I’ve always hated white bread. It’s too sticky and feels like it’s reverting to dough in my mouth.
Imagine my shock when not one, but THREE of the five “expert” panelists on my Soaking Grains Debate weighed in with an opinion in favor of white flour, in one way or another. (Meet them all here and see all the posts so far here.)
It made me want to go buy a loaf of Wonderbread. And then throw it at my computer screen. Or maybe feed it to the ducks.
Is there no sanity when it comes to grains?
Pardon my little rant. Quite honestly, I know a lot of you are tracking this “debate”, and I want to put yours minds at ease with a few FAQs before I explain the white bread opinions.
What People are Asking Katie
- Are you soaking currently? I am still soaking my whole grains, most of the time.
- I got totally lost when you started quoting those high-fallutin’ experts. Can you break it down a bit? Eventually I will have some sort of bulleted list of point/counterpoint, probably when I get close to that post “To Soak or Not to Soak” that will be my personal final answer on the whole deal.
- Is this really worth all the research? I dunno. It’s interesting to me that there’s so much information and yet so few definitive answers out there. I want to find the balance between (1) tradition, what has been done for 1000s of years, (2) personal evidence, what seems to work well for people, and (3) hard science, to explain what is happening, how it works and the process that is optimal.
- What’s the final answer? Does soaking “work”? Without revealing everything, know that I place value on anecdotal evidence as well, and there you can find many people who are certain soaking grains helps them either digest grains more easily or tolerate grains, period. There will be an “anecdotal” post coming at some point with more details.
- UPDATE: Do check out the comments at this post for some interesting conversation. Also – let it be clear that I’m not really advocating white bread! I’m presenting some opinions of people who do some research, but I think I mainly agree with the third opinion below. Some white flour is okay in baking, but whole grains still should be soaked, if in fact soaking is the traditional and research-based way to go!
The White Bread Manifesto
I asked Sally Fallon about the times when perhaps she didn’t plan ahead and soak, or when she was eating out and didn’t have a soaked option:
Me: What’s better – white or whole wheat flour? Is unsoaked whole wheat so dangerous that we shouldn’t even eat it as a compromise food?
SF: If I have forgotten to soak my oats, I just don’t eat them–they give me a huge stomach ache if I don’t soak them. I have eggs and bacon instead. When traveling, I try to avoid grains, although if I feel I really need some butter, I will eat a small piece of white bread with a huge amount of butter on it. I do think unsoaked whole wheat is dangerous, especially if you eat a lot of it and if your diet is low in fat. Occasionally I make a pie and use unbleached white flour for that.
My husband’s response: I know what it feels like to need water, or to crave sugar, but what does it feel like to really need some butter? I know, my husband’s not an expert, but we had a good laugh trying to imagine the need for buh-dah!
I asked Dr. Teri O’Brien, the grains scientist from Australia, “What kind of bread do you eat and for what reasons?”
His reply: Usually cheapest white as it is as good as anything else for anyone that takes a mineral and vitamin supplement daily, and eats well anyway.
Later on after trying to point out the ridiculousness of Sally Fallon’s claims of soaking reducing aflatoxins – because aflatoxins are some of the most toxic substances known to man, and “reducing” them isn’t going to help much! – he said:
Why use these [whole grains] as food when all they give you is a potential headache avoidable with white flour, and an expensive form of fibre, better achieved from fibrous vegetables? I rest my case. …Phytates are minimal in white flour, so let us eat white bread on the arguments of these good folk.
Dr. O’Brien is of the mindset that since most of the minerals in whole grains are bound up with the phytic acid and unusable by our bodies, one might as well just get rid of the bran, which is the part that causes the problems. He feels that the only value of whole grains, in light of the phytic acid issue, is fiber, and that there are many, better, less expensive ways to get one’s daily fiber intake.
Like a hearty salad…
The final panelist to weight in on the value of white bread (flour, actually) is Dr. Stephan Guyenet, who commented at my last post, “This O’Brien guy is posing as an expert but he is totally ignorant.” To which I responded in my head, “Gulp. Um. Uh.”
I did email Dr. Guyenet a response along with Dr. O’Brien’s impressive resume. His reply, in part, is dead on: “It gets under my skin when academics are unable to say ‘I don’t know’, and instead engage in speculation.” That’s where I get fed up with some of the information promulgated on soaking, because people are trying to be scientific without proper science, and I’d like to see them admit that they’re ultimately speculating. See the comment from Shannon of Nourishing Days here for a brief assessment of the situation that resonates with me.
Here is Dr. Guyenet’s virtual “thumbs up” for white flour:
If you look at healthy traditional cultures with a high intake of grains, they typically remove part of the bran, grind the grain and then ferment it. This can be accomplished in a variety of manners. The partial de-branning can be mimicked today by mixing whole and refined grains. (emphasis mine)
That’s another way of saying to use whole wheat flour and white flour in your baked goods. Not that I swallow the advice of every person who comes along, but I am so encouraged by this point! There are many, many recipes that call for half and half whole and white flour, and I’m pleased to begin to think of those as less “compromise” foods and more “traditional” foods. The soaking – or sourdoughing for sure – of the whole grains is still an important step, I feel I must point out.
When I made sure to clarify that I was hearing this white flour recommendation correctly, Dr. Guyenet had yet another stellar response (and thanks for writing my post today, all of you!):
I am saying that 100% whole wheat flour is probably not what our ancestors consumed. Traditional cultures had a variety of ways of reducing bran. Our ancestors probably took stone ground rye and wheat, and sifted out as much bran as possible. This would have been the norm until the mid to late 1800s in Western countries, when mechanical “low-extraction” milling took over. You can find references to this in old writings about flour milling.
Africans grind grains and sieve them to remove bran. Indians, Japanese and Chinese pounded rice to remove part of the bran and germ before further processing (before the advent of mechanical rice milling in the 1800s). My guess based on what I’ve read is that they would have removed 50-80% of the bran. Thus, between a 1:1 and 1:3 ratio of whole wheat to white flour would be a good approximation.
However, I’m not a proponent of wheat in general. I prefer fermented savory “pancakes” and porridges made from fermented rice and lentils (dosa/uppatham) or buckwheat. Wheat is problematic for many people in my opinion. If you do choose to eat wheat, a sourdough made from a mixture of whole and unbleached white flour is the way to go.
There you have it, folks. Three experts on grains, soaking grains, and/or phytic acid and phytates who find some value in white flour. Just when I thought I had to eradicate it from my house…
Because I know you all count on me to bring some balance and humor to the whole situation, in case you think white bread is evil as many people do, here’s a thought from one of my favorite phytic acid obsessed cohorts, who will remain nameless, just to add to the mystery: “Is the Australian really recommending white bread? If so, I think you should just put he and Fallon in a ring and see who wins.”