By Sue Becker
Grains are the seed-bearing fruits of grasses. The fact that grains are the seeds of the plant as well as the fruit and that life giving nutrients are contained and perfectly stored within, make grains an incredibly nutritious food. In fact, of the 44 known essential nutrients needed by our bodies and naturally obtained from foods, only 4 are missing from wheat–vitamin A, B12, and C, and the mineral iodine.
Each kernel of grain has a “germ” as its core, surrounded by a storage packet of starch, called the endosperm that would nourish the young embryo if the seed sprouted. The entire kernel is protected by a layer of bran and usually also by an outermost inedible layer called the hull. As long as the bran is intact, and the grain kept relatively cool, dry and rodent or bug free these “seeds” will store indefinitely with no nutrient loss. Once the kernel of wheat is broken open, however, as in milling, the protection of the bran is gone and many of these nutrients, now exposed to oxygen, are lost by oxidation. In fact, once milled, as much as 45% of the nutrients are oxidized, in the first day alone. In 3 days, just 72 hours later, 90% of the nutrients are lost, all to oxidation alone and none to the sifting of the bran and germ.
The nutrients of the wheat kernel, however, are not evenly distributed throughout. The bran, a multi-layered outer coating, is only 15 % of the wheat kernel by weight but contains about 20% of the riboflavin, 50% of the pantothenic acid, 73% of the vitamin B6, and 86% of the niacin. All of these vitamins make up what is commonly referred to as the vitamin B complex. The germ of the wheat, hidden away inside the kernel contains the life of the seed and as well as nutrient oil. The germ is only 2.5% of the kernel by weight but contains 8% of the protein, 21% of the B6, 26% of the riboflavin, 64% of the thiamin, and all of the vitamin E. The germ also contains essential fatty acids (see following article in the newsletter). The bran and germ together are the main sources of dietary fiber. The bulk of the wheat kernel is the endosperm, which is 83% by weight and contains 72% of the protein and 43% of the pantothenic acid, but only 3% of the thiamin, 6% of the vitamin B6, 12% of the niacin. Most of the endosperm, better known as white flour, is starch.
Until the nineteenth century the use of white flour was confined to royalty or to the wealthy who could afford it. In Paris in 1876, the first light white French rolls were exhibited. The governor of Minnesota was in attendance at the exposition and determined that America must have the “benefits” of this discovery. He learned how to separate the various components of the grains to achieve the white flour he desired. He came back to America and developed the steel roller mills, which accelerated this separation process while grinding of grain into flour. This invention efficiently separated the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm and making huge volumes of fine white flour available. Lacking the oil-laden wheat germ, the new white flour was storable and therefor could be shipped long distances without becoming rancid. As the huge roller mills became widely adopted, the small local stone mills went out of business and white flour and white bread became food for the masses.
As the use of white flour became more and more common, disease and illness relating to vitamin deficiencies rapidly increased. Beriberi and pellagra (two B vitamin deficiency diseases) and anemia became so prevalent, health officials urged the milling industry to return the bran and germ to the flour. The millers, however, had developed a rather lucrative market for these “by-products” of the milling process. The bran and germ were being made into highly animal feed to fatten chickens and cattle! The millers refused to return the bran and germ to the flour and chose instead to “enrich” the long lasting white flour.
This term “enrich” is quite deceptive. In fact most of us are often led to believe that the nutritive value of the original food has been completely restored. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. Having already reviewed how the nutrients are distributed in the wheat berry, it is not surprising then to learn that the refined white flour is missing up to 80% of the nutrients found in the original wheat kernel. The content of 22 vitamins and minerals is diminished by 70-80%, and the fiber content is only 7% of the original amount. The essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, the benefits of which discussed more fully in this newsletter “The Fact About Fats”, is cut in half. Although the protein content is only slightly affected the nutritional value of that protein is greatly reduced because the essential amino acid lysine is lost. What little vitamin E is left after refining is destroyed when the flour is bleached to make it “whiter than white”.
Four nutrients, iron and 3 B vitamins, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin, have been artificially added to the refined white product, but some 25-30 have been either drastically or completely reduced. Iron is restored in part but a substantial percentage of the trace minerals essential for life and health are discarded. “Enrichment” does bring the level of these nutrients back to that of the whole wheat except riboflavin, which is enriched to three times the original level but compared to the whole grain, the enriched product remains deficient in fiber, protein value and 18 vitamins and minerals.
“Enrichment” – fact or fallacy? Let these grains of truth speak for themselves. The following two charts clearly speak the facts!
Nutrient Content of Wheat Flours (per cup)
|Nutrient||Whole Wheat||White Unenriched||White Enriched|
SOURCE: USDA Handbook No. 456
*From Added Nutrients
Nutrients Lost When Whole Wheat Flour is Refined
|Nutrient||% Lost||Nutrient||% Lost||Nutrient||% Lost|
SOURCE: Henry A. Schroeder, “Losses of Vitamins and Trace Minerals Resulting from Processing and Preservation of Foods,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 24 (1971)
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article should be construed as medical advice. Consult you health care provider for your individual nutritional and medical needs. The opinions are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily those of any professional group or other individual