Is White Flour Really All That Bad?

I think it’s kind of funny that I have immersed myself into a world in which wheat is controversial.

Most people don’t give it a second thought, really. Well, with the exception of the whole gluten-free craze. I’m so much less cool in the world of alternative nutrition because I don’t play that game.

But I’ve taken my rebellious streak to an even greater extreme these days, it seems. I’ve been committing one of the gravest sins of WAPF-worshippers:

I eat white flour.

Yes. That awful nutrient-deficient, processed commodity responsible for all that is wrong with the health of modern man, according to the haters. I eat it.  And I don’t feel bad about that.

I don’t think anyone should feel bad about anything they eat, actually. You should never feel guilt for eating food.

But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to explain why the white flour controversy doesn’t have to be so one-sided, and why there are reasons to not fear this less-than-perfect food.

White Flour Pros

Yes, believe it or not, there are actual benefits to the controversial ingredient real foodies love to hate. Hear me out.

Easily digestible

When you start feeding a baby solids, what do you give him? A raw broccoli and kale salad?

Uh, no.

You blanch, steam, cook, strain, and otherwise pulverize the crap out of junior’s veggies because his little digestive system isn’t strong enough to tackle foods that are that complex without processing them first.

What I’m getting at here is that a processed food isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the things humans have evolved to do to our food are beneficial. Like cooking. That’s a form of “processing” a food.

The process of making white rice, for example, takes out the bran and the germ of the grain. This can be a good thing, like I explained in this post. Taking out the bran and germ of wheat grains, too, can be beneficial in some ways.

If your digestion is compromised, consuming whole grains can be tough. The fibrous bran can put a strain on your GI system, and the polyunsaturated oils in the germ can be difficult to handle as well.

But white flour doesn’t have either of those things. It contains only the starchy endosperm of the grain. And starch is meant to provide your body with easily-digestible glucose for fuel. (Before you stone me for saying that glucose is a good thing, let me set the record straight. You’ve been lied to. The idea that glucose from carbohydrates like starch causes insulin resistance is 100% false. Read Diet Recovery for more information on that.)

Plenty of traditional cultures have thrived on diets that are very high in starch, and their people have been shown to be extremely healthy. Like the Okinawans, who traditionally obtained 85% of their calories from starch. Or the Tukisenta in Papua New Guinea who consumed 94.6% starchy carbohydrates in the 1960s. Cultures like these were shown to have exceptionally long lifespans and a virtual non-existence of modern illness such as heart disease. (source)

Now, some people might say, “Well I can’t eat starch like that because it spikes my blood sugar!” 

If you can’t digest a simple starch like white flour, you have a problem. Bodies are designed to run on glucose. If you can’t do that, you need help. Some metabolic help.

If the issue is gluten intolerance, same story. Gluten is not the problem. Poor digestion is. (Legitimate celiac disease is different.)

Supports metabolism

Did you ever do that experiment in 7th grade science class where you put a piece of white bread in your mouth and don’t swallow it, and then after a few minutes it starts to taste like sugar?

That’s because the simple starches in white bread are so easily digestible that they start converting to glucose before they even hit your stomach. And this is beneficial, because easy-access glucose is great for your metabolism.

Metabolism doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means. It isn’t the amount of calories you need for energy. It isn’t how easily someone can stay skinny.

Metabolism is the rate at which your cells produce energy.

Think about that. This is of huge importance to literally every function of your body. If your cells aren’t functioning properly and producing the energy your body needs to get things done, your body won’t work right.

Cells need fuel to produce energy. Once again, this needs to be glucose. So, supplying the body with easily-assimilated glucose is extremely important in supporting metabolic health.

Glucose comes from carbohydrates. Of course, there are many other, much more nutritious forms of carbohydrates to supply this kind of energy than white flour.

But if you have a low-functioning or impaired metabolism, will a plate of broccoli best supply your body with the glucose it needs?

Absolutely not.

If you have a slow metabolism, eating a rigorously strict “real food” diet may actually not be as helpful as eating a diet that includes some more easily digestible, processed foods, such as white flour. You can fix your metabolism by eating more of these types of foods, so that eventually that broccoli won’t be such a digestive burden.

Doesn’t require soaking or special preparation

Many of us in the real food realm of nutrition contend that whole grains are great, with one very important caveat — they must be properly prepared. Traditional methods of grain preparation involved soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the grains to make them more digestible and to neutralize the anti-nutrient phytic acid present in the grains.

But, phytic acid is found in the fibrous outer shell of the grain — the bran. Without the bran in the mix, white wheat flour doesn’t need special treatment to get rid of the mineral-binding antinutrients.

This isn’t to say that you couldn’t include white flour in a soaked bread recipe, or even make sourdough out of it (which is quite tasty), you just don’t have to, according to these principles of proper grain preparation. You wouldn’t be able to sprout white flour, though, because it doesn’t contain all the parts necessary for germination.

Doesn’t go rancid easily

Food manufacturers figured out a pretty important perk of processing flour down to just the starchy endosperm — its ridiculous shelf life. White flour doesn’t go rancid the way that whole grain flour does, because it doesn’t contain any of the polyunsaturated oils found in the germ of the grain.

And as we know now, polyunsaturated fats go bad really easily, and rancid PUFAs are pretty toxic.

Buying whole wheat flour that’s been sitting on the bottom of a shelf at the store is a bad idea because of this. Even if you have the freshest whole grain flour possible  — by grinding it yourself at home — you have to freeze the unused flour within days to prevent it from turning rancid.

