Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

That Whole Grains Question: Is it Time for "To Soak or Not to Soak?"

June 12th, 2013 · 64 Comments · Food for Thought

If I make my mom’s biscuit recipe with unbleached, unbromated wheat flour, home-rendered pastured lard, Real Salt, and organic, grassfed milk, but the flour happens to have all the bran and all the germ sifted out of it, is my resulting biscuit – which will be so fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth smeared with pastured butter that you’ll think you died and gone to Heaven – is it junk food? Is it real food? Or would some even say, “It’s not even food at all!” just because of the refined grains?

I posed a basic question last week on Facebook: White flour…food, non-food, junk food, or somewhere in between?

It generated quite the conversation, and I thought that many of the comments and opinions deserved my own response.

The title of this post is partially a “whole grains” vs. refined grains question but really that whole “grains question,” as in, I’m going to talk about grains through the lens of common sense. All grains: refined, soaked, sprouted, and none at all. (top photo source)

What’s the deal with grains?

What is “Food” Anyway?

sprouted whole wheat rolls smaller

I promise that’s not a trick question.

If I’m going to deem something “food” or “not food,” I need to be able to articulate a definition for food.

I can reasonably say that if I can trace something from its origin either in the ground or on an animal, then be able to replicate every step of its processing in my home kitchen without a chemistry degree or any degree of heroics, then it’s actually food.

For example, let’s look at the white flour in question:

  1. White flour begins on a wheat plant, as the seed. I could grow and harvest that myself if I so desired.
  2. The seed is then ground into flour, which I could do in my Nutrimill, or, if I wanted a more “pure” definition of food without any fancy machinery, I could always grind flour by hand with a mortar and pestle. That sounds like fun…
  3. Now I have whole wheat flour with the bran, germ and endosperm of the seed all ground up. Like I demonstrated in my Nutrimill videos, all that’s needed to separate the bran out is a fine sieve, and it doesn’t really even take that long. To separate the germ, I’d just need a finer sieve, but I am fairly certain I could do it in my own kitchen.
  4. White flour: it may have the most nutritious part of the plant removed, but I don’t see any reason why the part that is left, the refined grain, should be relegated to “not food” any more than peeling a carrot or a cucumber should suddenly change its status to “not food.”

Someone on the Facebook thread stated that the body does not recognize white flour, and I soundly disagree. We’re not talking trans fats here, which have been altered at the molecular level in a lab to create a “food” that is totally new and different from any naturally occurring fats. The body does not recognize that and doesn’t know what to do with it, true, but white flour is just food that’s missing some parts from its whole form.

The body can handle it.

Trans fats start as a food, but the process that makes them “hydrogenated” is not something I can hope to replicate in my kitchen. It fails the “food” test.

Artificial colors made from petroleum (or anything else) are another great example of something that fails the “food” test, this one at the very beginning. There’s nothing that ever grew in the ground or was alive, so it’s not something I want to eat. (Salt and minerals would be one exception to this rule, but I can’t think of any others. Did I miss anything?)

Genetic modification pushes my system a little bit, because the issue happens before the plant is even harvested, in fact before it’s even grown.

Up until very recently, I would have judged GM crops as food, hands down. Messed up food, maybe, but still edible food.

I was, perhaps, not fully using my common sense and was purposely not looking into the issue very deeply, knowing that I was avoiding most GMOs already and not wanting to take any additional time to delve deeper.

I mentioned in yesterday’s Common Sense Monday Mission that I had been reading Laurie Neverman’s Common Sense Health eBook and learned a number of new facts about genetically modified crops that I didn’t know before. I still need to follow my own advice by following her sources, but I’m much more taken aback than I have been in the past. I’m also a lot closer to relegating GM crops like Bt corn to the “non-food” category.  More research needed…

Other Issues with White Flour

(photo source)

I’m always surprised how people like to preach about the perfect foods or their perfect diet, but they’re totally wrong.

Some fallacies:

  • You need to soak white flour to make it more nutritious.
  • If you have “sprouted” white flour, that’s okay.
  • Confusing “white whole wheat” with white refined flour
  • That GM wheat makes it so that people should never eat white flour.

Corrections:

Soaking White Flour

The whole point of soaking grains is to release the minerals in the bran and germ from phytic acid, which binds them and may inhibit absorption of certain nutrients in the gut. White flour has no bran, no germ, and no antinutrients to soak out. Please read my extensive soaking grains research and methods HERE if you need to understand better.

One note: Although basic overnight soaking is totally unnecessary for refined grains of any kind, the sourdough process still may yield health benefits with white flour, making the starch in the refined grain more easily digestible because of fermentation, a pre-digestive process.

Sprouted White Flour?

sprouting whole grains

There’s no such thing as sprouted white flour. To sprout something, you have to start with the whole grain, sprout it, dry it, and then grind it. I suppose one might be able to then sift out the bran and germ, but honestly, I’ve never heard of it. I’m not sure how sprouting alters the size and shape of the bran and germ; it may be impossible to sift them out.

