Monday, July 19, 2010

Flour, Day 1

After a week of recipe posting, I get back to things I have actually researched. This one overtook my thinking for more than a week. I searched several sources before I even decided a path for the week. It took me some time to organize my thoughts.

As you have seen over the course of the last few weeks I have had flour on my mind alot. I have thought alot about someone's comment that I could have a gluten sensitivity that fell somewhere on the celiac spectrum. I am still not convinced. But I have continued my attempt to limit my flour intake, and I have noticed that when I do eat a whole croissant or other such floury food (particularly a food made from white or refined flour) my tummy starts acting up about 30 minutes afterward. Fuel for the fire...

But the thought of being sick on an otherwise innocuous food definitely set me off on an Internet treasure hunt.

For simple purposes, Wikipedia defines flour as, "In the culinary sense, flour is a powder made of cereal grains, other seeds or roots." What concerns me about flour (any flour) is the ease with which it is digested. During my research, countless sources have stated that flour has so much surface area as a result of being finely ground that it's carbohydrates are easily and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing a rise in blood sugar followed by a precipitous drop in blood sugar when all the fuel has been consumed. During this processed the message is given out to the pancreas to release insulin and the body goes into fat storage mode. Or so I have read. I believe this up and down blood sugar issue is what I am feeling after I overeat flour rather that celiac disease, but I don't know for sure. With the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the modern era, not to mention all the bad press carbs get these days, I wanted to know more. Is this a food I can safely eat? Eat in moderation? Or never again?

First off, what is with all all these different kinds of flour? Well you can make flour out of any grain or root. But what I am chiefly concerned with this week is WHEAT flour. This is the king grain that we eat in such great quantities in the US and other countries who have adopted a western diet. In a stalk of wheat, the only part that we eat is the seed. A wheat plant is like any other grass, it has leaves and a chaff on which the seeds grow. Wheat seeds are removed from the chaff of the plant and then ground to make flour. The seed itself has three parts, the bran layer which is like an encasement, the germ which is at the base of the seed (and is like that knobby-stemmy part on one half of a peanut-only different because this is wheat and not peanuts) and the endosperm which is the greatest portion of the seed. Check out this cute diagram I found on the Internet.

The greatest amount of fiber and nutrients are found in the bran layer and the germ. The endosperm is food for a growing baby wheat plant, so that is where the energy is stored. Incidentally, this is exactly why it is such good fuel for us.

I consider white flour to be 'the original processed food' because it is a food that is taken out of it's natural context. It is hard to separate parts of a tomato or a head of lettuce from their bit of fiber, or their goodness or vitamins and nutrients. And I think this mindset is where alot of the confusion about white flour comes in. Wheat is different than other plant foods. In a wheat seed, the three easily separable parts each have their own chemical composition. The bran and the germ contain nutrients and B Vitamins and essential fatty acids and alot of fiber. The endosperm contains most of the total calories of the wheat seed-the energy. Energy is important, but when you eat only the endosperm, such as in white flour, you are missing the nutrients that your body really needs for proper function, but you are still getting all the calories. However when you eat all three parts together, your body metabolizes them more properly. White Flour is a food that has been taken out of it's natural context.

I believe that there are alot of people out there that do not understand how calories and nutrients (read vitamins and minerals) interact with one another. A food can have calories without nutrients. But regardless of whether you are getting enough calories, your body still needs nutrients for things like proper cell division and brain function (to mention just two of the billion things it needs nutrients for). And if your body is not getting enough nutrients then it will tell you with hunger, the call to eat more. @ years ago when I cleaned up my diet and started eating 5 fruits and veggies a day and cut out most of the simple carbs, I immediately noticed my cravings going away. I still don't have cravings and I attribute it to my body having all the nutrients it needs. Food for thought.

Tomorrow: What are the real differences between kinds of flours?

1 comment:

  1. COB:
    I'm a little trepedatious...beet muffins?!....but the thing is that I like beets (boiled, borscht and cold with goat cheese)... in case they show up at the market again...we also make beet pancakes. They turn out pink, and everyone is fine thinking it's an artificial sweetner/ color.