Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard talk about the negative influence of carbohydrates in your diet. The idea isn’t new, but it was certainly popularized by the Atkins Diet. Many derivatives have sprung up in recent years, based on the idea that we consume far too many “carbs” in the typical Western diet. While there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that we consume far too many heavily refined grain products these days, its an undeniable fact that grain products have been an integral part of human development over the course of the last few thousand years. Humans have been consuming wheat, rice, barley, rye, oats, and other grain products since before the dawn of modern civilization. So, why is it that now, these foodstuffs are inherently evil?
The Rise Of White Wheat Bread
Early humans consumed a variety of grain products. That has changed drastically in the last few hundred years, as wheat has become the favored grain crop among Western societies. More specifically, red (durham) wheat gained prominence, primarily by simple luck of the draw, as settlers moving to North America from Europe happened to favor red wheat. The now lesser known albino wheat was left behind. When settlers reached what is now known as “the bread basket” of the U.S., the crop flourished and gained prominence as the grain product of choice. Hence the term “…amber waves of grain…”
The components of red wheat responsible for the amber color are chemicals known as tannins. Tannins impart a slightly bitter flavor to bread products, which many people find mildly offensive. Particularly kids. So, bread makers found a way to remove the flavor by processing. Then followed the desire for “smoother” products, hence additional processing to separate the bran, which is the primary source of nutrition, and the ever-so-important fiber that’s missing from many of our diets.
Now, albino wheat is making a comeback. A walk down the bread aisle in many stores shows whole grain wheat white breads from many manufacturers. So-called white wheat bread. In order to use this label, the FDA requires at least 51% of the flour to be whole wheat. I had always believed it was processed red wheat. Turns out manufacturers are using albino wheat as the source. The use of this crop is on the rise, and now you can even buy Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour, a white wheat bread flour to be used in baking at home. This produces bread products that tastes more like the white bread to which we’re all so accustomed these days, with the added benefit of including the bran and endosperm. This means nutrition and fiber, a carbohydrate which most Americans are sorely lacking.
In our house, we have gone completely away from traditional white bread, and while we consume less bread than in the past, it is a part of our diets. After all, who doesn’t like a PB&J sometimes? My wife and I actually like the flavor of many typical whole grain red wheat breads. Our kids, however, are much less interested in eating this, and so we also stock whitewheat bread in our house. They can’t tell the difference between that and traditional white bread, and we get the benefit of knowing there is some fiber in what they’re eating.
Have you given up completely on breads? Some people can manage it, but quite frankly, I don’t see it as viable for most people, nor do I think everyone should completely eliminate grain products. Fiber is far too important for human health to completely eliminate it from our diets, and its exceedingly difficult to consume enough fiber without including grains in your diet.