So, white flour makes things a little easier on you since you don’t have to consider that possibility. It’ll keep for a very long time, and can be more economical since you can buy it in bulk.

What’s hiding in your flour? You might be surprised.

White Flour Cons

Don’t get me wrong, though, guys. I’m not saying that white flour is a perfect food. The anti-white-flour argument does have some merit, especially since most white flour goes through some pretty extreme processing methods that involve a whole lot more than just removing the bran and the germ. Here are some things to consider and watch out for.

“Fortification” with synthetic vitamins

Because most of the vitamins and minerals in wheat live in the bran and germ which are removed in white flour, manufacturers decided it would be a good idea to replace the lost nutrients by “fortifying” the white flour with synthetic vitamins added in.

Synthetic vitamins have many detrimental effects to your health and can even be seriously toxic. They are also commonly made from GMOs.

I really think it’s a bad idea to be consuming synthetic vitamins of any kind. Especially the low-quality vitamins dumped into most white flour. For this reason, I do recommend avoiding “fortified” white flour.

Chemical processing

Common processed white flour also contains chemical residue left over from bleaching the flour to its stark-white appearance. The flour is put through a chlorine “gas bath” which uses toxic chemical bleaching agents to whiten and “age” the flour. The EPA defines chlorine gas as a “potent irritant” that can be lethal to inhale.

But the problems with chemical bleaching don’t end there.

Certain proteins in the flour produce an oxidizing chemical reaction with the chlorine gas which forms a very toxic byproduct known as alloxan. Alloxan does serve a good purpose, though. They actually use it to induce diabetes in lab rats so they can test treatments for the illness in clinical studies. It’s so effective in giving the rats diabetes because the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin are destroyed from the extreme amounts of damaging free radicals that alloxan provides. Diabetes is imminent in that kind of a scenario.

I don’t exactly think humans are immune to the pancreas-destroying effects of alloxan in chemically-processed flour. Pretty scary stuff.

Extreme amounts of pesticides

Wheat undergoes more pesticide application than most fresh produce items by far. Before they are even planted into the ground, conventional wheat seeds are doused with chemical fungicides and pesticides. Then, they continue to receive heavy applications of several different chemical pesticides as they grow, some of which are known carcinogens as well as xenoestrogens, which are estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are linked to hormone-related illnesses and cancers, such as breast cancer.

They even apply straight-up synthetic hormones such as cycocel, to act as “plant growth regulators.” And we thought growth hormones were limited to meat and dairy products!

Once the toxin-saturated wheat is finally harvested, the chemical assault doesn’t end there. Since the grains are usually stored for long periods of time before they’re ground into flour, the collection bins are thoroughly sprayed with pesticides and the upper-most section of the grains are completely soaked in a chemical cocktail to prevent bugs that may enter from the top. Then, before processing, the grains are sampled, and if there is even one tiny insect found, the entire thing is fumigated with even more chemicals to “maintain a toxic concentration of gas long enough to kill the target pest population.” (source)

With a chemical pesticide load this extreme, I have no doubts that significantly harmful amounts of these toxins remain in the finished product.

Not many nutrients

Aside from being a great source of easily digestible, metabolism-supporting starch, white flour doesn’t have a whole lot more going on with it, nutritionally. The majority of the nutrients found in wheat are in the bran and germ.

Whole grains, on the other hand, are a great source of many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Especially when they are prepared in traditional methods, through soaking, sprouting, or fermentation, whole grains can be an excellent source of many nutrients. So eating white flour exclusively means that you’re missing out on a lot of them.

Solutions to the cons

Those are some pretty good reasons to watch out for highly processed white flour, but are they enough to outweigh the pros? Should you just avoid white flour entirely?

I don’t think that’s necessary.

Don’t stress and just eat it

If I’m at a restaurant, and there is bowl of fluffy, white, crusty bread, I will not hesitate to eat it. If I’m at a friend’s house, and they offer me a cookie, it goes in my mouth. And even if I get a sandwich or a burger while I’m out, I usually opt for white over wheat bread and buns because at least the flour won’t have gone rancid. And it just sounds better to me.

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.

Stress is so much more damaging than just about any “bad” food we can eat. Really.

(Or don’t eat it)

I’m not here to say everyone should be eating white flour. If you don’t want to, don’t. If it doesn’t make you feel good, don’t. If for whatever reason you aren’t going to be eating white flour, that’s okay, too. Just like it’s okay that some people do eat it. (Can I make a request that we don’t wage the War on Gluten or debate the merits of eating “paleo” in this post?)

Buy organic, unbleached, unenriched flour

Even though I don’t stress over the white flour I eat outside my home, the flour that makes it into my kitchen I am a lot pickier about.

I’m most concerned about all the chemicals and toxins in standard white flour — the synthetic vitamins, bleach, alloxan, and pesticides. So, getting organic and unbleached flour solves most of those issues. Unbleached, organic flour is fairly widely available in many health food stores, but unenriched flour is a lot harder to come by.

Thankfully, there are some great options for quality flours from the companies here at the Village Green Marketplace. One offers a flour that is made of einkorn wheat, a traditional, heirloom variety of wheat that is lower in gluten and hasn’t been hybridized the way modern wheat has. There is a type of einkorn flour available from them that is 80% white flour, and 20% whole grain, which is a great compromise, I think. Depending on what I’m baking, I opt for the einkorn flour, organic unenriched white flour, or sprouted whole grain flour. They’re all good for different things.

