Most supermarkets are filled with them, most restaurants serve them, and statistics tell us that they constitute half of the American diet. Refined foods which are largely refined carbohydrates have come to replace whole, fresh foods. Bread, which was once known as “ the staff of life,” is a case in point.
There is a good reason why you no longer see advertisements claiming that white bread can “ build strong bodies twelve ways.” The bread that has been processed to remove the bran and germ is easy to eat and keeps a long time. But unless you are looking for empty calories, there is little reason to buy it, since most of the minerals, B vitamins, and important trace minerals have been removed. The pure white color certainly doesn’t signal innocence white bread has been refined, denatured, and processed to death. Dead food cannot keep us alive and well, whether it is refined wheat flour in bread, white rice, processed breakfast cereal, or refined sugar.
This does not mean you must avoid bread and starches. It is thanks to such energy foods that 80 percent of the population of less affluent countries survives. But their bread is hearty, whole grain, homemade loaves; their grains are nut-brown, with hulls intact, exactly as nature intended.
What Have They Done to Our Wheat?
The staff of life was not always the same for different social classes. And although the best money can buy wheat that is whole, hearty, chewy, and aromatic, this was not the bread bought and preferred by the affluent. Instead, these privileged classes spent their money on the “ clean,” snow-white bread we now know is nutritionally inferior. The lower classes could not afford highly processed bread. They baked their own, benefiting from what the rich classes spurned.
Today, the tables have turned. The vast majority of our bread is sold in refined-to-death form, providing nothing more than starchy calories and the poor and middle classes suffer what used to be the diseases of the rich.
The Changing Loaf
The removal of the life-giving qualities of the bread we eat was a gradual process. Unsurprisingly, convenience and profit were behind the decision to remove the nutritious heart and coating of the wheat kernel before grinding. White flour, it was quickly discovered, was easier to use: bread baked faster, it kept longer, and it looked better in those fancy dessert bread we still crave today because we are conditioned to see them as better than brown bread. Bleaching the flour so that it had even less life but more versatility and even greater shelf life came next.
White Bread for the Millions
The fact that white bread was costly protected the health of many, but not for long. The discovery of a method of removing the vitamin E-rich oil from the germ of the grain was healthy for profits since this is the factor that contributes most to rancidity. This was discovered in the late 1800s, and steel rolling mills appeared, making inexpensive if unhealthy white bread readily available for the masses, and not just on Sundays.
What’s Missing from White Bread
You may think you’re economizing when you buy the least expensive, softest, whitest loaf of bread on the supermarket shelf. Unfortunately, convenience and snow-white appearance have a price. When the germ or heart of any grain is removed, you lose precious amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as many minerals and vitamins, especially vitamins B complex and E.
When the bran is ripped away, six entire fiber-rich layers are lost. In fact, according to analysts E. Baker and D. S. Lepkovsky, at least half of the mineral content is removed. Manganese may be reduced by 98 percent and iron by 80 percent.9 In addition, some of the amino acids, the essential building blocks of protein particularly lysine and tryptophan are minimized.
Enrichment Isn’t What It Seems
So-called “ enrichment” has been with us for almost half a century now. But this is largely a deceptive practice since what is added is only a small part of what’s been taken away. According to Beatrice Trum Hunter, the thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin D used for enrichment are synthetic, not natural vitamins, and in place of the many minerals lost, only iron and calcium are usually returned. How could this be enough to support health when B vitamins that we know are necessary such as biotin, pyridoxine, and pantothenic acid are still missing, as is potassium, manganese, and some amino acids?
Chemicals Worse than the Missing Vitamins
A little robbery here, a little thievery there may not seem so bad until you realize that over the period of a year you may eat as many as ninety-two loaves of bread. You may try to protect yourself by taking a vitamin supplement to make up for what you’re losing. This will rectify some of the loss. But it doesn’t cancel out the harmful effects of the chemical preservatives, bleaches, and leavening agents used in the bread.
One of the worst of these is chlorine dioxide, the additive that removes any healthy brown color the wheat still has. This bleach destroys vitamin E, and when it combines with the important growth amino acid methionine it can give rise to a hazardous compound.
It is used, as Lockwood’s Technical Manual: Flour Milling explains, because “ chlorine not only oxidizes the flour pigment but also has a valuable bleaching effect on the coloring matter of the bran, which makes it particularly valuable for bleaching very low-grade flours.” 16 This saves the manufacturers money by enabling them to use less expensive flour.
Synthetic, artificially colored acids are also added to the dough. The purpose is an ease in handling and smoothness, say manufacturers. Pseudobutter is also used. No home baker has to use acids and synthetic grease to produce successful bread nor does she or he worry about an oxidizer to capture air in the dough. Yet the food processors defend the poor value they give. According to Baker’s Weekly, most bread is only 50 percent grain, and a typical case may be up to 75 percent air and “ fillers.” Pure profit is the only reason.
A little bit of only one chemical can be a dangerous thing. Sodium and calcium propionate, for example, which are two additives the government requires on bread labels, are used in almost all commercial bread as a mold retardant. No one knows what effects combining the assorted bread additives can have on your health in the long run.
The Grain Robbery Goes On
The story of what’s happened to all our other grains is similar. The white rice most people prefer because it’s fast and foolproof is nothing but nutrient-free starch. Outside of health food stores, the only way you’re likely to find rye, cornmeal, or buckwheat cereals is cracked, precooked, determined, and mixed with additives such as sugar and salt.
As for breakfast, you may be congratulating yourself for passing up the high-sugar pastries, but when you get to the cereal shelf, you don’t get much choice.
Rolled oatmeal is virtually the only grain that escapes the horrors of the refining process. According to Consumer Reports, the ready-to-eat cereal business puts roughly $600 million into the pockets of the cereal corporations. You have fifty, sixty, or more brands to choose from. The inflated prices are comparable and so are the supplementary ingredients a combination of strange-sounding chemicals that make even the sugars and starches that are also present seem natural.
Few product categories compare with breakfast goods for mass appeal, due to the wonders of modern marketing. The cereal makers bid early for your youngsters’ loyalty. According to Consumer Reports, together they spend more than $72 million on spreading the word much of it deceptive about their products.
What You Can Do
Nothing that is two-thirds sugar is worth having in your house or starting the day with, say many experts who have made their strong feelings known before government committee hearings held by the Senate. For example, you may be familiar with former government advisor Robert B. Choate, Jr.’s widely publicized testimony before the Senate Consumers’ Subcommittee. Among the many shocking facts, he brought to light was the fact that most of the top cereals “fatten but do little to prevent malnutrition.”
If you agree, make your opinion known, too. Write your congressperson. And above all, boycott these junk foods.
Many of the modem carbohydrate foods upon which we base our daily diets look “pure,” are easy to prepare, and last a long time on our shelves. But they are seriously deficient in basic nutrients for building and maintaining everyday health. Bread is perhaps the best example. Once “the staff of life,” it has been refined, bleached, and processed to the point where white bread today is nutritionally minimal at best. It is important to examine slick and deceptive advertising claims closely: cereal manufacturers, in particular, bid early for your children’s loyalty to their usually worthless products. It is a good idea to replace any inferior carbohydrate foods in your households, such as white bread or white rice, with real, whole grain foods. Even so-called enriched loaves do not deliver all of the B vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and naturally occurring fiber that is found in the real thing. Your bread also should be free of the dangerous, unnecessary additives that adulterate white bread and combine to add an unpredictable health risk to your meal.