I’m also not quite sure about what would be left: the point of sprouting is to (a) stop the seed’s antinutrient tendencies (aka release minerals from the phytic acid) since as far as the seed is concerned, it’s met its goal in life if it’s beginning to grow, and also (b) sprouting reduces the starch content since the baby plant begins to eat its food source, the endosperm.

That part IS the white flour part, so if it’s already being eaten by the plant…what will left if it is refined?

I’m open to this being possible, because, you know, I want to have some common sense about it all and think it through. I am wrong sometimes (okay, quite often really). But it sounds like a redundancy at best and impossible at worst to me.

White Whole Wheat Flour

tortillas

“White whole wheat” has nothing at all to do with white flour. They’re completely different, although it’s confusing, I know. When anyone mentions white flour, I guarantee they’re talking about a refined product, a type of wheat flour with its bran and germ removed. White whole wheat, on the other hand, is made from a specific type of wheat berry: hard white spring wheat.

Traditional whole wheat flour that is the “standard” one you can buy in a bag at the store comes from “hard red wheat,” usually either spring or winter varieties. It’s just that the plant itself from which the wheat berries were harvested is different, but there’s little to no difference in nutritional value and zero difference in processing.

There are plenty of different kinds of whole wheat grains that can be made into whole wheat flour: The two mentioned above plus “soft white wheat berries,” aka pastry flour, are some of the most common.

White whole wheat is quite lovely, by the way, for baking muffins and cookies, and it’s absolutely necessary, in my opinion, for perfect homemade whole wheat tortillas.

Genetically Modified Wheat, oh Really?

Genetic modification is really building steam as a hot topic right now, which is great. It’s important to get the word out on GM crops to the widest audience possible so that people are informed about their food and can make eating and buying choices according to their beliefs, as well as vote with their dollar and their ballots (hopefully against GM taking root any deeper in America, but we shall see).

The problem with hot topics is that they tend to be misinterpreted and overblown. Suddenly the problem with every food possible is, “Genetic modification makes that unhealthy.” People begin to throw around the terms in every conversation: “GM is the root of all nutritional evils.” “Oh, you know, genetic modification blah blah blah…”

The fallacy in that is that there are really very few genetically modified crops on the market today. Corn, soy, cotton and sugar are very widely genetically modified, and they’re in just about every processed food (not cotton, obviously, although sometimes it tastes like it), so GMOs do impact our food supply in that way.

However – strawberries, tomatoes, wheat, rice, apples and many, many more foods are not (yet) genetically modified, at least not officially. When people continue to peg GM as the problem with all those foods, it shows their ignorance, in my opinion.

Yes, genetically modified wheat was found recently growing in Oregon. Yes, that’s incredibly scary, and it’s possible that a great deal of the wheat in America has been contaminated by experiments that got out of hand. However, up until just last month (May, 2013), nobody knew that. So all the naysayers preaching the evils of GM wheat before that had no sources to back up their claims.

What common sense says about this new evidence, I’m not sure, but my common sense says this about genetic modification in general: We should not play God, and getting into the genes of any living creature is a slippery slope.

At our time in history, we don’t yet know the ramifications of genetic modification on the environment or our bodies, but we do know that the GM crops can, through cross-pollination, take over other crops. To fiddle with something that can get so out of our control and which may quickly enter into the realm of immorality (if we begin to experiment on human beings, for example) is dangerous and irresponsible.

The decisions made about genetic modification now are going to impact generations to come, and I’m firmly opposed to it.

But What About White Flour?

Food vilification is pretty rampant in some real food circles. We’ve already established that yes, white flour IS a food. It may not be the most nutritious food possible, but those who demonize it as an “anti-food, a poison, and potentially dangerous” are stretching the truth.

White flour has 455 calories per cup, including some protein and fat (although mostly the bad polyunsaturated fats), and it even has 3.4 grams of fiber. Not much, but at least some. When people are starving, they can survive on white bread. They may not thrive, but they are not poisoned. Good grief. (sources: 1, 2, 3)

White flour may have quite an undesirable glycemic load, it may be high in starch with little fiber to slow down that starch’s trip through the digestive system, and it may be lacking in nutrients, but it’s not going to poison most healthy people. (Yes, some folks should never eat wheat of any kind, and some, like diabetics, are definitely harmed by eating refined grains. But it’s not the white flour that is the real problem, it’s that body’s ability to utilize it.)

White flour is a food, not a poison, and it may very well have a place in a healthy diet.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

looks like whole wheat grain-free biscuits made with walnuts (4) (475x356)

A few years ago when I was looking into the soaking grains issue in depth, I said that people would know the series was over when I posted an article called “To Soak or Not to Soak” with my final recommendations.

After a while, I realized a few things:

  1. The research was very conflicting.
  2. I probably was not qualified to really make an informed recommendation on the entire issue, because of the point above, the shifting of research as the years progressed, that I’m not a professional researcher or scientist, and the fact that I was running out of time and motivation.
  3. There’s no perfect answer for everyone. Some people need to soak or sprout their grains because they feel badly if they don’t. Some people’s bodies don’t do well with any grains. And other people actually feel better if they just eat refined grains.