The only unbleached, unenriched organic flour I’ve found from mainstream stores is this kind available on Amazon and at some health food stores.

Make your own

You can actually buy your own wheat berries (available here), grind them yourself in a grain mill (available here), and then sift out as much of the non-white stuff as you’d like. This is just the way that flour was traditionally processed for many, many years before it became such a giant commercialized commodity. Yeah, believe it or not, people have been making and eating white flour for centuries. It’s not as “modern” as we make it out to be.

Mix it up

With many baked goods, using 100% whole grain flour can kinda ruin the taste and texture. There’s really nothing wrong with using a blend of whole grain and white flour to suit your and your family’s tastes. And that way, by adding in some properly-prepared whole grain flour, you’ll be getting in a lot more of the nutrition — vitamins and minerals — that the white flour won’t provide.

Eat a nutrient-dense diet

I don’t care that there aren’t many nutrients in the white flour I use to bake my cookies or banana bread with, because the rest of my diet provides plenty of nutrition. It’s important to remember that we cannot live on vitamins and minerals alone—we need both nutrients AND energy from the food we eat. Eating both nutrient-dense and energy-dense foods are keys to a healthy diet. White flour’s lack of nutrients is no reason to cut it out entirely. As always, balance is everything!

Do you think white flour is okay to eat?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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92 Responses to Is White Flour Really All That Bad?
  1. Connie Warner says:

    Probably very true about the stress being worse than the toxins we eat! That’s a very important lesson I need to take away from this. I really try to avoid it most of the time and try not to stress about eating it occasionally (even though that’s difficult for me). I figure if I eat whole, healthy, real food most of the time, I can handle the toxins I get (and sometimes don’t even know I’m getting) the rest of the time. A good read is the Perfect Health Diet’s 3 part series on wheat … http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2010/10/wheat-is-a-cause-of-many-diseases-i-leaky-gut/

    • ButterBeliever says:

      It is an important lesson that most of us who are super into healthy eating really need to learn. Took me quite a while to get over my food fears and the need to eat perfectly healthy. Good for you for recognizing that it might be difficult, but it’s important to not allow yourself to be so stressed over this stuff!

  2. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately too. The more I learn about the history of food, the more I realize that white flour has been used in baked goods for centuries – even in some ancient civilizations. In every cookbook I’ve read from the 18th and 19th centuries, there are some recipes that call for white flour and some that call for “unbolted” or “Graham” flour. As you pointed out, though, we have to worry about the cons like bleaching and “enriching” that weren’t a problem back then.

    I used to avoid white flour like the plague, but now I’m not afraid of it like I used to be. I’ve even started using organic non-bleached and non-enriched white flour in my own baking when I don’t have time for soaking or souring.

    By using white flour for some baked goods and whole wheat for others, I figure I can get the best of both worlds – nutrition from soaked or soured whole grain flour and convenience and getting around the phytic acid problem with the white flour.

    I agree with you that’s it’s so important not to stress over it. Balance is key! :)

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Yes! Balance is key. And yes — many antique cookbooks will tell you that white flour, and even white sugar, are a lot more “traditional” than many people want to believe.

      Using white flour for baked goods and whole for others is a great compromise! Especially if it makes preparing your own food easier on you (by skipping out on some of the hassles of traditional grain preparation).

      Thanks for you great comment, Lori.

  3. abi says:

    Interesting article. How can you be assured there’s not some GMO ingredient in the piece of bread at the restaurant though?
    I looked at you resources page under “flours” and it seems to be empty. Should I be looking elsewhere?
    I am enjoying your blog!

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Thank you! Good point. I cannot be assured there’s not GMO ingredients in the things I eat outside my home. But, I choose not to worry about that, and instead do the best I can to eat healthy foods I make myself most of the time.

      Are all of the sections in the resources page empty for you? If so, you probably have an ad blocker turned on that needs to be off to see them.

  4. Deborah says:

    People have been eating white flour for centuries. Bread is the staff of life. All very true, except that we no longer have that wheat. If we were still being fed the wheat that fed people for centuries, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. This wheat today didn’t exist before the 1960s. It’s not the same and no matter how much you want it to be the same, it still isn’t. That makes a huge difference.

    • ButterBeliever says:

      There are some varieties of wheat that have not been hybridized to the degree that commercial wheat has, like the einkorn I mentioned. But, a lot of what we eat is not the same as it was 100 years ago. Yukon potatoes, for example, never existed before we hybridized other varieties to make them. That doesn’t mean that yukon potatoes are awful, though.

    • ziggi says:

      Completely agree with this comment. The wheat we have available today is grown for high yield, quick growing time and faster turn around. These things are to benefit wheat, the commodity, not the end user of the product. The wheat in Australia has been bred for our conditions but it’s just as manipulated as other standard wheat. I stick with spelt and atta (both Aussie grown oddly enough) for most things and only allow myself to eat white bread if it’s for fairy bread. =8)

  5. Willow says:

    I don’t buy white flour, and do not use it in my cooking. At home, I eat 100 whole wheat/whole grain bread and bake very few things, and do my best to find the healthiest version I can bake that still taste like something…BUT… I will not obsess over it either.

    If I go in a restaurant, at a friend’s house to a party I will have whatever is there.

    I eat as healthy as I can without losing my mind over it. I’m a big believer in balance, no fanaticism if that make sense.

    So I guess I’m in the middle: No I don’t want to eat it and will avoid it whenever I can, but yeah I think over stressing about it is much more damageable than a bite of fresh sourdough white bread… mmmmm fresh out of the oven…

    Man that would be good just now!

