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    Archive for the ‘flour’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Weeding Out Wheat Ingredients

    ucm161772Can you explain the different types of whole wheat?

    I know you are supposed to look for the word “whole” as the first ingredient in a bread, but what if you have choices like stone ground whole wheat or whole white wheat?

    Which is better?

    — Jill Twist
    (Location Unknown)

    You are absolutely right that the main thing to look for when purchasing breads is “whole wheat” (or a whole non-wheat flour) as the first ingredient.

    As you point out, though, other factors come into play that can confuse you and millions of other consumers.  Let’s run through some common wheat-based ingredients and what they mean from a nutrition standpoint.  Although your question specifically refers to whole wheat varieties, I am going to throw in a little bit of information about “healthy-sounding” non-whole wheat ingredients.


    You Ask, I Answer: Cassava Flour

    test1.57I have a recipe that calls for cassava flour.  Is it more nutritious than wheat flour?

    Also, is the flour considered a grain even though cassava is a root vegetable?

    If so, is it a whole grain?

    — Maria (last name withheld)
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    From a nutritional standpoint, flours made from vegetables (such as cassava) are not considered grains.

    Grains offer B vitamins, fiber, magnesium, and selenium.  At its best, cassava flour — also known as tapioca flour — offers trace amounts of those nutrients.

    It is also extremely low in protein (which is why individuals in extremely poor developing nations who mainly subsist on cassava develop protein malnutrition).

    Cassava flour comes in very handy, though, as a thickener when creating gluten-free baked goods.

    Keep in mind, too, that the Food & Drug Administration created an official definition for whole grains in 2006, which states that whole grains must contain the three components found in grains (bran, endosperm and the germ) in the same relative proportion as they exist in nature.

    As a root vegetable, cassava does not offer those three components.


    You Ask, I Answer: Flour

    If I’m looking to make my pastry recipes a little healthier, should I use unbleached flour instead of the bleached kind?

    — Sarah Sholter
    Montecito, CA

    Those two flours will yield the exact same nutritional profile for your recipes.

    The difference between them simply lies in their processing.

    Bleached flour is whitened with a variety of chemicals, while unbleached flour retains its off-white color and is only matured by the addition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and exposure to air.

    Maturation is the term used to describe the “aging process” in which flour is stored after undergoing milling.

    It is during this period that flour gains its structural properties that make it most suitable for baking.

    Bleached flours’ maturation times are significantly sped up due to the usage of chemicals. Whereas unbleached varieties may take four weeks to fully mature, bleached flours can mature in as little as 48 hours.

    Although neither is nutritionally superior to the others, some consumers prefer unbleached flour as it is not in contact with a variety of chemicals.

    If you are looking to boost the fiber content of your pastries, I suggest using whole wheat pastry flour (either as the only source of flour in your recipes or as a subtitute for half the amount of traditional pastry flour.)


    You Ask, I Answer: Stoneground Wheat

    I have seen a few breads labeled as “100% stoneground wheat.”

    Does that have any nutritional implications?

    Is it similar to a whole wheat bread?

    — Mariana (last name withheld)
    (city withheld), NJ

    The literal way to produce stoneground flour is to grind it solely in stone mills (rather than conventional roller mills.)

    Most conventional breads sold at supermarkets (which I assume are the ones you are asking about), however, use the term as a healthy-sounding catchphrase in an attempt to confuse consumers who are looking for healthier breads.

    The main problem here is that the Food & Drug Administration has not drafted a legal definition of “stoneground.” It can basically mean whatever food companies want it to mean!

    This is very much akin to the lack of definition of the term “natural ingredients,” which permitted 7-Up to launch a “made with all natural ingredients” campaign a few years back.

    Most major bread companies can get away with labeling their breads as “stone ground” if the flour has gone through a stone mill just one time.

    This is all irelevant, though. White flour has the same nutritional profile regardless of the type of mill it is processed in.

    The most important thing to look for when purchasing bread is that the first ingredient is a WHOLE flour.

    Any word other than whole — such as “stoneground”, “unbleached”, or “enriched” — means the main ingredient is white flour with virtually no fiber.


    You Ask, I Answer: Western Alternative Bagel

    [What do you think of] the Western Alternative Bagel?

    — Anonymous (via the blog)

    To those of you who have never heard of it, the Western alternative bagel is developed by California-based chain Western Bagel.

    Each two-ounce bagel clocks in at 110 calories and contais 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.

