Do you know that according the USDA a food item can be defined as whole grain only if 51% of the product is whole grain and the rest can be refined flour? I first heard this from the co-founder of a company called Back To The Roots. Back To The Roots is famous for its organic mushroom in a box farm. They just released their latest product, Organic Stoneground Flakes which uses 100% of the wheat kernel. The difference between this cereal and most others on the market is that it has only three ingredients, stone ground whole wheat, organic cane sugar and sea salt. When I look at the backs of most packages of cereal in the grocery store, most have no fewer than 10 ingredients and are filled with preservatives and additives.
This got me thinking, what exactly is a wheat kernel and whats so important about having the whole grain vs refined grain? Marketers of our food products have capitalized on branding products whole wheat but if its definition only has to include 51% whole grain then maybe we should reassess what foods we want to to classify under that category.
Okay, so most of us already know that white flour is bad for us, but the question is why? A wheat kernel, as it turns out, has three main components, the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined flour is made from the endosperm which is mostly starch. The bran is the hard outer covering and the germ is embryo. Wheat germ contains vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, thiamin, phosphorous, zinc and loads of fiber. Wheat bran is mostly fiber and also contains vitamin A, and iron. So even though we love the endosperm alone, taking out these two components and making flour refined removes most of these healthy nutrients.
And, ever notice how white refined flour is? White flour today is much whiter than it traditionally used to be. This is because in addition to all the bran and germ being removed, the flour is also bleached. A variety of chemicals are involved in this process. First, the whole wheat kernels must be washed and prepared. This is done through a series of processes involving high temperature washing and high speed rollers that separate the endosperm from the bran and germ and then roll the endosperm into flour. This flour is then bleached with chlorine gas (similar to that in clothing bleach) or benzoyl peroxide (found in common acne washes) which can leave residues that we then eat! Some of the nutrients removed in this process, such as iron and B vitamins, are added back to the flour. There is debate on whether these added nutrients are as bioavailable (able to be processed by our cells) as efficiently as their naturally occurring counterparts. Moreover, many processed flours and breads have other additives such as dough conditioners, potassium bromide, antifungal and antibiotic substances that are known toxins and carcinogens.
So as I sit here munching on my three ingredient cereal from my friends at Back To The Roots spruced up with some yummy dates, raisins, almonds, and diced apple, Im thankful that there are companies out there that promote bringing the food back into some of my favorite foods. I can enjoy my whole wheat cereal and know that its good for me too without any of the unnecessary processing and additives that are found in so many of the products that line the shelves of our grocery stores.