    • ButterBeliever says:

      “I eat as healthy as I can without losing my mind over it. I’m a big believer in balance, no fanaticism if that make sense.”

      Amen to that!!

  6. Susan says:

    I’ve tried sifting flour to remove the bran but my sifter just didn’t take it out. Do you recommend a specific sifter?

    • ButterBeliever says:

      I have not yet gotten a grain mill to process my own flour, myself, so I can’t speak from experience what would be the best to use. Maybe a reader who has done this might have a recommendation?

  7. Jeanna says:

    I tend to agree with you. I think whole wheat is better and am trying to move more in that direction (grinding my own wheat and other grains). However, I don’t freak out if I eat white flour and there are certainly more delicate recipes which I couldn’t make with wheat flour. I’ve read that once the wheat kernel,is broken open, the nutrients immediately begin to oxidize and that within about 72 hours, 90 per cent of over 30 nutrients are virtually gone (which lead to increases in beriberi and pellagra) which is why they started to fortify white flour with vitamins.

    http://www.aboverubies.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23:health-our-daily-bread&catid=39&Itemid=63

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Yep, whole grain flours can go bad pretty quickly. It’s so much better to grind them yourself at home (lucky you!). Until I can do that, I’m buying sprouted whole grain products, and mostly using white or a a combo of white and sprouted flour in my baking.

  8. What a great, informative, well balanced post. I, too, don’t freak out over white flour at restaurants but try to choose good flours for my home. That is for posting!

  9. I eat white flour all the time. Like you said, if I’m in a restaurant and there’s bread or pizza or whatever.

    Or last week I made French Onion Soup. I used a white flour sourdough baguette.

    I do buy organic unbleached white flour to use at home. I use sprouted flour for most recipes but for some things I use 50/50 white flour/sprouted flour. Like pizza dough and pie crust.

    I prefer the flavor of a 50/50 mix — white flour is rather tasteless.

    I do notice that I get more gas when I eat white flour, but not if it’s real sourdough, so I do think that ideally white flour should be soaked.

  10. Tamara says:

    I think it is excellent- if you’re digesting well (if not, try GAPS!) AND it’s sourdough. Slow sourdough white bread is excellent- very easy to digest. I think egg yolks and bone marrow and liver are what I would feed my own children as their first foods, though. I’m the same way, though. I don’t stress if I’m not eating 100% what I know I should. Not at the moment, because I’m on GAPS, but in general, that’s what I do.

  11. David Salter says:

    Why not just eat pure sugar then? Processed white flour turns into sugar very quickly in the body, but it is not the glucose that is a problem, as you say, it is able to be used by every cell in the body, but fructose on the other hand, which is half of the sugar molecule, goes straight to the liver and causes many problems in large quantities. Better to avoid eating all forms bread, and anything else made from grains, and avoid a whole lot of problems.

  12. THANK YOU for this. I love to bake… it’s my therapy sometimes, and much cheaper than alcohol… and I cannot IMAGINE not having white flour for pie crust, cookies, cake… Seriously. It’s not like it’s MSG or a Happy Meal or one of those OTHER toxins you should avoid at all costs… Moderation, people.

  13. George Emmert says:

    I respectfully disagree. If the dog won’t eat it, if the bugs won’t eat and it makes my joints hurt and it has been the mainstain of the american diet for over 50 years and it shows in the nations poor health (mostly as an inflammatory agent). Why risk it?

  14. [...] Do you think white flour is ok to eat? [...]

  15. I have grown up grinding my own grains to make 7-grain bread :) and selling it , so yummy but i dont shake a stick at organic white flour either, beleive me if I didnt HAVE to be GLUTEN FREE ide still be enjoying it in balance hehehe :D But alas it is not to be so , this Professional Chef is in the corner licking her wounds and is jelous of those who can hahah :) no hahah :D enjoy all in a good balance! :D

  16. This is great!
    Thanks for the great article. I am totally sharing this. I love all the research that you have done. Totally sharing this on facebook:)

  17. [...] Is white flour really that bad? Butter Believer discusses  the pros and cons of the controversial ingredient real foodies love to hate. What are your thoughts? Do you think white flour is really that bad? [...]

  18. Sheena says:

    i love this. i love baking fresh bread, and i have to say, white, or mostly white (freshly baked) bread i make at home always tastes so much better than 100% whole wheat. i am trying to follow a more traditional way of eating, but sometimes, like you said, it can be stressful. and what’s worse than having a sandwich made with white bread? stress. as a person with a previous/and recovering disordered eating habits, i am slowly teaching myself how to really enjoy food, whether it be pizza made with a white flour crust, or a plate full of beautiful in season vegetables cooked in real butter and grassfed meats. i am trying to remove the word “diet” from my mindset, and yes, I checked out the Diet Recovery, and really enjoyed the book, although I still disliked the whole fact that it was a non-diet diet in the end. but plenty of great information nonetheless.

    anyhoo, just discovered your blog and am loving it. thanks!

  19. I am one of those die-hard, clean-eating fanatics. If it ain’t organic, I don’t eat it. I go hungry first. I’m hoping it’s a phase LOL. Seriously though, the one thing I will do sometimes is MAKE bread with organic bread flour. It has been milled to remove the outer layer. But my kids put up with so much from me, that I feel like I can give them white bread especially my own that is without chemicals. I actually have a gluten sensitivity and I react less to the white bread, so there is a health benefit for me…at least if I want to be pain free.

    Great article!