Then our family discovered a probable gluten sensitivity, and my energy and efforts really needed to be devoted to learning about baking gluten-free and grain-free, so I sort of dropped the subject of soaking.

People would email and ask over the years if I ever made a final decision, but I never got back to the series. I just didn’t know where to go with it.

I’m still not qualified to make any recommendations or final decisions, but I can share my opinion and what we’re doing on a regular basis in our family.

  1. There is some research, both anecdotal and scientific, to show that soaking grains does positive things to make grains nourishing.
  2. Soaking doesn’t take very much more time – sometimes just a few minutes here and there.
  3. In our family, we’ve cut down on grains in general quite a bit, which is probably the best way to deal with the issue.
  4. We do soak oatmeal and brown rice, and I soak homemade rolls and tortillas when we eat wheat at all.

So my answer to “to soak or not to soak” is to do what works for your family. If people’s guts hurt after eating unsoaked whole wheat bread, you should make a change. Whether that means soaking, sprouting, sourdough or avoiding wheat/grains is up to your personal test kitchen and family laboratory.

There’s no perfect answer.

In our house, I’m not going to freak out if we eat unsoaked whole grains, but I prefer to soak whenever I can, which is easier because I already had the habit formed. I do think I notice that unsoaked oatmeal feels heavier in my gut, but I’m willing to admit that it may be a psychological thing too, happening because I’m watching for it to happen.

I’m also trying to use more common sense and not freak out if we’re presented with white flour products or white rice, which may be even healthier and safer than whole grains, depending on who you ask.

I still believe, as I did when I started the series, that sourdough is the healthiest way to consume whole grains. In reality, though, I haven’t had a sourdough starter going for over two years since we started avoiding most gluten – but it’s on my list to get a gluten-free starter going, and I even have the recipe printed. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Finding the Balance

The whole issue of grains has become quite sensitive and personal for many people, and there are definitely vehement supporters of any perspective, especially the grain-free proponents.

I was disappointed that so many on Facebook took a stance of food elitism and vilification. I do appreciate opinions, but far more important to me is exploring all sides and presenting a balanced perspective. I’ll leave you today with some nuggets of wisdom from the community on Facebook.

I really appreciate what this reader said:

“I know people have twisted the phrase Everything in moderation to be an excuse for eating garbage, but I think that once you get out all of the truly non-food and overly processed stuff from your diet, everything in moderation makes sense.”

On the flip side, it is rare that anyone is eating an ideal diet 100% of the time, and I feel that it’s detrimental to others to act like you are.

Making people feel stressed out about their choices isn’t helpful. Plenty of people have consciously evaluated the way their family reacts to whole grains vs. white flour and found that they hurt after eating whole grains, even “properly prepared,” and do not after eating white flour.

There’s another group of people who have fewer choices because of their socio-economic status.

Please don’t tell those folks that white flour is going to poison them.

I tend to use the lens of traditional foods, which makes common sense to me – that foods that people have been eating successfully for hundreds if not thousands of years should have prime place at the table. Foods and “foods” that have been around for less than a century are treated with great skepticism and usually avoided.

It may surprise you to learn that the idea of mixing white with whole wheat flour may actually be closer to what traditional cultures ate than 100% whole grain bread. Read more in 3 Expert Takes on the Value of White Bread.

Butter Believer also has a great post finding the balance: Is White Flour Really All That Bad? She says:

I don’t think it’s worth freaking out over every exposure to white flour. If you are a healthy person and eat a mostly healthy diet, I truly don’t think a little conventional white flour — and yes, even a little bit of the toxins that accompany it — every now and then is going to really hurt you.

Most of the gals in the KS community are similarly infused with common sense and balance. I loved these two comments on the Facebook thread (and so did a bunch of other people as demonstrated by a plethora of “likes”):

I used to think it was poison. I used to think sugar and regular noodles and almost everything else unhealthy was bad or dangerous. Until I started living again. I still try to make better choices but nothing will happen if I use white flour once in a while. I am sane. My kids do not have a crazy momma anymore. The kitchen cabinets are now stocked with everything and my kids don’t go crazy anymore when they are out of the house and see candy, white bread and junk cereal. It’s all food. We have to choose the healthier of the foods, but it’s still food! Live and make the best choices you can. Stress and fear of everything is sometimes just as bad as occasionally eating the crap.

I have a tendency personally to go overboard on stress a bit, so I need to bring myself back to center and remember that my kids need to see a balanced mommy, too.

I find it so sad that people will use terms like “less then ideal” in reference to a topic like this because that seems like the diet of that person must be 100% correct when I would bet its not. What is it with people being on a high horse about this topic?

