In the previous post I explained the different stages of food processing and that the value of food diminishes with higher grades of processing. If you haven’t read the post Let’s define healthy food first, you might want to do so before reading on.
In this post I would like to take a closer look at grains and how their value is affected not only by the processing type, but also what effect the time between grinding and using the grains has.
Defining whole grains
Many people are aware of the health benefits of whole grains, so when they do their shopping or eat at a restaurant they are often looking for whole wheat options. But not very many people know that in Canada a product can be called ‘whole wheat’ although “[…] up to 5 % of the kernel can be removed to help reduce rancidity and prolong the shelf life of whole wheat flour.” (see http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/whole-grain-entiers-eng.php)
As you can see in the picture below, the germ, which is also the most valuable part of the grain, can be removed, as well as some of the bran to reach the 5 %. The germ with its lipids (fats), once it is ground and exposed to air, will make a grain product rancid because of oxidation. Such a product has basically no shelf-life and thus is undesirable in today’s world of food production and convenience.
Refined flour is mostly made of the endosperm (starchy part). The government allows the food industry to enrich and fortify refined flours and give the impression that valuable nutrients were added back.
Enriched and fortified flour – a substitute for whole grains?
To understand why fortifying and enriching flour can in no way replace a truly whole grain flour, we need to acknowledge that every food has a very distinct amount of vital nutrients and this exact amount is needed in our bodies to properly metabolize that food. Once this fragile balance of nutrients is disturbed, there is no way to replicate it and inevitably, our bodies can’t metabolize food properly. In its inherent need of coping with what it has available, our body is looking the find the missing nutrients somewhere else (e.g. calcium is taken from places where it is present in the body, like teeth or bones), or simply can’t go through the proper stages of metabolism. Eventually, this will result in an illness. (e.g. in the case of calcium caries or osteoporosis can start to develop)
Here some percentages of minerals and vitamins that are being lost when refining whole grains:
Iron 84 %, copper 75 %, magnesium 52 %, manganese 71 %, potassium 76 %, calcium 50 %, vitamin B1 (thiamin) 86 %, vitamin B2 69 %, vitamin B3 (niacin ) 86 %, vitamin B6 50 %, pantothenic acid 54 %, provitamin A 100 %, vitamin E 100 %, and fibre almost 100 %.
In my mind there is no doubt that the bad reputation carbohydrates suffer from, stems mainly from the fact that very rarely the distinction is made between whole grains and refined carbohydrates and that the majority of people in the Western world consume refined carbohydrates and not enough complex or whole grains.
Let’s add the time factor
Two scientists , Kühnau and Bernásek, did an interesting animal study. Five test groups of rats were fed 50 % of their normal food and the other 50 % were replaced by different flours. The scientists especially recorded the fertility of the animals with the following results:
|Group 1||freshly ground whole grain flour||11.3||9.7||12.3||12.0|
|Group 2||bread made from freshly ground whole grain flour||12.3||9.5||9.3||11.6|
|Group3||14-day-old whole grain flour||9.5||4.5||3.2||–|
|Group 4||bread made from 14-day-old whole grain flour||8.0||3.5||2.0||–|
|Group 5||refined flour||8.0||4.0||1.2||–|
It didn’t surprise me much that Group 5 wasn’t very fertile as other studies in which rats were being fed refined flour only, showed that they became ill and died within a few weeks. Admittedly, I was not aware that whole grain flour would lose its value within 14 days to such a dramatic extent, that oxidation could destroy so much of the vital nutrients to render it basically useless after mere 14 days.
While I was attending a week-long food prep class during my training in Germany, we were taught to not mill any flour for storage, but rather use it within 4 hours of grinding.
What can you do?
You might wonder now if you need to buy a grain mill to grind whole grain kernels and make your own bread. In an ideal world, yes, that’s what you should do. Of course I understand that not everybody has the resources – time and money – to do so. But you can get started with a coffee grinder. (That’s what I did, too!) Maybe you have one at home or you buy one for $15-$20. At the heart of the nutrition rich in vital nutrients that I promote, is a fresh, raw whole grain muesli, which I also call power porridge. It is a very good start to make a small change towards healthier eating habits. If you eat about 50 grams of raw whole grains a day, you get all the vital nutrients from grains you need, and as a big bonus also sufficient unheated protein. Now, why this is very important, I will need to explain in my next blog post. For the power porridge recipe please go here. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know!