  20. kitblu says:

    You mention einkorn but not spelt. Do you have any information on spelt? I’ve read that spelt flour can be substituted for white flour in any recipe.
    How do you feel about white whole wheat flour? It is made from winter wheat, which is white. Brown whole wheat flour is made from summer wheat, which is red.
    In Canada we are lucky to have a chain store called Bulk Barn where pretty much any beans, nuts, grains and baking supplies can be found in bulk.

  21. Dona says:

    I agree with you on this one. I went completely off of grains and my hair went brittle, my fingernails quit growing, and I did not feel well. I have incorporated small amounts of white sourdough bread to my diet and my hair and nails are growing again and I feel much better. I had tried sprouting my wheat but did not like the flavor at all. I tried to make wheat sour dough with fresh ground wheat with not good success, and when I read more articles on the subject the topic of white flour being better for us than wheat because of that bran being taken away and it made sense to me. If we listen to our bodies, sometimes it tells us. Before I got off of grains, I was taking 60 grains of thyroid medication per day, now, on minimal grains i.e. a slice of white sour-dough toast in the mornings, I am only needing to take 7.5 grains of thyroid medication. That tells me that something in the grain was inhibiting my body’s assimilation of important nutrients as well as the medication. I lost 30# in the process.

  22. Einkorn flour is a winner in this household.

  23. April says:

    This is a wonderful and enlightening article! I have serious metabolic issues that I’m still figuring out with my doctor and I certainly notice that the gluten free grains and things like quinoa do not make me feel good and I could never figure out why! Now this seems to make a little more sense. Love this blog!

  24. Jeremy says:

    I couldn’t disagree more……. I have struggled with weight my whole life, even while being an excellent athlete! When I was in the service running 6 miles a day I still struggled. No matter what I did nothing seem to work the best I could do is be a in shape guy with a layer of outside fat :-) Recently I started the Paleo Diet(I like to call it a lifestyle) and have completsly changed my life. You stated all the shaky reasons why you can eat it and then read your cons!!!! They bring little to no nutritional value so why bother? You bring up people in ancient civilizations lived of flour but what you also didn’t mention was they probably burned 20, 000 CALORIES a day. But hey what do I know I’m a overweight guy who is just jow figuring this out…… but I’m down 23 lbs in two months and I’m rolling!!! I don’t eat bread nor do I miss it!

    Side not I just started the Advocare 24 day challenge and I highly recommend it!!!! It will help you stay on your diet!!! Blends perfect with Paleo!

  25. Lesa W says:

    I just read this post yesterday. Today I was at the grocery store- Dillons (Kroger) and found simple truth organic (a store brand) of unbleached all purpose flour. The ingredients list is simply organic wheat flour. It doesn’t say enriched anywhere on the package and unlike the other flours doesn’t list any vitamins as ingredients. I am hoping this means it is both unbleached and unenriched and is not just another symptom of hidden ingredients.

    I am ready to embrace the idea of all-purpose flour for things like pastry. I’ve lost my love of baking since moving to whole grain wheat and would like to get it back.

  26. Andrea says:

    I can’t relate with people who don’t have food sensitivities and don’t eat whatever they want (within reason). I can’t eat wheat, and especially white flour products don’t go down the chute well. If I could eat it, I would! Glucose intolerance doesn’t just affect blood sugar, there could be a bacterial imbalance in play as well. See SIBO.

  27. Janie says:

    I totally agree. In fact the whole wheat on the shelves might be more harmful in that the wheat today is a different plant then we knew decades ago..this is why SO many have allergies problems. And now with GMO products people better pray, and act that laws are passed to make labels!

  28. Audrey says:

    When I vacationed in France I couldn’t resist the food – all of the food, especially the pastries, even though I’m allergic to gluten. To my delight I didn’t have any problems. Why? Is their flour different from ours? Once I got home to Canada I absolutely had to stick with my gluten-free regimen.

  29. Bonnie says:

    THANK YOU! I don’t like all-or-none approaches to anything. I think moderation (and teaching it to our children) is very important. I’m not willing to give up my wheat bread, but I eat less of it than I used to. I grew up eating bread and butter as a snack. And I like blending whole grains with white flour. But I still think white bread and white rice taste better. Flavor is very important to me.

  30. Diane says:

    Thanks for your balance& willingness to talk about it. Yes, eating healthy food is important, but guess what! It won’t prevent dying! I think we get so obsessed with health we almost think we’re going to live forever on this Earth & that’s obviously not true. Plus our bodies are so magnificently crafted that they will take care of some of the less optimal things, especially if it’s only once in a while & not overwhelming to the system. Again, balance. So often in life the answer isn’t one one side of the fence or the other, but balancing right in the middle.

  31. LutheranChik says:

    My partner has an ileostomy, which makes eating most whole grains and other fibrous foods a real struggle for her. On the other hand, I have hypertension and other issues that lead my D.O. to advise me to eat lots and lots of fiber/avoid highly processed grains. We navigate this nutritional chasm with a lot of compromising and trial-and-error cooking. Thank you for making me feel better about the amount of white flour I use in my own baking; I used to be something of a wholegrain purist, but things change.;-)

  32. Renee says:

    Hi Emily, I just wanted to say thank you so much for this article. It’s great and needed to be said. I wanted to let you know that I linked to you and referred my readers to your article. My post is at this address: http://www.culinaryreformation.com/white-flour-read-this-article/

    Thanks again,
    Renee

  33. olya says:

    I think we give babies cooked/mashed food is because they don’t have teeth, no?