    Here’s the mystery, though. Look at the ingredient list: Enriched unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, wheat gluten, corn starch, inulin, oat fiber. May contain 2% or less of: calcium sulfate, enzymes, l-cysteine, salt, yeast, calcium propionate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial flavor, sucralose.

    Whole wheat flour is nowhere to be found.

    Sure, oat fiber is present, but towards the end. Certainly not in a sufficient quantity to result in seven grams of fiber.

    So…how do they do it?

    Allow me to introduce you to inulin.

    Also known as chicory root, it is a natural fiber (and prebiotic!) found in asparagus, onions, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.

    Some of you may have heard the term ‘prebiotic’ before but are not sure what it means.

    In essence, when we consume inulin, the bacteria in our digestive system digests it and forms fructooligosaccharides, which in turn increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our colon.

    The higher our beneficial bacteria count, the healthier our intestinal tract.

    Food manufacturers love inulin, since it can replaces fat, whole wheat flour, and sugar while still giving baked goods a soft texture and and pleasant mouthfeel.

    From a health standpoint, it contains the same benefits as other fibers — longer-lasting satiety, regularity, and increased stool bulk.

    Additionally, it does not raise blood-glucose levels, so it is deemed safe for diabetics.

    In The Netherlands, inulin has been given an official stamp of approval. Products containing this fiber can legally be advertised as “promoting well-balanced intestinal [intestinal] flora composition.”

    It gets better! A 2006 Brazilian study published in renowned journal Nutrition Research found that inulin helps increase calcium and magnesium absorption.

    Any drawbacks? Two I can think of.

    First, consuming large amounts of inulin (especially if you are not accustomed to it) can result in flatulence and mild stomach pains.

    Additionally, although inulin has its nutritional advantages, it is missing most of the goodness found in whole grains.

    A bagel made with refined grains and inulin is definitely a better option than a fiberless one made solely with white flour.

    However, whole grains are more than just fiber. They are an exclusive mix of phytonutrients, plant sterols, and antioxidants with their own health-boosting properties.

    I don’t think of inulin (while helpful and beneficial in its own right) as a true substitute for a 100% whole grain product.


    You Ask, I Answer: Sprouted Grains/Breads

    In some supermarkets I’ve seen breads, bagels, and English muffins in the frozen section.

    I never bought them, but I looked at the packaging a few times. It says they are flourless, “sprouted” breads.

    I don’t understand how it’s bread if it doesn’t have flour in it. Are they good for you? What’s in them?

    — Al Joseph
    St. Paul, MN

    Sprouted grains — also known as “live” grains — have recently gone mainstream after being health food purists’ secret for several decades.

    I first had sprouted grain English muffins a year ago, and they have since become a staple in my home freezer.

    Sprouted bread, for instance, is the end result of a process which begins by sprouting — rather than milling — different grains (wheat, spelt, barley, etc.) and legumes (i.e.: lentils, beans).

    These sprouts then become dough, which is baked at low temperatures.

    This process retains more of the grains’ and beans’ nutrients, yielding higher amounts of protein, fiber, vitamin A, iron, calcium, and potassium when compared to regular bread, even whole wheat varieties.

    I am by no means saying that regular whole grain breads are “bad” or nutritionally empty — far from it!

    However, bread products made from sprouted grains offer even more nutrition.

    For instance, one sprouted grain English muffin contains 8 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber (compared to the already-considerable 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in a conventional whole grain variety).

    What I personally love about sprouted breads (such as Ezekiel 4:9) is the hearty, nutty taste they deliver — and how incredibly satisfying they are.

    Food For Life — the company that makes the Ezekiel 4:9 line, inspired by scripture — also produces cereals, pastas, and bagels.

    By the way, am I the only one who would prefer a more non-denominational name for their products? Then again, you can chalk it up to a historic, rather than religious, influence.

    Back to the topic at hand — you can only find them in a supermarket’s frozen section because they lack additives and preservatives. Storing them at room temperature will lead to rancidity and spoilage rather quickly.

    Give them a try and see what you think!


    Celebrity Diet Secrets: Marc Jacobs

    Marc Jacobs is often on the lips of the world’s leading fashionistas, thanks to his famous collections of men and women’s clothes and accesories.

    Recently, though, it’s his body that has been making headlines. If you haven’t seen for yourself, this is Marc last year, and this is him now.

