7 Negative Effects of Refined Flour

7 Negative Effects of Refined Flour

by Molly, selected from Experience Life

Flour is hard to sidestep come mealtime. Breakfast brims with  toast, bagels,  cereal, pancakes. Lunch is built around sandwiches,  wraps, pasta, pizza. And  dinner may come with its very own breadbasket.

Flours are produced by crushing grains into fine powders. And those  powders  form the basis not just for breads and buns, but for a huge  variety of  processed foods, from cereals, crackers and pizza dough to  cookies, cakes and  ice cream cones. As a result, the average American  now eats 10 servings of  refined grains each day.

As our national appetite for flour has inched up, so has the  incidence of  diet-related ills, such as obesity, heart disease and  diabetes. Coincidence?  Many nutrition experts don’t think so. When they  weigh the evidence linking  food choices and disease, they see the white,  dusty fingerprints of flour  everywhere.

“Now that trans fats are largely out of the food supply,” says David  Ludwig,  MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity  Prevention Center at  Children’s Hospital Boston, “refined carbohydrates, including refined grain products, are  the single most harmful influence in the American diet today.”

Flour started out as an ingenious fix to a vexing problem. Grass  seeds were  plentiful, but the tough outer shell (the husk) made the  seeds difficult to  chew and digest. Early humans outsmarted the seeds by  grinding them between  stones, crushing the outer layers to get at the  goodness inside. The result — a  coarse powder — was the first  whole-grain flour.

The downside was spoilage. Crushing the germ released its oils, which   quickly turned rancid when exposed to air. With the advent of  industrial  milling in the late 1800s, machines began filtering out the  germ and pulverized  the remaining endosperm into a fine, white powder  that lasted on the shelf for  months. And so all-purpose white flour was  born — along with a host of health  problems.

Beneath their rigid architecture, whole-kernel grains conceal an  array of  vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber. But when machines  pulverize  kernels into flour, even whole-grain flour, what’s left  behind is a starchy  powder capable of wreaking havoc on the body.

The White Menace

Flour, as opposed to whole-kernel grains, is easy to over consume  because  most flour-based foods require little chewing and go down rather  quickly. “It  is so much easier to over consume any food where the work  of chewing or  digesting or separating fiber from starch has been done  for us,” says  functional nutritionist Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD.

Over consuming flour can lead to a number of problems in the body,  including:

Blood-Sugar Blues. Smashing a whole-kernel grain to   smithereens means it digests faster. Rapid-fire digestion causes blood  sugar to  spike, which causes a rise in insulin. The result? Not only are  you hungry two  hours later, but you are also paving the way for insulin  resistance and  diabetes. “The difference between a whole-kernel grain  and a processed grain  all boils down to the glycemic index, which is how  quickly the body turns food  into fuel, or glucose,” says Gerard Mullin,  MD, FACN, director of integrative  gastroenterology nutrition at Johns  Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., and  coauthor of The  Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health (Rodale,  2011). Foods made with wheat flour are particularly damaging. A  carbohydrate in  wheat, called amylopectin A, is more easily converted  to blood sugar than just  about any other carbohydrate. Two slices of  bread made with whole-wheat flour  raise blood sugar higher than six  teaspoons of table sugar and higher than many  candy bars.

“If we were evil scientists and we said, ‘Let’s make the most perfect   poison,’ it would be wheat,” says preventive cardiologist William  Davis, MD.  (For more on why Davis advises against  eating any kind of  wheat —  including even whole-kernel grains — check out his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path  Back to Health (Rodale, 2011).)

Inflammation. A diet high in grains stokes inflammation.   When blood sugar spikes, glucose builds up  in the blood like so many   standby passengers on a flight. When glucose loiters  in the blood, it   gets into trouble by attaching itself to nearby proteins. The  result is a   chemical reaction called glycation, a pro-inflammatory process  that   plays a role in a host of inflammatory diseases — everything from    cataracts to arthritis to heart disease.

Food Cravings. Over the past 50 years, the amber  waves of  grain our grandparents enjoyed have been replaced with modern,  high-yield dwarf  strains of wheat that produce more seeds and grow  faster. The result is a  dietary wild card, says Davis: “Agricultural  geneticists never asked if these  new strains of wheat were suitable for  human consumption. Their safety has  never been tested.” One of the  biggest changes in modern wheat is that it  contains a modified form of  gliadin, a protein found in wheat gluten. Gliadin  unleashes a feel-good  effect in the brain by morphing into a substance that  crosses the  blood-brain barrier and binds onto the brain’s opiate receptors.   “Gliadin is a very mind-active compound that increases people’s  appetites,”  says Davis. “People on average eat 400 more calories a day  when eating wheat,  thanks to the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin.”

Metabolic Slowdown. Research shows that the body may  shift  nutrients into fat storage and away from muscle burning in the  presence of  high-glycemic-index foods. In 2004, Ludwig and his  colleagues at Harvard  conducted a study, published in the journal Lancet,  in which they fed  rats diets with identical nutrients, except for the  type of starch. By the end  of the study, rats in both groups weighed  roughly the same, but those eating a  high-glycemic diet had 71 percent  more fat than the low-glycemic-index  group.

GI Disorders. Studies show that the lectins in  grains  inflame the lining of the gut and create fissures between cells.  Also, when  whole-kernel grains are refined, 80 percent of the fiber is  lost, and gut  health suffers. “Without the fiber, you end up with  rapid-release carbs in  these grains, which is a bad thing for the gut,”  says Kathie Swift, MS, RD,  coauthor (with Mullin) of The Inside Tract. Plus, fiber helps sweep the  gut of debris and supports the body’s  critically important elimination and  detoxification processes, which  also play a role in keeping high cholesterol  and inflammation at bay.

Food Allergies/Intolerances. Wheat, in particular,  is one  of the biggest dietary triggers of food allergies and  intolerances. While the  exact reason is unclear, many experts blame the  higher gluten content of modern  wheat varieties. A type of protein found  in many grains, including wheat,  gluten gives dough elasticity,  trapping air bubbles and creating a soft  texture. Because soft is  considered desirable, wheat today is bred to have more  gluten than ever  before.

Acid-Alkaline Imbalance. The  body has an elaborate  system of checks and balances to keep its pH  level at a steady 7.4. A  diet  high in acidic foods, such as grains,  forces the body to pull  calcium from the  bones to keep things on an  even keel. When researchers  looked at how the diets  of more than 500  women affected their bone  density, they found that a diet  high in  refined grains, among other  nutrient-poor foods, was linked to bone   loss. A highly acidic diet also  chips away at our cellular vitality  and immunity in ways that can  make  us vulnerable to chronic disease. “Grains  are the only plant  foods that  generate acidic byproducts,” says Davis. “Wheat,  in  particular, is among  the most potent sources of sulfuric acid, a  powerful  substance that  quickly overcomes the neutralizing effects of  alkaline  bases.”

 

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