Flour can be bad for you, but it boils down to the type.
There are numerous types of flour. All-purpose. whole grain, bread flour, self-rising flour, and cake flour to name but a few. All these flours are made from wheat and the type of wheat used gives flour different qualities, purposes, and nutritional value. For the purpose of this article, we are going to look at the two general categories of flour: white flour and whole grain flour; before we do though let's consider the flour making process.
Traditional flour is made from wheat that has been ground down into a fine powder. Wheat heads (the part that is ground) are made up of three components:
Endosperm - The part responsible for the protein and starch in flour.
Germ - The vitamin rich element of the head, which also contains fat and some protein.
Bran - The component responsible for providing fiber in flour.
As its name suggests, whole grain flour contains all three components, meaning you get all the nutritional goodness in the flour. White flour, however, is only made up of endosperm - the bran and germ being stripped away beforehand. Whilst there is minimal health risk from the flour itself, the lack of nutritional value in white flour could mean that you are not consuming your recommended quantities of nutrients each day. This has the potential to put you at a higher risk of developing preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes. The lack of fiber in white flour means that you stand the risk of becoming constipated or developing excess abdominal fat.
So why is white flour so common if it's not providing us with any real dietary benefits? It comes down to commercial manufacturing and the fact that white flour is more 'shelf stable' than its whole wheat counterpart, allowing it to be stored for far longer. It's worth noting white flour is heavily processed and manufacturers use bleaching agents to make the flour softer and whiter. Any form of food processing is going to degrade the nutritional value of a substance. So where possible, try to make whole grain your flour of choice.
There are risks attached to flours of all types that you should be aware of. Earlier this year (2016), the FDA released a warning about the dangers of eating raw flour due to bacterial infection. Infected flour is a rare occurrence, however, wheat is rarely treated to kill bacteria. So, if the wheat is exposed to animal excrement or urine during growth, then there is a risk of infection. When cooked this problem is eliminated but there are times when you might encounter flour in its raw state. When eating cookie dough, for example, or when giving a child home-made play dough. The FDA warns against both of these practices as they raise the risk of gastroenteritis and E. coli.
An additional risk of flour is that many people are allergically to gluten. If you suffer from celiac disease, gluten can have serious effects on your intestines. Fortunately, there are gluten-free alternatives available - especially since gluten-free eating has become a popular lifestyle choice among many people these days.
To sum it up:
It's not so much what flour contains, but what certain flour lacks that could be bad for you. Denying your body the right amount of nutrients could result in developing other health issues much later on in life. Additionally, because flour is present in so many of our foods, we risk getting into the habit of neglecting other nutrient-rich foods. Try to vary your diet as often as possible to ensure that you are getting nutrients from a wide range of sources.
Possible short-term side effects
- abdominal cramps
- allergic reactions
- illness from bacteria
Possible long-term side effects
- type 2 diabetes
- high cholesterol
- weight gain, obesity
Ingredients to be aware of
- benzoyl peroxide (and other bleaching agents)
- whole grain flour is a good source of: