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The Benefits of Whole Wheat Bread

by Les Saidel - November, 2010

Almost everyone knows that whole wheat bread is "healthier" than white bread, but very few really know why. It has become one of those universally accepted truths passed from one person to another, requiring no further investigation. This is a shame, because it is NOT a universal truth in any way and unless you understand what makes whole wheat bread healthier, you leave yourself open to be swindled into buying a plethora of products at inflated prices with little or no added health benefits.

To fully understand this, it is important to know the structure of a wheat grain. A grain of wheat is in fact a seed, which when planted, grows into the wheat plant (a wild grass hybrid). It consists of a thick, leathery outer skin called the pericarp that, when broken up into little pieces, is commonly known as bran. The lower end of the wheat seed contains the wheat germ. This is the "live" portion of the grain, which, like any other seed, sprouts to become the wheat plant. Finally, the major portion, the inner body of the wheat grain, is called the endosperm.

All parts of the wheat grain contain various health benefits.

Let's start with the endosperm. This portion of the seed, when ground, results in what we commonly know as "white flour". It consists mainly of starch and a small quantity of protein. Starch in the digestive system is broken down into glucose and provides the body with the energy it needs to function. Protein is a building block for body tissue, muscles, bone etc. and plays an important role in our metabolism and body chemistry.

The pericarp, or bran, provides our bodies with fibre. This is highly beneficial to the digestive system and regulates the absorbtion of nutrients into our blood stream and the hydration balance in our intestines.

The wheat germ, the "nucleus"of the wheat seed, not surprisingly, contains the most abundant variety of nutrients. It is a rich source of the B vitamins: Inositol - vital for the normal functioning of our eyes, skin and heart. Cholin - essential for normal functioning of our kidneys, liver and reducing cholestrol in the blood. Pantothenic acid - required for normal immune system and glandular functioning, regulating the sugar level in our blood. Vitamin B6 - essential for normal functioning of the skin, brain and muscles. Vitamin B1 - needed for producing energy in the body, normal functioning of the heart and digestive system. The wheat germ also contains Vitamin E - essential for normal functioning of the reproductive system, the skin and the blood. Finally, the wheat germ contains various minerals essential for normal body functioning - phosphorous, iron and manganese.

As can be seen from the above, all parts of the wheat grain are beneficial to the human body. In fact, the variety and abundance of nutrients in this foodstuff, account mainly for its dominance in our diet and the vital role bread has played in man's diet over the millenia.

Unfortunately, as civilization advances, the quality of this "staff of life" has seriously declined. For reasons that cannot be described in any other way than pure greed, this vital foodstuff has become so denatured that it no longer resembles the "staff of life" in any form.

The problem here is that while the wheat germ is so bountiful in nutrients, it is also highly perishable. Preserved in the outer pericarp skin, the germ can survive and maintain its nutritive properties for weeks and even months. However, after milling and exposure to the air (oxidization) it quickly becomes rancid. If a miller were to sell a product (wheat flour) that had a 2 day shelf life, or that required the added cost of refrigeration, it would greatly reduce the quantity of flour that he could sell.

To extend the shelf life of the flour, various techniques were introduced into the milling process, effectively removing all the wheat germ and leaving only the non-perishable contents of the wheat grain.

The second problem of the wheat milling and mass produced food industry is that the abrasive bran content in the flour punctures the fragile gluten strands in the dough, causing the bread to be flatter and not rise enough to be "aesthetically pleasing" to potential customers. By removing the bran from the flour, breads could rise higher, have more "volume", look plumper and more "healthy".

Very soon, both the wheat germ and the bran were routinely removed from wheat flour and we were left with only the inner portion - the ground endosperm, consisting mainly of starch and a small amount of protein. This soon became the norm and the ignorant public were unwittingly brainwashed into believing that bread made with this flour was just as healthy. It certainly looked "healthy", all plumped and pumped up like that. People came to expect that this is what bread should look like. Entire generations grew up believing that this is what bread really was meant to be.

This purposeful disinformation by the mass food industry over the last century and a half, for the purpose of making more money, is a predominant cause in the decline in world health and the rise of obesity. Since many cultures and social strata are forced to survive mainly on bread, they are not obtaining the nutrients they require for normal bodily functioning. These people are also usually not able to afford to buy vitamin supplements.

Ironically, the wheat germ and bran removed during the milling process, are shipped to factories to make animal feed. We are taking the most nutritive parts of our basic daily food and feeding it to the animals. Not for nothing it has been said that our national and global health has "gone to the dogs".

How easily this problem can be rectified. Simply by adding back the removed portions - the bran and wheat germ - to the flour we use.

Unfortunately, here too, greed rears its ugly head. Many of the so called "health industries", preying on peoples ignorance, began selling products that claim to have whole wheat flour, but were in fact only simple white flour with added bran. The wheat germ is completely absent, for the same reasons it was removed in the first place - because it reduces the shelf life. If you ever see a packet of whole wheat flour on the supermarket shelves that is not refrigerated, chances are it contains no wheat germ. Some wise guys quickly caught on and began selling the same product packaged in plastic wrapping and storing it in the refrigrator, but it also contains no wheat germ. The brown bran gives the flour a whole wheat look, but looks can be deceptive.

To further complicate matters, any "whole wheat flour" that is milled in large industrial mills has very few nutritive benefits because the high temperature, created by the friction of the industrial steel mills, kills many of the essential vitamins. Only whole wheat flour that is ground using a "cold grinding" method, either stone mill or low speed steel mill, contains the full nutritive benefits.

It is ludicrous how many people are swindled into thinking they are eating real whole wheat products when in fact they are not.

In fact, there are very few ways to really check if the whole wheat flour you are using is complete whole wheat flour, containing all parts of the wheat grain and all the nutrients. Other than personally going to the factory where it is ground and stored, or implicitly trusting your health food store owner to have done that himself, the only way to ensure thay you are really getting pure, unadulterated whole wheat flour is to grind it yourself.

When we started Saidels Bakery, we had the choice to buy cheaper sacks of "whole wheat flour" which is not really true whole wheat flour, or to go the hard route, the only truthful route and to grind the whole wheat flour ourselves. One of the basic principles of our artisan bakery is "To Thine Own Self Be True", so it is pretty obvious which path we chose.

We purchase certified organically grown wheat, grown locally, where we can routinely visit to verify the truth of the certification for ourselves (which we have, many times). We grind this wheat ourselves using a slow revolution electic steel mill, that spins at 50 revolutions per minute (as opposed to the hundreds of revs/min of industrial mills). The machine grinds 1kg of flour every 20 minutes. This freshly ground flour is then added immediately to the dough being made or immediately placed in the fridge for use later in the day.

Saidels Bakery breads contain at least 10% of this pure whole wheat flour. Our 100% Whole Wheat Loaf and our Whole wheat/Honey Challah contain 100% and 50% whole wheat flour respectively.

Our whole wheat breads are also surprisingly light and well risen, and not "heavy" as many whole wheat products are purported to be. This is because we use the natural fermentation of sourdoughs rather than instant yeast that allows full hydration of the whole wheat flour which is more hygroscopic (it absorbs more water) than white flour and techniques that were derived from macrobiotic principles.

Our whole grain breads have health benefits for everyone, but all the more so for people with sugar problems and diabetes. It used to be thought that it was only the amount of sugar ingested that influenced blood sugar levels. Modern medical research has proven that this is not the only determining factor. It is also the rate at which these refined and unrefined sugars are ingested which affect diabetes sufferers.

For this purpose the Glycemic Index was established to determine the rates of absorbtion of sugar into the blood stream. Breads consisting of real whole wheat have a lower Glyceminc Index as they are absorbed slower into the blood stream than highly refined foods containing only white flour. We have had some very positive feedback that our 100% Whole Wheat Loaf and our Black Russian Rye (70% rye, 30% whole wheat) respond very favourably to their sugar condition and they are the only breads they can eat without causing their blood sugar to skyrocket.

Saidels Bakery does not make gluten free breads. Gluten sufferers usually cannot tolerate even a microscopic amount. This requires a separate facility that is completely removed from any product containing gluten, using separate utensils and machinery. Many bakeries would simply clean their bowls and mixer and whip up a separate batch of rice flour. We however are not willing to take that chance.

Here's to being healthy!

Les Saidel


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