  34. Megan says:

    Thank you. I feel better about something that should not make me feel guilty and really does not have eternal value, and my husband would probably echo, “I told you it wasn’t so bad–don’t stress about it!”

  35. Jenny says:

    I couldn’t disagree more! I’m coeliac and allergic to soy and dairy and intolerant to rice etc. And am now well and symptom free on a diet based on vegies, meat, nuts, lots and a bit of fruit. I have a science backgound and have read extensively books and research papers on this subject. Wheat Belly by Dr William Davis is a praticularly helpful book on the subject. There are too many problems with wheat, it is not a healthful food. I am convinced it is a bad choice for everyone!

  36. Georgianne says:

    Thanks for this post. We’re pretty conscious here about what we eat — local, in season, from scratch, etc. and so on. Our kitchen looks like a science lab with all the fermented foods bubbling away. And, of course, bread. I love baking bread. My husband makes a to-die for sandwich bread. We use unbleached all purpose white with just a small percentage of whole wheat added in. My older daughter recently cut gluten out. I tried arguing with her but decided to drop it. My husband told her it was just the diet du jour and there was no reason for her to stop eating it. She won’t listen. My younger daughter JUST sent me an e-mail (from upstairs in her bedroom, no less) asking me if she should cut out anything made with white flour because her older sister told her all white flour products were basically just sugar in disguise, and how terribly bad it was. I looked high and low for something that wasn’t so extremist to read to her. I was actually kind of shocked how much anti-white flour sentiment is on the internet. Personally I love bread. And pasta. I’m not heavy (although I want to lose 5 lbs. anyhow) I’m 5′ 4.5″ and 135 lbs. I’m also 56. I haven’t seen a doctor in eons. I don’t have a single ache or pain or illness that I know of. I love butter, too. So I called my daughter downstairs and read her this post. My grandmother ate bread and butter like it was going out of style, along with a little port wine every day, and lived to be 95 without a single health issue. She walked. Everywhere. Miles at a time right up until the end. I think lack of exercise, along with an awful food system in the U.S., is what’s contributed to all the allergies and other problems with food these days. I don’t see white flour as a culprit. I don’t think any country has CAFOs like we do here, or big agribusinesses that use tons of pesticides and dominate the food supply. It’s no wonder we have so many allergies to food. And people want to diet instead of exercise. You don’t need a gym membership, you just need to move. We’re a sedentary culture. You definitely need balance. You need to eat well, but you also need to keep your body in shape. If you were in any kind of decent physical shape, a slice of bread or a bowl of pasta isn’t going to do you in. In any case, my daughter listened to me read this and, in a relieved voice, said good because she likes our homemade white bread. Again, thanks for this post.

  37. Aveya says:

    On the matter of glucose you say it’d necessary for our body, but that’s not true. In the absence of glucose the body will create Ketone’s from fat which just as efficiently (& more stably) fuels our brain. There are studies out there showing it could possibly reverse Alzheimers, diabetes, and already is proven to help prevent epileptic seizures by balancing blood sugar.

    I find it interesting that if someone can’t process white flour, you’re telling them they’re sick and something is wrong with them. That it can’t possibly be the essentially pure sugar they’re unnaturally gulping down. :/ Some people may be able to handle it genetically (for now) better than others, but just because you can doesn’t mean everyone else is broken.

    • I agree with you. I have been testing my blood sugar and it is high when I eat grains. I can eat anything else without a spike in my blood sugar. How many people regularly test their blood sugar unless a problem has shown up? So, how many of us really know how white flour and white rice affect our blood sugar? My husband ate white flour products his whole life and now can’t tolerate them. Sure, it could be a digestion issue but isn’t it fair to say that years of white flour caused the digestion issues?

      Also, I’ve been reading that grains affect tooth decay. I don’t see the harm in occasionally eating them if there are no issues. But, I am not sure I agree that it’s okay to eat white flours, rice, sugars without consciously thinking about the long term affects they might cause.

  38. [...] if you decide to use a little white flour here and there. (I often bake with white flour myself—here’s why.) Some things like pastries and sandwich bread just won’t get the right consistency without [...]

  39. M Young says:

    I love this post for its simplicity and applicability. I also enjoyed reading the comments about it. I cook whole foods, soaked grains, sourdough, enzyme rich homemade fermented foods, etc. I have tried several diet changes to FAST for better gut health in my family with great results! I have found that STRESS is the biggest PROBLEM we face in our health quest and I believe that eating well most of the time and CHALLENGING you body at least once a week can be the best nutrition we can find. Don’t stress when you are not the one making it and eat it to inoculate yourself against severe reaction in the future!

  40. [...] benefits to some refined foods, like white flour. Shock, horror, I know! To find out why, check out this great post from Emily Benfit from Butter Believer. Actually if you’re interested in the whole [...]

  41. Even just a little bit of food made with white flour sends my blood sugar sky high this pregnancy. Hopefully it goes away once I have the baby because I would really miss it! :)

  42. Sara says:

    I simply LOVE your posts. Gotta get off my current blogging bandwagon and start posting/blogging about this business – important business :)
    Thanks again!!

  43. Sara says:

    I simply LOVE your posts. Gotta get off my current blogging bandwagon and start posting/blogging about this business – important business
    Thanks again!!

