sulfoximine, a byproduct of bleaching flour.10
As you can see, white refined flour is one of the worst things you can eat. Opt for whole wheat flour instead. These days, you can also find healthier flours made of chickpeas, almonds, and coconut.
|↑1, ↑3||Whole Grains. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑2, ↑4||Gross, Lee S., Li Li, Earl S. Ford, and Simin Liu. “Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79, no. 5 (2004): 774-779.|
|↑5||Antioxidants: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.|
|↑6||Yu, Lilei, and Anne-Laure Nanguet. “Comparison of antioxidant properties of refined and whole wheat flour and bread.” Antioxidants 2, no. 4 (2013): 370-383.|
|↑7||Ludwig, David S., Joseph A. Majzoub, Ahmad Al-Zahrani, Gerard E. Dallal, Isaac Blanco, and Susan B. Roberts. “High glycemic index foods, overeating, and obesity.” Pediatrics 103, no. 3 (1999): e26-e26.|
|↑8||Jacobs, D. R., Andersen, L. F., & Blomhoff, R. (2007). Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(6), 1606-1614.|
|↑9||Jia, Xiaojing, Yangxinwei Wu, and Ping Liu. “Effects of flour bleaching agent on mice liver antioxidant status and ATPases.” environmental toxicology and pharmacology 31, no. 3 (2011): 479-484.|
|↑10||Shaw, C. A., and J. S. Bains. “Did consumption of flour bleached by the agene process contribute to the incidence of neurological disease?.” Medical hypotheses 51, no. 6 (1998): 477-481.|