Whole Grains vs Processed Grains- Do you know the difference?
There is a huge nutritional difference between whole grains and the “enriched”, processed grains used in most of America’s food products. The word “enriched” essentially means more than a dozen natural nutrients have been destroyed during processing, and a few synthetic ones (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and maybe calcium) have been replaced in unnatural proportions. Note: “enriched” is different than “fortified”, which means that nutrients have been added that were never there in the first place.
Let’s take a look at whole wheat as an example. In most natural food stores you can find whole wheat kernels that look very similar to brown rice. If you were to dissect a whole wheat kernel, you would find that it has three parts (pictured below), the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
The Bran: Equals about 14% of the kernel. It contains almost all of the fiber, some minerals, B vitamins, phytonutrients, and a little incomplete protein. This layered outer covering of the grain is stiffer and harder than the inside of the kernel, and offers it some protection against the outside world, as a apple peel protects the inside of the fruit. It makes sense that the bran contains most of the fiber of the wheat kernel.
The Germ: Equals less than 3% of the kernel, but contains almost all of it’s nutrients- including vitamin E, trace minerals, and unsaturated fatty acids or oils. The germ is the seed of the grain, and contains all of the good stuff needed to grow new life.
The Endosperm: Equals 83% of the kernel. It is almost all starch, with a minute amount of carbohydrates, B vitamins and proteins.
The whole wheat kernel, with it’s germ and surrounding support system, is actually the seed of the wheat plant. Plant it, and it will grow; place it in water, and it will sprout. When whole wheat is ground into whole wheat flour, it contains the germ and the bran. But when whole wheat flour is refined into white flour the germ and the bran with all of their nutrients and fiber are removed. Unfortunately, white flour is the stuff from which most commercial breads, pretzels, muffins, cakes, crackers, and hundreds of other food products are made from.
So why do manufacturers go through the trouble to remove the germ and the bran, after all, the process must cost money? Because white flour pretty much has an indefinite shelf life. The oils contained in the germ make whole wheat flour go rancid, get bitter, and spoil much more quickly. Refined white flour lasts “forever”, because it’s virtually lifeless. And then, as if removing the germ and the bran were not enough, food manufacturers go even further to strip white flour of any small food value left by bleaching it- of course because bleaching it makes it white and “pretty”!
Also beware”Wheat” does not mean “Whole Wheat” and “Wheat Bread” does not mean “Whole Wheat Bread”!
If a package says “wheat flour” that does not mean whole wheat flour. Technically white flour is wheat flour, however highly refined and made from the nutritionless endosperm part of the wheat kernel. I believe the manufacturer is secretly hoping that the uninformed consumer will take “wheat flour” to mean “whole wheat flour”. Manufacturers also may put in big letters that the product is “made from whole wheat”, when truly there may only be a tiny amount of whole wheat flour in the product, while most of the product is made from “wheat flour” aka white flour. Tricky, yes they are! Always carefully read the ingredients list, and make sure whole wheat comes first. Unless a product is labeled “100% Whole Wheat” or “100% Whole Grain” you can never be sure without checking the ingredients for yourself!
Nutritionists also used to recommend you eat dark bread, because it was made from whole grains. Unfortunately, the manufacturers quickly caught onto this and started adding caramel coloring to their bread to make it darker so consumers would assume it’s “healthy”. Also beware that bread is not the only white flour product. Typical grocery store bagels, breakfast cereals, rolls, crackers, pretzels, pastas, buns, pizza crusts, pastries, cakes and cookies are made from white flour.
Also keep in mind white rice is to brown rice as white flour is to whole wheat flour. Degerminated cornmeal is to whole grain cornmeal as white flour is to whole wheat flour. The word degerminated sounds like something good, doesn’t it? Take the germs out! But now that we know the “germ” is the source of life, degerminated foods might as well be labeled “denatured” or “denutrified”. “Enriched” is another word that makes white flour sound healthy (as discussed above), even at natural food stores these manufacturer’s tricks are used! Always make sure a product is labeled “Whole Cornmeal”, “Whole Wheat”, “Whole Rye Flour” etc. and beware of words like “contains” or “made with”.
Are you a whole grain household, or considering making the switch? Please leave a comment and share!
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