Well, first of all, it’s got gluten in it. That’s a problem for a few people. But that’s not the focus of this article. Wheat flour – even whole wheat flour – has plenty of nutritional limitations without even considering whether you’re sensitive to gluten or not.
Wheat was one of the foundations of western civilization. But nowadays, most of the wheat we consume comes in the form of flour. And even when we choose whole wheat flour, it bears little resemblance to the noble grain that fueled the Roman legions as they conquered most of the known world.
Once grain is ground into flour, the original nutrients begin to degrade. By the time you eat the bread you’re not getting all the nutrition you deserve. And there’s another aspect of nutrient loss: as long as the resulting reconstituted product has 51% or more of the germ and bran that the original milled flour had, the product can be marketed as “whole grain.”
Today, food processors can mill whole wheat flour, separate it into its sub-components: (“white” flour, bran, and germ), store, ship, and process each separate component, recombine the parts later, along with various additives, and still call it “whole wheat.”
Over the past few decades, wheat has also suffered from over-breeding. Like many of the crops favored by large industrial agriculture, wheat has been bred for desirable properties such as hardiness, resistance to pesticides, and ease of harvest. Compared to traditional varieties, modern wheat has a larger endosperm (the starchy, less nutritious part) and a proportionally smaller nutrient-dense germ.
Finding a solution to this challenge isn’t easy. Some people gravitate to a gluten-free diet. For the few people who have true gluten sensitivity, that’s essential. But for the rest of us, it’s an unfortunate example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take whole grains of wheat, grind them into flour, and then bake them into nutritious bread? But if you’re not willing to take all of these steps at home, you should choose baked goods that:
- use heirloom wheat varieties, or that use spelt or emmer (two ancient wheat precursors.)
- are made from stone ground flour. (Stone grinding leaves more of the nutrition intact.)
- as an alternative, choose bread made from sprouted grains.