About 40 years ago the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in southern California produced a film with the title "The Great Grain Robbery."
The purpose of the film was to let the public know the importance of eating whole grains and especially to understand the difference between whole wheat flour and enriched white flour. Many folks are unaware of this difference and may think that since the word "enriched" is used the enriched flour may even be better than whole wheat flour. Unfortunately it is the opposite.
In the following list of important ingredients I will give figures showing the portion of nutrients found in enriched white flour as compared to whole wheat flour:
Fiber: White flour has 22 percent of the fiber in whole wheat flour.
Calcium: 44 percent.
Magnesium: 15 percent.
Potassium: 26 percent.
Zinc: 23 percent.
Manganese: 18 percent.
Selenium: 47 percent.
Pantothenic acid: 43 percent.
Vitamin B6: 13 percent.
Copper: 37 percent.
Vitamin E: 7 percent.
Some of the substances in short supply are important antioxidants.
However the plot thickens as far as the "great grain robbery" is concerned. About 1990 information began coming out about substances called phytochemicals or phytonutrients. The term phyto refers to plants which means these substances are found only in plants. We now know that there are many of these phytochemicals, maybe 10,000. But there is still much to be learned about their role in the human body. Nevertheless we know that enriched white flour also has significantly less of the phytochemicals than does whole wheat flour.
Realizing the names of these won't mean much to most folks I still think you need to know about them. Here is the list showing the reduced amounts in enriched white flour. Ferulic acid, 6 percent; phenolics, 17 percent; flavonoids, 21 percent; zeaxanthin, 22 percent; cryptoxanthin, 58 percent; lutein, 49 percent; hydrophilic PSC, 15 percent; lipophylic PCS, 6 percent. At this point in time it is known that zeaxanthin and lutein help to prevent macular degenertion in the eye.
The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has this to say: "Grain phytochemicals exert their health benefits through multifactorial physiologic mechanisms, including antioxidant activity, mediation of hormones, enhancement of the immune system." To put this in easier to understand language the phytochemicals in grains help a person's health in several different ways including antioxidant activity, making hormones more effective and making the immune system work more efficiently. Surely these are things we would like to see happen.
Some may wonder why the white flour is lacking in these important substances. It is because commercial milling of grain removes the bran and germ layers of the grain. It is my understanding that the reason for taking them out is that the white flour has a longer shelf life. It doesn't deteriorate or get bugs in it as fast. Sadly products made with whole grains are usually more expensive.
There is another adverse effect of white flour, that it is broken down into sugar in the body more rapidly than whole wheat which increases the chance of getting diabetes or having a harder time controlling diabetes. Whole grain cereals are much better for you. People need to learn to be label readers to be sure that they get 100 percent whole wheat.
My hope is that those who read this article will not be held up by the great grain robbers.
Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent 4 years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.