White flour is food, and I think some people need to be focus on being thankful they have the budget, accessibility, etc, to make the choices they male for their family… Instead of looking down their nose at everyone about their choices. I would much prefer someone uses white flour for homemade things as opposed to premade mixes… And while we are at it, let’s mention that not everyone is as fortunate as some of us who can make the choices we want for our family.

Also, in an emergency, would you classify white flour as a non food? I highly doubt it. If we want to educate and empower others to make “better” decisions, well I think we need to focus on the benefits of one thing over the other, i.e. the positives, instead of it being a chance for someone to pat their own back about the way they do things while looking down at others.

I think I’m going to bake a loaf of my favorite oatmeal honey bread today, using yeast, and unbleached white flour (gasp), I guess to some its not better nutritionally then the alternative of going to the store to buy a loaf of white bread. Whatever. I will enjoy it with some raw honey drizzled on top. Smile

With that, I’m off to make pancakes for my family. They’re grain-free this morning because I forgot to soak buckwheat flour last night. After all this conversation, I’m tempted to make white flour pancakes, but we’ve kind of maxed out our “80/20″ living (20% junk as long as 80% is nourishing) over the weekend. Plus, I’m not sure where my bag of white flour is. Winking smile

What’s your take on white flour?

Stay tuned for more common sense this week, including sun exposure, evaluating new diet plans, “How Much is Too Much?” and more!

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64 Comments so far ↓

  • Sarah

    There’s another aspect you haven’t touched on. I think we can sometimes get a clue about the proportion of our diet that a food is supposed to make up, if we think about what goes into making it. The list of things that you mentioned that one would have to go through to get white flour, or even just soaking/souring/sprouting, are time consuming and sometimes difficult. This naturally causes the one doing all this work to ration the amount. (No you may not eat all twenty servings of crackers today! Those are supposed to last all week! I don’t have any more sprouted flour ready!) I think the sheer abundance of food and the constant availability can really give a false perspective on how ubiquitous certain items are. If you can just buy more at the store, you don’t really care how much you consume at a time. When you’ve put your time and sweat into it, it makes it scarcer. Like you said, if you didn’t remember to soak your grains last night, you do grain free breakfast. I think that right there is the moderation we’re talking about.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sarah,
    That is precisely the theme of one of the other posts I have planned this week – fantastic! :) Katie

    Cait Reply:

    That is so true!! I am much less likely to do something if it takes more effort. Just like I use less chocolate and make less sweets in general since organic chocolate/cocoa and raw honey are more expensive than conventional chocolate and sugar.

  • Jackie via Facebook

    Sonia, this is why I love Katie. Common sense meets healthy, clean eating. :)

  • Amanda S

    Great article Katie! Thank you for your encouragement. I can’t get my husband to eat 100% whole wheat anything, so I usually do a 50/50 mix. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but sheesh, if it’s eat my 50/50 sourdough bread or something from the store, mine is going to be the better option! Thanks for helping me release that guilt.

  • Sharon

    Common sense, indeed. Thanks!

    My every-day bread is a 50/50 sourdough as well, yum. And I do use straight unbleached AP for some things, especially pie crust. But those things are special treats, not every day fare. Moderation.

    Any thoughts on unbleached AP flour vs. bleached? I stick to the unbleached, as it’s had less done to it, but I’ve never bothered to do any research.

    Bobbiann Reply:

    Here’s a quick research: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour_bleaching_agent. Doesn’t sound like “real food” to me!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Ew, sounds nasty to me! Sharon, I’d go with this – unbleached is the way to go. Which means storebought or restaurant bread…blah. :) Katie

    caroline Reply:

    now who’s making generalist statements? the bread i buy at the store (Nature’s Own Honey Wheat) has unbleached flour as the first ingredient. It also has no transfats and no HFCS. Sure it’s not as good as homemade would be and has some weird unpronouncable ingredients – but that isn’t an option right now and for the one sandwich every couple of weeks I use it for I’m not going to stress about it.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    What a pleasant surprise, Caroline! I would assume without reading ingredients that most restaurants would use bleached flour; it just seems to be the norm. My “blah” was actually meaning “darn, that kind of rescinds the leeway I just granted myself with restaurant sandwiches…”

    I can’t get it right every time, but ultimately, we’re all responsible for reading our own ingredients lists, aren’t we? If I can’t see the ingredients, I would assume bleached flour, and I don’t think that would be too off the mark.
    :) Katie

  • Bobbiann

    My bag of (Canadian) stone ground whole white flour says that the secret is that some of the germ is left in the flour. I am assuming that means they have removed at least most of the bran and some of the germ. It behaves just like whole wheat flour when I bake with it, though.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Bobbiann,
    Hmmm…sounds like you’re getting a raw deal. If it behaves like whole wheat but doesn’t have the bran and most of the germ, you might as well have white flour and fluffier bread! ;) The germ is what goes rancid the fastest b/c of the fats in it, so many whole wheat flours remove it and not the bran. Tough call…but doesn’t sound like healthy whole wheat to me, although not necessarily UNhealthy as long as you freeze it for storage.
    :) Katie

  • Rachel

    I liked the old way better. Totally selfish, but it loaded easier on my phone.

