Modern Bread, The Broken Staff Of Life

Date Published: 2005
Author: Elmer M. Cranton, M.D.
Article Category: Health Articles

Modern Bread, The Broken Staff Of Life

Modern technology has transformed bread, once the staff of life, into a mere broken reed, contributing to widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This has occurred in Western industrialized countries where few people go hungry? Bread is used here as just one example of similar processes that degrades our food supply on its way from the farm to the consumer.

To get the conveniences of high-tech food processing, mass-production, mass-marketing, long shelf life, uniformity of final product, even coloration, and soft texture, we create nutritional deficiencies. The food processing industry deceptively markets its products as more convenient versions of what grandmother once did in her kitchen. That is far from the truth!

Most of today's mass-produced foods are seriously depleted of nutrients and are highly chemicalized with additives. Processed foods today are not just more sophisticated and more convenient versions of the foods eaten by our ancestors. A wide spectrum of essential nutrients has been removed in the manufacturing process. The basic molecular structure of what remains is also degraded and nutritionally inferior.

Until recently, grains were ground between large stones to make flour. Everything in the original grain remained in the finished product, including the germ, the fiber, the starch, and a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals. The final product contained all the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.

In the absence of refrigeration, stone-ground flour spoils quickly. After wheat has been ground, natural wheat-germ oil becomes rancid at about the same rate that milk becomes sour. Whole-wheat flour and bread should therefore be stored in a cool place, preferably in a refrigerator.

Hippocrates, a physician in ancient Greece, once recommended stone-ground flour, complete with its vitamins, minerals, natural bran and dietary fiber, for beneficial effects on the digestive tract. Today, three-fourths of that dietary fiber is removed from commercial flour. Partially as a result, constipation is very common.

During the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, assembly-line techniques for mass-producing flour and bread were developed. Grinding stones were not fast enough for mass-production. High-speed, steel roller mills were invented, to produce flour very rapidly. Grain mills thus earned higher profits. High-speed mills do not grind the germ and the bran properly and it is ejected. Much of the original grain, including the most nutritious portion, is taken out and sold as "byproducts" for animals. Animals are often better nourished than people are. It's been cynically observed that more profit can be made from healthy animals and sick people.

High-speed mills run very hot, at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, just under the temperature that will burn and discolor the flour. That high heat destroys many vitamins. (While baking, the interior of bread does not get much hotter than 170 degrees, which is much less harmful to vitamins.) Since the late nineteenth century, white bread, biscuits and cakes made from white flour and sugar have become mainstays in the diets of industrialized nations. That diet is much less nutritious than in former times and new types of disease have become common. Tooth decay, once rare, is now epidemic. The incidence of tooth decay correlates perfectly throughout the world with industrialization and the use of refined foods--especially white flour and sugar.

Most bread is now manufactured in large factories capable of producing up to a quarter million loaves per day. This mass-produced bread is soft, gooey, devitalized, and nutritionally deficient--laced with chemical additives. Public taste is accustomed to such bread. People have forgotten how real bread tastes. Chemical preservatives allow bread to be shipped long distances and to remain on the shelf for many days without spoiling and without refrigeration. Again, resulting in higher profits.

To make bread a brighter white, at the expense of consumer health, flour is treated with chemical bleach, similar to Clorox. The bleaching process leaves residues of toxic chlorinated hydrocarbons and dioxins. Methionine, an essential amino acid, reacts with bleaching chemicals to form methionine sulfoxine. That toxic residue causes nervousness and seizures in animals.

The bleaching process destroys many vitamins (those not already destroyed by the high heat of milling). Bleaching agents have therefore been banned for bread making in Germany since 1958. In the United States, however, no such ban exists and the bleached bread continues to be the mainstay. Most white flour used in super-market bread, rolls, cakes, pastries, spaghetti, noodles, pasta, and breakfast cereals, has been bleached.

Grain millers in the nineteenth century soon discovered that highly refined flour would keep without spoiling for prolonged periods, even before the days of chemical preservatives and refrigeration. It's now clear refined flour is so depleted of essential vitamins and minerals that it will not support life. Even the insects and rodents cannot live on it! Can humans be expected to fare any better?

Experiments were reported in a major British medical journal, The Lancet, showing that dogs fed exclusively on white bread died of malnutrition within two months. Dogs similarly fed only bread made with stone-ground, whole-wheat flour lived indefinitely in good health.

Chemicals continue to be added to super-market breads in large numbers, despite increasing reports that similar chemicals previously thought to be safe are potential causes of cancer. More than 30 different chemicals are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for addition to bread, including ethylated mono and triglycerides, potassium bromate, potassium iodide, calcium proprionate, benzoyl peroxide, tricalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium chloride and magnesium carbonate. These are all routinely added to bread to extend shelf life, despite the fact that little is known about their long-term cumulative toxicity, when taken together. If you don't already read labels, you'll be shocked when you do.

