Flour Power

Flour is simply grain or seeds that are finely ground.  Some flour is “whole grain,” which simply means that the entire grain is ground, including the outer hull or bran and the inner germ, which is the tiny shoot that grows out of the seed when it is planted.  Other flour, which is not “whole grain,” is stripped of the bran and germ and consists only of the ground starchy interior or endosperm.

Flour has the potential to be equally if not more nutritious than the grain from which it is made.  I say “more nutritious” because, having been ground, flour is more easily digested than intact grain seeds, therefore, its nutrients are more readily available for absorption.

Picture taken by R.Wampers aka Okapi.

Despite this nutritional potential, three problems commonly occur that render flour almost entirely non-nutritious in most modern instances:

1.    Most flour that is available in stores is not “whole grain.” Rather, it is refined. That is, it is stripped of its bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm.  The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of the grain, the parts that contain the vast majority of the grain’s vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fiber–components that help make food healthy and nutritious rather than simply providing energy. The reason that flour is shorn of these vital nutrients is that doing so increases the shelf-life of the flour. Most nutrients that are vital to people are also vital to bacteria and insects, therefore, such nutrients are removed. Sometimes the flour is “enriched” by adding back certain chemical forms of these nutrients, however, such additions are of little value and are certainly no substitute for the real things.

2.    Once ground, the surface area of the grain is enormously increased, therefore, it becomes extremely vulnerable to the effects of oxidation.  In other words, having been ground into particles, the grain’s parts are suddenly exposed to the damaging effects of light, air, and moisture, which attack the nutrients within the grain and turn the flour rancid.  This process may be gradual, but it starts immediately upon grinding.  Oxidation happens to all types of flour, regardless of whether it is “whole grain.”  For this reason, the best flour is freshly ground.  Home grain mills for grinding grain into flour are available and are relatively inexpensive and allow one to easily make fresh ground flour at home.  In addition, if one has to store flour, it should be stored in a dark, dry place.

3.    Flour, like the grains from which they are made, contain phytic acid that will bind with minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc in the digestive system and block their absorption.  All grains, including flour, should be soaked for six to twenty-four hours in warm water prior to being cooked in order to activate the enzymes within the grain that will break down the phytic acid.  The more time the grain or flour is soaked, the more time such enzymes will have to work, the more phytic acid will be deactivated, and the more nutritious will be the grain once eaten.  Even better than soaking is sprouting, during which, the grain is soaked, drained, and allowed to sit until the germ visibly protrudes from the bran.  At this stage, the grain enzymes are fully active, and the grain’s nutritional content is at its peak.

As I mentioned above, flour has the potential to be extremely nutritious.  Unfortunately, most of the flour available in modern grocery stores is a nutritional nightmare.  It violates all of the above rules.  The grain is typically not sprouted, therefore, it is rich in phytic acid.  Unless soaked, such flour will impair the absorption of whatever nutrient content might be in the other food consumed.  It is refined in order to remove its nutritional content to increase its shelf-life.  And it is shipped and stored for long periods of time in paper sacks that freely expose the flour to oxidation by moisture and air.  What is left is a bag of rancid and nutritionally dead starch.

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About Patrick Crawford

Patrick Crawford was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended college and law school at the University of Notre Dame, spending one year during law school studying at Notre Dame’s campus in London, England. He is now living and practicing family law in Annapolis, Maryland. When he is not practicing law, he follows the strong interest that he has acquired in the interaction between big business, government, the media, and the lives of individuals affected by these influences. He is particularly interested in the severely negative effects these forces have on nutrition, food production processes, local agriculture, and therefore, on health. He hopes that, through his articles, he will be able to educate others on the importance of traditional and sustainable foodways and agricultural practices, for the sake of both individual health and the security of local food systems. He runs his own website, called: National Fork.
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