A reader asks the following question:
“What’s really the problem with refined grains?”
Please join this discussion and post your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s the answer . . .
Refined Grains & Processing
There’s a couple of problems with refined grains. First, they are highly processed. This processing removes most of the nutritional value, including fiber. When refined grains first became popular, nutrient deficiencies (iron and B vitamins most notably) also became rampant. To counter this deficiency in refined grains synthetic vitamins were added back into refined flours and named “enriched grains”.
The processing to make refined grains is milling which strips out both the bran and germ. This gives the refined grain a finer texture and extends the shelf life. Unfortunately the bran and germ are the primary sites for nutrient storage in the grain, leaving a product that is not part of a healthy diet.
After processing, refined grain flours are usually defined in terms of percent extraction. For example, wheat flour is usually a 60% extraction. What that means is that only 60% of the original whole grain remains in the flour, and the other 40% has been removed.
Refined Grains & Blood Sugar
The next problem with refined grains is that the processing leaves a refined grain that is a simple carbohydrate which can affect blood sugar levels. Without the fiber, fat, and other items naturally found in the bran and germs the refined grains are likely to make blood sugar levels spike. Whole, intact grains include these “barriers” to digestion which slows absorption, forcing the body to work harder and longer to convert food to blood sugar. Additionally, the germ contains a compound which blocks the action of amylase, the enzyme which breaks down starch; again, slowing absorption. Refined grains end up passing into the body system much easier and quicker than unrefined grains.
Refined Grains & Overabundance
The last problem with refined grains is that most people eat far too much of refined grains. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Grain Consumption Landscape report:
“Americans eat too much refined grain and not enough whole grain.
During 1994-96 and 1998, Americans consumed 6.7 ounces of total
grains per day, or 106 percent of the recommendation. However, they
overconsumed refined grains, averaging 77 percent more than the recommended
daily amount, while eating 34 percent of the amount of whole
grains recommended in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.”