  • Kelly

    I hate the partial posts on the RSS feed. Hate.

    Bethany W Reply:

    Agreed, Kelly.

  • Jamie

    What a refreshing take on flour. I grew up baking for my siblings, cookies, pancakes, etc. It was a pure joy and passion. I learned early on the difference in quality of homemade and store bought. Over the last two years, during my transition into a more healthful natural approach to living, flour has been something I’ve debated about quite a bit. I’ve learned to use spelt, I’ve ground up quinoa, coconut and almond. I’ve ventured into other ancient grains, and generally everything turns out okay. But gosh it would be nice to not feel remorse upon eating or using white flour once in awhile! Thanks for writing about this!

  • Diana

    I’m so glad you posted this :) I read the first several comments on that Facebook post and was surprised how many people thought soaked white flour was healthier than unsoaked white flour! And then when you said this was going to be common sense week, I had my fingers crossed that you were going to address that topic… thank you! :)

    I also appreciate your final thoughts on To Soak or Not to Soak–you’re so right that it’s a very individual decision. Do your best (which is not the same as 100% perfect) and no guilt!

  • Cory

    I figure most our nutrition is not coming from the grains anyways. So if my family will happily eat good-quality meats and fermented sauerkraut on my homemade white bread, while they won’t touch the storebought sprouted, then we’re going to save the $4.00 and eat the white bread.

    Overall, I think, like you said, it’s a personal decision. Do what makes your family feel good after a meal. We did sprouted breads for a while…and then suddenly they didn’t taste good anymore. So we switched. And now, sometimes, I just really really want whole grains. So I’ll make up a loaf of sourdough or some spelt biscuits, and then I’m better.

    And, wow, Katie! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quite this harsh in a post before…:)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Cory,
    Hmmm, maybe I should go back and be more harsh in some past posts…

    Mwah. ;) Katie

  • Heather

    As a baker myself I try to stick with whole grains when possible. But classifying white flour as poison just seems backwards to me. It’s all about an informed choice.

    I think what you wrote here and the comments you included are amazing and what a lot of people need to hear!

  • Gina - Truly Pure Birth

    Is it bad that I’d love that honey bread recipe? I have stressed so much about grains, especially with my sons teeth issues. Now I just make what feels right to me at the time and if it has white flour, so be it!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Gina,
    Not at all, in my book! ;) I think the teeth/grains thing really is mostly whole grains anyway…so white flour onward! ;) Katie

  • Amber

    Back towards the end of March you posted something about how relying on the occasional advil or whatever was perhaps a signal that I should consider digging a little deeper, rather than just trying to drug away the nagging symptoms. Well, I took that as a challenge and decided to see if I removed white flour from my diet if I would get some relief from my almost constant hip pain. Well, I did. But do I still feed my family white flour products sometimes? Yes, I do. My husband loves pasta, and is not willing to switch to a whole wheat or alternate grain pasta. So I still make a white flour pasta dish about once a week. Ditto with pizza (although that isn’t once a week) Is it ideal? No. Does it keep my family healthier? No, but I’m not convinced that once a week pasta and once a month pizza is really going to drastically alter my family’s health. Does it keep the family peace and make my family happier? Yes, it certainly does.

    Re: food choice stridency… I’ve been thinking that it is our modern version of pelagianism. If only we can find just the right foods and prepare them just the right way we will manage to save ourselves from every ill and every possible harm.

    And I much prefer the full version in the RSS feed reader! Your site loads so slowly on my iPad and it is hard to scroll the site without accidentally touching a link.

    Ally Reply:

    Oh, amen sister, hitting it on the head (and I love your term) with the modern Pelagianism. I have so run into that – “oh, your child has a runny nose? It must be because you let him eat a doughnut. We only eat almond flour and I know we’re eating too much raw local honey if someone gets sick…” I beat myself up so badly with that stuff! YOU CANNOT LIVE PERFECTLY. We get sick, we have tummyaches and headaches and rashes and coughs and it’s part of living in this world; it’s screwed up and no matter how much money, time, work and/or self-denial you put into it, you can’t set it right yourself. I know that I can make good choices about food and environment that improve my health, and I try to, but they ain’t gonna save me.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Oooo, i hear my voice in “oh, MY child has a runny nose? It must be because I let him eat a doughnut…” I totally think our food is probably more connected to health in the moment than it really is. Good call on not being able to be perfect!! Thank you! ;) Katie

  • caroline

    as far as ‘everything in moderation’ sure I’m sure people use that as an excuse to eat junk. I had Whataburger for dinner last night. I know it’s not good for me but it’s my body and my choice. It’s not an every day (or even every week) occurance so I’m not going to guilt trip myself about it. That said, I don’t judge what other people eat unless they bring it up (i.e. my coworker is supposed to limit sodium due to her medical condiitons but has canned soup 2 or 3 days a week, I don’t comment on it unless she brings it up – something along the lines of ‘oh i need to start buying the low sodium soups and then I say yes you do.

  • Hannah@easyrealfood

    I totally agree with you on this. It just reminds me of the saying “moderation in all things.” I don’t think white flour is the devil but I also don’t think it’s the most nutritious thing we can eat. It depends on how often you eat it and what are you pairing it with? Also we need to remember everyone is different. I honestly don’t think there is 1 perfect diet for everyone. That’s why people find such great results with raw, paleo, vegetarian, traditional, gluten free or other diets. They all work, just not for everyone. YOU have to discover what works best for you and your family.

  • Erin

    Thank you so much for such a balanced approach and blog post! So blessed. I think I love you. :)

  • Lynette

    I don’t always come to the same conclusion as you, but I really like your thought-providing posts. For a while I had started to feel as if I was feeding my family junk good if I didn’t soak grains or used some white flour. At this point I feel more assured that though there is always more I could be doing/learning, I don’t have to feel guilty or worried about my family’s food choices. We are eating well, living healthy, and enjoying delicious food!

    Regarding the short blurb in the RSS feed, I’m not a fan.

  • Tonya

    “getting into the genes of any living creature is a slippery slope”

    what about when getting into the genes of that living creature lets us know they will most likely develop breast cancer so, like angelina jolie, they can make the decision to be proactive with their health?

    & what about when getting into the genes of bacteria lets us splice in the necessary genes to make insulin so type 1 diabetes isn’t a death sentence? http://www.abpischools.org.uk/page/modules/diabetes/diabetes6.cfm?coSiteNavigation_allTopic=1

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Still a slippery slope in my book…because what if we start getting into genes like Jolie’s in the womb and doctors start recommending abortions to prevent cancer in the kids? I don’t have time to look into the insulin thing, honestly…but genetic modification is a slippery slope for me, period.

  • Sheila

    I’m a white flour eater. Whole wheat flour just doesn’t taste very good to me, and it doesn’t make me feel very good, even sourdough. And anyway they don’t have whole wheat flour at Aldi, and that’s the only place I shop.

    I know that white flour is a “treat” food, or it ought to be, because it has so few nutrients. But on the other hand, our food bills have been skyrocketing lately and we just don’t have budget room to replace all the bread calories we eat with something better! So I make a batch of sourdough English muffins, with white flour, almost every day. At any rate they’re a good vehicle for butter and cream cheese!

  • Rebecca

    We’re in the “avoid-wheat-as-much-as-possible -but-don’t-freak-out-if -we-eat-it-occasionally” camp :-) I avoid it more than my husband and kids because I have a sensitivity to wheat. And oddly enough, I have noticed my blood sugar and my digestion are whackier after eating WHOLE wheat! After reading your post, I understand better why. I avoid it as much as I can. I use brown rice flour, or other alternative gluten free flours when I can. And I try to soak them when I have time. I also soak our oatmeal, and I think I will start soaking our brown rice as well.

    My young son eats a little bit of whole wheat bread probably every other day. We use brown rice or whole wheat pasta and don’t eat much of it.

    If I’m going to make dessert, I have been using part unbleached white flour. We eat baked desserts so infrequently, it doesn’t seem to matter much if we use white! And one thing that just doesn’t taste as good with whole wheat or gluten free is a good old fashioned pie crust (made with organic cultured butter, of course ;-) )

  • Elaine

    Love love love! I run a healthy recipe swap group and have learned what a challenge it is to define “healthy.” It is different for everyone and so are our bodies. As long as it is as unprocessed as is reasonable (what…you didn’t grow and thresh the wheat yourself?!) ;) and not a Doritos cheesy chicken casserole recipe…it is fine by me. :) I always shoot for whole grains, but come on…whole wheat flour does not belong in a delicious chocolate genoise!

  • Anastasia @ eco-babyz

    I’ve always been sensitive to wheat but only recently realized that when we stopped eating it. My health improved and I feel better. But I’ve been reintroducing it into our diet in the form of sprouted whole wheat flour and it’s been great. I make cookies by mixing that flour with coconut flour and they come out delicious! Plus I like that I can control the amount of sugar. My batch of 24 cookies is only 3 tablespoons of turbinado and 1 tbsp honey. Most people would think they aren’t sweet at all (compared to store bought), but my family has grown to like them like that. I love hearing my 4 year old try something at a party and say “Mom, this is way too sweet!” :) I let my kids pretty much eat whatever when we visit people, within reason, but we are usually sick the next day. I never feel well after wheat, sweets, and what not. Then we detox with our own real food for 5-6 days and repeat with junk on the weekend lol

    Stephanie Reply:

    I would love a copy of your cookie recipe!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sounds like our family, except I’d love to hear more of “it’s too sweet” from my kiddos! ;) Katie

  • Haley via Facebook

    This was right on time for me! Thank you so much for sharing your findings and thoughts. There are some recipes where I use a little white flour mixed in with a majority of whole wheat and I’ve been struggling with the guilt of not always using 100% whole wheat. We eat real/whole foods most of the time, and I’m trying so hard to make healthier versions of our faves, but sometimes a little compromise is necessary in my kitchen. Thanks for lifting some of the guilt ;-)

  • Sheila via Facebook

    I am eating a white flour English muffin right now. But something occurred to me last night, which that that the ingredients list of my white flour isn’t just “flour.” It is “wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid.” Not all of those things are exactly food. Do you know if it’s possible to buy unenriched white flour?