  44. Sarah says:

    Awesome post! I admit that the last time I made bread I sifted out all the larger particles and it made the most yummy bread!!
    I am actually in the process of making cream puffs for my dad’s bday and I did’t feel like ruining the pastry with whole wheat flour. I went to the health food store and bought some bulk flour…it was labeled as “unbleached organic wheat flour”…does anybody think this is a good alternative? It didn’t say “unenriched”…

  45. James Hardiman says:

    It’s not that it has a high glycemic index (whole grain has higher). It’s not that it’s processed and refined or has added “vitamins”.

    It is that wheat has a strange genetic process. If two humans get together and have a child the offspring will have the same number of chromosomes as the parent. Wheat isn’t like that. Hybridise a strain of wheat that has 10 chromosomes with one that has 15 and you’ll wind up with an offspring that has 25. Over the last 50-60 years wheat has been incredibly heavily hybridised, producing all sorts of new genetic material never seen before, and not assessed for safety.

    The white flour you are so proud to use today is nothing like the white flour that your grandmother used: it contains genetic material never seen before. Plot the rise of incidence of celiac disease, IBS and many other digestive problems against introduction of hybridised wheat: there’s quite a correlation. I know that correlation isn’t causation, but we have no other explanation.

    It won’t do to say that humankind has been eating white four for 10,000 years … that may be true, but it wasn’t the white flour that is available today. This stuff has only been available for 50 years or less.

    You are conducting a science experiment with your children by feeding them franken-wheat, just as much — maybe even more so — than if you were feeding them Monsanto GMO corn.

    So, is white flour really all that bad? Yes! Not by virtue (?!) of it being white, but because it has been genetically modified by extensive hybridisation.

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Actually, the flour I mostly use is einkorn, which is an heirloom variety unaffected by modern hybridization. And no, wheat isn’t GMO at all.

      But thanks for yet another attempt at wagging the “wheat belly” finger at me.

      • Patti says:

        But you don’t make that distinction in the article so it is very misleading. You make it sound like anyone who has a problem with white flour must have a separate problem they need to deal with. My mood swings (including depression and anxiety) completely disappeared when I gave up gluten, along with several other nagging health problems like join pain, insomnia, and 30 pounds. It may be okay for some people to eat, but it’s not okay for everyone. I have considered trying Einkorn because it is so low in gluten. But that is not the same thing as white flour you buy at the grocery store.

        • ButterBeliever says:

          Did I say it was okay for everyone?

          Less than one percent of the population has a medical reason to avoid gluten.

  46. Inger Grape says:

    If I eat whole grains, including even oats, even in small amounts, I am constipated the next morning and the colon gets so inflamed that if I continue, by day 2 I will be bleeding from my butt. Tree nuts have that effect on me too. If I avoid those 2 categories, my digestive system is pretty much problem-free.

    White bread in small to moderate amounts, no problem. I make sure to have some protein with that bread, and butter or mayo, all of which slow down blood-sugar spike. I took me a while to figure out these 2 allergens to my system–for many years I blamed dairy, which I am OK with in small to moderate amounts. I sure wonder how common this might be, that whole grains might wreak havoc on one’s digestive system?

  47. Ewelina says:

    What about oats, which type is the easiest to digest- quick, old-fashioned or steel-cut?

  48. Jerica says:

    I’m totally with you on this line of thinking. I specifically seek out unbleached, unenriched, organic flour (which is HARD to find!) and really rarely use whole wheat flour because my husband is digestion-compromised (ulcerative colitis), and because honestly, I don’t like the taste of whole wheat very much. But we are careful not to eat too much of the white starch stuff, and rely more on white potatoes, which are still very easy to digest, but rich in minerals, unlike white flour and white rice. We are careful to include lots of bone broth, animal fat, raw milk, and fermented foods in our diets to counter the lack of minerals in the white flour, which we don’t even eat daily. It’s a relief because we love pies and fried (in lard) foods and homemade tortillas, etc, and I don’t have to go crazy finding bread-like foods that really don’t satisfy and are expensive and difficult to make. But I encourage others to take this with a *grain* (hehe) of salt: if you rely heavily on white flour and do nothing to boost mineral intake, you will develop mineral imbalances/deficiencies. You can’t go crazy with it, like with anything.

  49. [...] a problem with eating moderate amounts of refined grains (such as white rice and even—gasp!—white flour), but I think balancing grains between whole and refined is a good [...]

  50. [...] I like this article that helps to provide some good perspective to the white flour conversation: http://butterbeliever.com/is-white-flour-really-that-bad/  We don’t personally eat it, but if I was making something for a special occasion, [...]

  51. Kristin says:

    Love this post! Very well written! I agree with you 100%

  52. Dan says:

    Butter Believer, I must disagree with your article. As someone who treats many many patients with food allergies that include grains, I have found in clinical practice that white flour is very toxic to many people for many different reasons. But I personally think the biggest reason is the one explained in Nourishing Traditions: the anti-nutrients that exist in grains must be properly prepared through soaking and sprouting to eliminate them, otherwise they cause harm to the body. They most commonly damage the endocrine glands and block mineral absorption. Thankfully wheat is not GM yet, but every patient I have worked with who has issues with wheat and has switched away from white flour and exclusively used sprouted whole wheat flour has done very well with the addition of some basic remedies. These are my own observations.

  53. Great post, love it! I’d buy your ebooks in a minute if I could afford them! This explains why my baby’s eczema is fine with white bread, but not wholemeal! Thank you. I look forward to reading more! Oh, and I’m a ‘butter believer’ too, far better than the plastic spread they sell!