When grain is made into refined white flour, more than 30 essential nutrients are largely removed. Only four of those nutrients are added back in a process called "enrichment." Using this same logic, if a person were robbed of 30 dollars and the thief then returned 4 dollars to his victim for cab fare home, then that person should be considered "enriched" by 4 dollars, not robbed of 26 dollars. How would you feel in that situation? You should feel the same about "enriched" white flour and bread? Only vitamins B1, B2, B3, and iron are added back. Nutrients which are removed and not returned include 44% of the vitamin E, 52% of the pantothenic acid, 65% of the folic acid, 76% of the biotin, 84% of the vitamin B6, and half or more of 20 minerals and trace elements, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium, manganese, selenium, vanadium, and copper. If consumers would just educate themselves in the principles of good nutrition and show an educated preference at the checkout counter, the food industry would be forced to respond with more nutritious products.

Iron, the single mineral added back to enriched white flour, is present in toxic amounts in the bodies of many older people. Iron contributes widely to premature atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, cancer and other age-related diseases. It is quite possible that enrichment of flour with iron has been poisoning the public for decades. Avoidance of unneeded iron supplementation is reason enough in itself not to buy so-called "enriched" flour products.

Deceptive marketing practices are widespread. Much of the bread now marketed as "whole-wheat bread" is the same old refined white bread with a little brown coloring added. That coloring is usually burnt sugar, listed on the label as caramel. One manufacturer even added sawdust to replace the lost bran, calling it cellulose on the label and advertising it as "high-fiber" bread. It is legal to describe inferior flour as "whole wheat" on the label, even when the bran and germ have been removed in high-speed roller mills.

It is slow and more expensive to mass-produce bread made with l00% stone-ground whole-wheat flour. Manufacturers go to great lengths to mislead the public by making inferior products appear of higher quality. Without chemical preservatives bread spoils rapidly. It quickly becomes stale, hard and moldy. To market nutritious whole-grain, unrefined bread over long distances would require refrigerator trucks for delivery and refrigerator storage in super-markets. Even under refrigeration, spoilage would be faster than with chemicalized bread. That would add greatly to expense. Profits would be smaller. Production of truly nutritious bread therefore falls to small local bakeries, which sell direct or deliver daily to nearby stores.

Scientific evidence implicates a low-fiber diet of refined flour as one cause of bowel cancer. Without bran, transit time through the digestive tract is greatly lengthened. Constipation results, causing hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and increased risk of colon and rectal cancer.

What is the solution to this problem? Ideally, one should buy wheat in sacks, grind the grain at home and quickly bake it into bread. An alternative would be to buy stone-ground whole-wheat flour at a natural food store, either ground at the time of purchase on the premises, refrigerate at once and use soon. Stone-ground flour will keep for several months frozen.

Unfortunately, most people no longer have time in their schedules for baking at home and must rely on store-bought products. To determine which bread is best, read the label thoroughly and choose a product that has the brown coloring of natural flour without any coloring agents added. Choose a product with a minimum of chemicals listed on the label. Whole-grain bread does not rise as much and therefore contains more wheat and less air. A good loaf will therefore be heavier to lift, firmer to squeeze and chewier. The flavor will be much better, however.

Slow-speed steel hammer-mills are often used instead of stones. That type of flour can be listed on the label as "stone-ground." It is equivalent to stone-ground flour and is equally nutritious. Any process that renders the entire grain into usable flour, without exposing it to high heat is acceptable.

If a loaf made with such l00% stone-ground flour cannot be found, choose one with unbleached or "enriched" flour. "Gluten flour" is just another name for partially refined flour. Even so-called "unbleached whole-wheat flour" which is processed on high speed roller mills is missing many of the vitamins, bran, and germ.

If bread is made entirely with l00% stone-ground whole grains, it will state so on the label. If the label does not contain that statement, then you must assume otherwise. Many bakers add refined or so-called gluten flour to produce a lighter and more uniform product. Unbleached flour is better than bleached but is still inferior unless 100% stone-ground. Bakeries seldom state the exact percentage of whole-grain relative to refined or unbleached flour. In those instances, it is usually safe to assume that very little stone ground whole-grain flour is used.

A search through grocery stores and super-markets today will not reveal any mass-marketed breads that meet the criteria for good nutrition. However, many small bakeries exist that produce superior products for local sale, either direct or in natural food stores. Read the labels. Just because a product is sold in a health food store does not insure that it is of high quality.

Look for a loaf that states "only 100% stone-ground whole-wheat flour" on the label. Refrigerate it. Expect it to be heavier and chewier. Squeeze it. If your fingers go in easily and the bread springs back, it is not a nutritious loaf. If you don't eat it within a day or two, freeze it until needed. Expect to pay more. Whole-grain bread does not rise as much and contains more wheat than the same size loaf of refined bread. You are paying for more grain, more time for production, and less air. You will be much better nourished as a result.

A final word of caution. People who suffer with chronic fatigue, immune dysfunction, food allergies, chemical sensitivities, environmental illness, or so-called Candida or yeast related illness are often sensitive to the gluten in whole grain wheat. Paradoxically, people with such chromic problems may feel worse when the improve their diets to include whole, unrefined grains. Whole grains contain more of everything and are thus more likely to aggravate allergies.  Because many of the nutrients in white flour are partially denatured or removed during the refining process, it is less allergic.

    Elmer M. Cranton, M.D., graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1964. He is Past President of the American Holistic Medical Association, of the American Academy for Advancement in Medicine and of the Smyth County Medical Society in Virginia. He served for many years as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Holistic Medicine and of the Journal of Advancement in Medicine. He has authored numerous articles and books for both the medical profession and the general public.

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