    Tonya Reply:

    vitamins & minerals are not food?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    What is the source?

  • Barbara via Facebook

    Really great post, Katie. Your common sense is showing. :-) I especially like your sensitivity for those of us with limited finances. Quote: “There’s another group of people who have fewer choices because of their socio-economic status.
    Please don’t tell those folks that white flour is going to poison them.”
    Raising 7 kids on one income over the past 30 years, my husband and I have always been in the lower income range. I truly did my best to give our kids (and my husband) high-nutrition foods within our budget, based on what I knew at the time. When I first started learning about real foods, I panicked and felt full of guilt. I stopped buying skim milk and margarine, then less boxed and canned foods. Still, at times we needed help from food pantries, and I would need to compromise my convictions in order to feed my kids. I tried to boost nutrition in those foods with what fresh choices we could afford. We still can’t afford to eat exclusively organic, and I am not physically able to cook everything from scratch like I once did. We do the best we can, with what we have. I always have, even when ‘the best I knew how’ was different from what it is today; and I will continue, even when there are just the 2 of us. (1 high school senior is still at home. The others, by the way, are healthy, active, hard-working adults.)

    Tonya Reply:

    i hope this doesn’t imply that you sacrificed what you ate so your kids & husband could eat better

  • SH

    I appreciate your conclusion! In the end it’s about what’s going on in your family.
    I’m sure you’re probably quite familiar with Bread Beckers if you use a Nutrimill? Their article on this issue was helpful to me.

    http://info.breadbeckers.com/phytic-acid/

  • Susan

    We have to eat strictly gluten free, but I have similar issues deciding between choosing the grains and starches that I will use. Will I use white rice flour, brown rice flour, teff, amaranth, millet, sorghum, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, etc. Nutritionally, some are better, but others provide better textures, especially in occasional treats. You mentioned a gluten free sourdough starter, is that something you can share?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Susan,
    The one I printed out was from simplysugarandglutenfree.com/ and I know GNOWFGLINS has a whole GF track in their sourdough ecourse here: https://rl102.infusionsoft.com/go/srdoecourse/ks/

    All those flours drive me crazy too! :) Katie

  • Michelle via Facebook

    I appreciate your common sense.

  • Jolene via Facebook

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • Kathy C

    Loved the thoughts on white flour. Don’t you think, for the most part, that anything you make from scratch (including white flour and sugar) is way better for you than store-bought with preservatives, artificial flavors and colors? My philosophy is do the best you can and don’t fret over it.

  • via Facebook

    Sheila Ahem, that is a good point. I wonder. Or is an FDA regulation or something that it has to be enriched? Wd be interesting to check a natural foods site or store. You could always grind your own and sift out the bran and germ…but that’s a lot of work! ???

  • Sheila via Facebook

    It would be a lot of work, but then that would surely help me not eat so much of it! :D I think it may well be an FDA regulation, intended to stave off spina bifida and other deficiency diseases. But for those who can’t convert folic acid to folate, it might do more harm than good.

  • Stacy Makes Cents

    I don’t have much to say except – those pictures made me hungry. I need a snack…oh, and I love your posts. :-)
    We don’t soak – but we’ve cut WAY back on grains. I prefer to use the sourdough method when we do eat bread. :-)

  • Erica Spears

    Amen!

  • Kelly Holman

    A few clarifications: cotton isn’t in food, but some ingredients are derived from cotton, so GMO can be an issue there. Yet another reason to avoid mysterious ingredients.

    Some of the books criticizing wheat seem to have caused a lot of confusion about whether it’s GMO. I haven’t read any of those books, but I’m pretty sure GMO technology didn’t exist until about the 90s. The issues with wheat go much farther back than that, and must have been caused by hybridizing, which is the same as breeding animals to increase certain traits over many generations. Hybridizing isn’t inherently dangerous like GM, as far as I know. But it has resulted in a huge increase in the amount of gluten, and other possible problems.

  • Pam

    Oh this made me so HAPPY :) Thank you, thank you, thank you! No one should be “scolded” or told they are “poisoning your children” for baking homemade cookies using white flour instead of buying processed prepackaged preservative laden cookies at the store. Yet it happens so often. I appreciate this and don’t think you were harsh at all! Just honest.