  54. Trixie says:

    Thank you very much for this article. I am just beginning my journey into real food and have MUCH to learn. I have a large quantity of while flour in my freezer that I purchased prior to my discovery of the shenanigans and goings on in the food industry. I have asked multiple bloggers about this very topic both on their blog posts and on their facebook pages and not a single one of them has deigned to answer my question. I guess they just felt that I was too stupid to deserve an answer. This has caused me much angst as I really want to learn what I can but the cost of the REAL food, inhibits my budget to be able to afford to purchase the books and other resources at this time. So, again, THANK YOU for helping the little guys here who are just trying to learn what to do and how to do it.

  55. Pizza Bread says:

    […] (Now I’m not saying some better baker than I can’t real-foodify this recipe, I’m just sayin’ I ain’t got time for all that. So I make it with white flour. I always select organic, unbleached, and non-enriched white flour though. You can read more about why that’s important here.) […]

  56. Colleen says:

    What about the gluten? Isn’t gluten partly the reason why white flour is not so good for us?

  57. Jennifer says:

    Whole wheat & especially “healthy” high fiber foods tear me up. I tell my friends (most of which have very healthy diets) & they look at me like I’m crazy. The more healthy I eat, the less likely I’ll be going to the bathroom. I feel kind of alone. This article helps, but I’m dying to learn more.

  58. […] 1 1/4 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour [Emily's note: Ain't nothin' wrong with baking with white flour! Read my opinion on that here.] […]

  59. tessa says:

    I love the tone of this article – eat healthy, lighten up, live long and prosper! People get their knickers in a twist over every little thing and it’s exhausting, so thank you. We shared this article with our FB readers at homesteadlady.com.

  60. Sofia says:

    In moderation, these products are fine for many people (not all) but let’s face it, most people aren’t good at moderation.

    “I don’t think anyone should feel bad about anything they eat, actually. You should never feel guilt for eating food.” Although I admire your rebellion, try telling that to my clients who suffer from DM, heart disease and HTN. Diet is a major contributor of these conditions. White flour is high in starch and empty calories and has a high glycemic index, which overworks the pancreas and destroys blood vessels over time. Food matters!

    • Carol says:

      Thank you, I was going to reply in similar fashion, but you said it better than I could. Since when do we need to go back to asking “is this really THAT BAD?”

  61. Kristin2 says:

    So buying wheat flour in bulk is a no-go? Crap. This is what I’ve done for years. I don’t do as much baking as I’d like, so one bulk purchase usually lasts me a year. I thought flour was one of those things that didn’t really go bad–or it took years to do so. After reading this article, I’ll have to change my ways–but can I use what I have left? It’s kept in plastic bags and/or bins at the bottom of my pantry.

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Oh, I wouldn’t stress over it. Just maybe reconsider how you want to get your flour in the future. If you have freezer space, I know of people who store flours that way long-term. I just find it easier to use white flour!

  62. Kari says:

    King Arthur organic flour is unenriched.

  63. Tabetha says:

    I actually never fed my infants (three of them) processed foods. In a way I processed them – chewing them. We fed them whole foods, many raw, and I chewed them myself, and that’s as much processing as they got besides some of the things that might have gotten cooked like sweet potatoes. Our son who we were more lenient with when starting solids is now sensitive to gluten and doesn’t eat it. Pediatricians are no longer recommending grains as first foods but whole fruits and veggies. Sorry, but that was needing to be corrected about your post. Babies’ natural gut bacteria will die if it is not nurtured and that’s why some babies suffer from various diseases early on.

  64. tracie says:

    I did not have a good feeling after reading your article. I am sorry that I cant jump in and agree with what you said. Before you give people the go ahead to eat that WHITE BREAD, maybe you need to do a better job at research. Again, I dont mean to be ugly, but giving a large group of supporters the go ahead release the quilt for not always wanting to do things the right way is just wrong. This was a very disappointing article. Very sad. For everyone else…..DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH and don’t always believe what you read. Google is a great way to start.

  65. […] know white flour gets a bad rap, but really, white bread is not something to be feared. However, the chemical processing to whiten flour and the extreme amounts of pesticides used on […]

  66. SyriusB says:

    Thanks for the great article! It’s so good to read some sense on the internet instead of bandwagon jumpers’ opinions.
    People believed the ‘saturated fats are bad for you’ lie until they actually started listening to their bodies and realized the truth. The same will be found to be true with white flour and rice.
    Once I switched from whole to white wheat flour and rice, my digestive issues disappeared – simple as that.

  67. Breaza says:

    I agree that we should not get over stressed about nutrition, but it is not necessarily true that “what you do not know what you are eating will not hurt you”. We are not eating the same wheat from centuries ago, and it started to change when the milling process changed back in the late 1800′s. The steel roller mill allowed to separate the finest particles of the wheat, and stripped out if its own nutrients. Then later it was genetically modified and grown in synthetic soils to enable mass production and withstand drought. It is unbelievable that is this information is barely coming out, and it is a shame that people who are gluten intolerant are the victims of this so called “wheat”. But I guess we do not need to worry, because our human survival does not need complex carbohydrates.

  68. Gunner says:

    I have a trick when baking with White Flour…I ADD NUTRITION TO IT like for example adding some Flax Seed Meal to the Flour, I usually replace 1/4 cup of Flour with Flax Seed Meal! Basically just adding a more tolerable and tasteful Fiber back into the Flour but also adding Omega-3 and Lignans.

    • ButterBeliever says:

      Haha! I like that idea. I’m not huge on flax seed myself, but that’s a great point that white flour is basically a blank slate, and you could add whatever you want to it!

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