White flour comes in several varieties, but most white flour you see in grocery stores or used in prepared foods is a chemically treated product made from only part of the wheat grain. It does contain some nutrients, particularly the enriched varieties, but it lacks the nutritional punch you'll find in other grain products. While some of white flour's dangers are slightly exaggerated, you'll still want to limit the amount you include in your diet.
"White flour" is more of a description than a specific type of flour. Most white flour you see in U.S. grocery stores is enriched, all-purpose flour, made up of just the ground internal wheat kernel, detached from the wheat's germ and bran, and enriched with iron and B vitamins. All-purpose flour can be either bleached, treated chemically with benzoyl peroxide or chlorine to lighten its color, or unbleached, whitened by oxygen. Other types of white flour are for specific types of baking: low-protein cake flour made from soft wheat, for example. Some white flours can even be whole wheat, made from an albino variety of wheat.
By its name, enriched flour sounds like a healthy option, but it actually lacks many of the nutrients offered by flours made with the whole grain rather than just its innards. While the amount of B vitamins and iron added to enriched white flour are equal to or more than those in whole wheat flour, it also lacks the vitamin E, natural fiber and healthy trace minerals such as selenium, potassium and magnesium found in whole wheat flour. A slice of white bread and a slice of whole wheat bread, for example, contain about the same amount of calories, but the white bread contains 1.9 grams of protein and 0.6 grams of fiber, compared with 3.6 grams of protein and 1.9 grams of fiber in whole wheat bread.
Since they contain fewer nutrients, goods made with processed white flour also will contain more empty calories than goods made with whole wheat flour. Your body can break down processed white flour quickly into glucose, while the complex carbohydrates of whole grain flour take much longer to break down, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, you'll lose energy and feel hungry again more quickly after eating white flour products, and whole grain foods leave you satisfied longer.
The CDC recommends that at least half of the grains in your daily diet be from whole grain sources, so you should include processed white flour only sparingly in your diet. The American Diabetes Association suggests substituting between a quarter and a half of the amount of white flour with whole wheat flour in recipes such as breads or pancakes. When buying prepared products like pasta and crackers, look for whole grain varieties with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. If you prefer white bread to wheat bread, you can look for whole grain varieties of white bread, which has a sweeter, milder taste than wheat bread.
Many health websites allege that alloxan, a compound known to cause diabetes in animals, is among the chemicals used to bleach white flour. While the compound can form as a byproduct in white flour food products, it appears only in trace levels, according to St. Catherine University nutritionist Julie Jones. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates chemicals used to bleach flour. Even so, the body's ability to break down processed flour quickly does affect blood glucose levels, so lowering your white flour intake can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
- University of Kentucky: Types of Flour Used in Baking
- Linus Pauling Institute: Whole Grains
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- American Diabetes Association: Make Your Carbs Count
- Trinidad and Tobago's "Newsday": Separating the Health Myths from Facts
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool
- corkscrew pasta whole wheat image by JJAVA from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.