  • Alexandra

    Katie, I must chime in on all the kudos you are receiving on this post. GREAT Stuff. Your common sense is marvelous to read and you are backing it up.
    I also appreciate where you back pedal and change your stance on things. Lots of folks will just dig their heels in. When we learn something new, apply it and if the old paradigm isn’t working anymore, adjust. I think that is really hard for a lot of people, particularly if they have been really hard-core and criticizing other’s behaviors. Super hard to change your stance then!
    I feel over the years I have made changes each time a new study has come out. I am glad I am flexible and what I have learned is to pay attention to how i FEEL eating these foods.

    Staying within budget is extremely important to us and when I dropped white flour & white pasta, I felt I lost a really reliable way to stretch my food dollar. A few months ago I started reading posts all over that were initially about going grain free but then were saying, “well, if you are going to eat a grain, ok to eat white flour”. I was thrilled! My doctor is not on board and I have thyroid issues but we are watching and learning together.
    Thanks again for your time and energy.
    PS I don’t think you are harsh, I think you are taking an authoritative tone on elements that you are an authority on (and recognizing where you are not – go personal growth!). It is ok to be a “grown-up” and speak like one.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thanks, Alexandra – I needed that today! :) Katie

  • Amanda

    I first would like to say that I have been reading your blog off and on for a while now, and I really appreciate your ability to cut through the crap, as it were, and make nutrition issues much easier to understand. Thank you for making so much information so accessible for your readers!

    Second, I really resonate with this post. I have recently been mixed up in the “soak or no soak” debate, whether or not whole grains are healthier, etc., etc. While so far we do not have gluten sensitivities in my family, so we don’t have to worry about cutting grains out entirely, I have been worried about the whole phytic acid problem in whole grains. Thank you so much for your opinion. It really helped me come to the conclusion that it’s okay to not pull my hair out in frustration over the issue. Soaking can be like an excellent bonus – but not something to stress unduly over.
    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    You are very welcome!! :) Katie

  • Michele Tanner

    Thank you, Katie, for posting this. I have been agonizing A LOT lately about grains.

    I do notice with myself that eating bread gives me the same sugar rush and crash that I get with a soda, and I have been attempting to decrease the amount of wheat that our family consumes. But everyone else in the family loves it, and I don’t really have the time, money, or energy to figure out an acceptable substitute. I was running myself ragged trying to make sure I always had something non-sandwich to make for lunches, and really, there is nothing easier than spaghetti for the nights we have to eat and go quickly.

    We have a bread “thrift store” in town that sells the loaves that get pulled from the shelves a couple days before the date, and a couple of the brands pass my “real food” test–no HFCS, no MSG, no aspartame, no dyes with numbers, no hydrogenated anything–so I do stock up on those when I find them and stick them in the freezer. I have been really feeling guilty? lazy? neglectful? about doing that, feeling like I AM poisoning my children for my convenience, and it’s good to get a dose of reason to counteract my tendency to make being perfect my religion.

    So again, thank you.

  • Heather

    Thank you Katie for all your “thinking out loud”, you have helped me in so many ways, not just with recipes. You may have already answered a question like this and I missed it, but you seem like a truly religious woman, how do you reconcile this pre-civilized man/ paleo diet with your spiritual beliefs in a Creator God? I personally tend to lean toward a more vegetarian change than what I understand of paleo, because of God’s original design in the garden, but am interested in your opinion.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Heather,
    That’s a very good question. It’s true that no beast was killed until the Fall, and that changed everything. Also true that Cain and Abel were already offering their harvest, which means they farmed. Hmmmm…I don’t know if I’ve thought about Paleo/primal through the eyes of faith before! It’s not something I want for my family, so I didn’t consider it FOR ME which means I guess I didn’t evaluate it that way. Interesting…I know that science says that grains can be mighty rough on the digestive system…although most people with healthy digestion can handle them. So perhaps it’s again a question of balancing the fallen world with the created world: if we’ve messed up our systems by processed foods, we need a healing diet, and if the theory of “primitive man” makes it work for people, then hey. There were plenty of cultures who did not farm (think nomads in many countries), so how about this – maybe Paleo works best for those people descended from those races of nomads because it’s traditional for THEM. ? I have more thinking to do on this question; thanks for asking it! :) katie

  • Domminique

    Wow. Thank-you so much for this post. I am new, over the last 6 months or so, to the whole ‘real food’ concept, soaking, sprouting, etc. and have slowly started to make changes to how I am preparing things- like finally making soaked buttermilk biscuits for the first time yesterday- Yah! So delicious.
    This post was a much needed read as I feel myself almost starting to get paranoid the more I read and research about our food and the food system. It was grounding, realistic and wholesome. Reading the comments in the post made me feel like I was not alone in needing to tone it down and not act like white sugar and flour are ‘poison’ as one reader commented. It also made me aware of needing to check my attitude towards others to ensure that as I make changes there is no need for elitism or snobbery if others still choose to follow the conventional food path. Thank-you so much for writing this and sharing such a vital perspective to help me and my family eat more traditionally while not having the fear about the occasional turn off the beaten path. I appreciate the idea of the 20%/80% rule. Definitely a concept that I am going to adapt. Blessing to you and your kitchen!

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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