    In a recent interview, the designer explained his transformation the following way:

    “I’m eating a totally organic diet, which has no flour, no sugar, no dairy, and no caffeine, and I lost weight because of that diet and because of a two and a half hour exercise regimen seven days a week.”

    Let’s decostruct and analyze.

    “I’m eating a totally organic diet…”

    As I have mentioned in the past, while organic food lacks pesticides, it has the same nutritional composition as conventional food. An organic banana does not have more vitamins or minerals than a non-organic one, and organic ice cream has the same amount of calories and added sugar as a conventional type.

    Eating organic in and of itself isn’t always healthy. These days, you can buy heavily processed foods (potato chips, cookies) that, despite being made with 100% organic ingredients, are basically empty calories.

    If we’re talking about weight loss exclusively, eating organically is not very relevant.

    “… which has no flour…”

    None!?!? Whenever someone swears the secret to weight loss is eliminating flour from the diet, I want to hit the roof.

    Even if someone chose to limit their intake of white flour, at least they would be consuming whole grain flours, which offer a variety of nutrients, have high fiber contents, and, in my opinions, are delicious (one of my favorite breakfast foods is a toasted whole grain English muffin topped with peanut butter).

    Yes, many foods made with flour are often highly caloric (i.e: cookies, cakes, pizza), but it is not the flour that’s the culprit. Cookies and cakes contain high amounts of butter and sugar, while the majority of calories in pizza can be attributed to cheese and toppings like sausage and pepperoni.

    It does not help that refined white flour offers almost no fiber (thereby not providing a feeling of satiety quickly), but let’s not forget that flour is one of the oldest ingredients in the world. People around the world have been eating it for thousands of years, long before type 2 diabetes became prevalent and body mass indexes soared.

    Granted, if Marc Jacobs previously ate 3 cups of pasta, 2 brownies, and 9 slices of bread a day, he was obviously getting too many calories from products made with flour, but there is absolutely no need to get rid of it in your diet.

    “… no sugar…”

    Why the absolute elimination? It is true that foods high in added sugar contribute many calories, and the average adult in the United States eats roughly three times the recommended daily amount (120 grams to the 40 stated in dietary guidelines).

    However, putting a packet of sugar in your coffee, enjoying an ice cream cone once a week, or occassionaly sharing a slice of pie with a friend after dinner is not going to make you obese.

    Labeling a single nutrient as “bad” is a common mistake many dieters make. A more realistic (and easier to maintain) goal is to lower the intake of added sugars and increase consumption of natural sources like fresh fruit.

    Again, I don’t know what Marc Jacobs’ diet used to be like. If ice cream sundaes were a daily staple, and his breakfast consisted of two donuts, there was obviously an overload of sugar and calories that needed to be modified.

    “… no dairy…”

    This is completely unrelated to Marc’s body makeover. Unless someone is lactose intolerant, there is no connection between shunning dairy and losing weight.

    Again, it’s important to think about the wide range of foods that fall into the “dairy” category. Putting eight slices of swiss cheese into a sandwich or downing half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s after dinner every night is obviously a source of concentrated calories, but healthier options are not hard to find.

    For example, plain, unsweetened yogurt is a tremendously healthy food thanks to its gut-friendly (and immune-system boosting) bacteria.

    Even enjoying an iced latte with skim or low-fat milk on a hot summer day is a great beverage choice, thanks to its significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.

    “… and no caffeine…”

    Many health food fanatics shun caffeine, and, frankly, I don’t understand why.

    Countless clinical research trials have concluded there is no link between caffeine consumption and a higher risk of any disease. Well, let me phrase that better — there is no evidence linking moderate caffeine consumption with a higher risk of any disease.

    Besides, if we’re talking about Marc Jacobs’ weight loss and improved fitness, caffeine is irrelevant.

    “… and two and a half hour exercise regimen seven days a week.”

    Bingo! Here is the most important factor behind Marc’s new look. Healthy eating helps, of course. But, someone working out two and a half hours a day, every day (which, to me, sounds excessive and bordering on overkill) is approximately burning an additional 1,200 calories a day!

    Add that to a reduced calorie diet (which doesn’t take much thought if you are removing entire food groups like Marc Jacobs) and, voila, there is your weight loss and added muscle tonification.

    So, at the end of the day, what we have is someone who is consuming less calories, eating less processed food, and performing a lot more physical activity than before. Smart? Yes! Groundbreaking? No.


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