I was reading a Huffington Post article this week about America’s Worst Foods. The usual suspects were present: greasy fast foods, saturated fats, all of those “ose” sweeteners (sucrose, frustose, dextrose..), but I was surprised to see “all-purpose white flour” on the list. Sure, I never recognized our pal, white flour, as necessarily good for me, more the neutral deliverance for the gluten-friendly baker.
I’ve done some further research since and discovered there are several reasons white flour can adversely affect your health. The main being that it is stripped of the nutrient-rich parts of the grain and processed in a way which makes it instantly absorbed when it reaches the intestine. Unlike whole grains (which take a much longer time to be digested, absorbed, and broken down into energy), white flour immediately raises your blood sugar levels, much in the same way sugar does. That means that after you eat it, your body has two choices: either burn it off immediately, or store it as fat. Unless you are eating that cupcake during sit-ups, your body is storing it as fat. It seems white flour and sugar are very similar in the ways they effect our energy, bodies and health and both can be major contributors to weight gain.
One article I read through my developing curiosities actually claimed ingesting white flour creates a terrible sticky gluey paste coating on your intestines (like the gunk used for paper mache projects). I don’t believe this is necessary true but the reality is white flour is bleached, robing it of it’s natural enzymes and vitamins and causing your body to pull from its own resources to digest it. Not good.
Why not just substitute white flour with whole wheat flour, you ask? Unlike white flour, whole-wheat flour contains wheat bran, which baking pro Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Bible, says acts like little knives in your dough. “The bran cuts through the gluten and detracts from the airy texture of the cake or the flaky texture of the pastry, making it dense and pasty and generally undesirable.” Whole-wheat flour will also alter the flavor of your baked goods, leaving them slightly bitter. “I want my cakes to be soft and light and buttery in flavor, not dense and wheaty,” says Beranbaum. “I want my pie crust to be flaky and tender, not cardboardy.”
I propose we don’t reject white flour, and all it does for the baked good, entirely. Instead we find a compromise, as we cut back our use of refined sugars for more natural alternatives like honey and maple syrup, we start doing the same with white flour. Instead of 2 cups of white flour, we substitute for a cup of the whole wheat flour. And, hey, can’t hurt to toss in some ground flax seed and nuts now and then, either.
I’ve put this theory to the test with a healthier version of the classic banana bread. The whole wheat flour has made it a bit drier than my usual recipe but all is forgiven and adored with a light brushing of organic butter or drizzle of local honey. With that nasty paper mache visual still on my mind, I feel great about eating a slice and feeding the family this version. Enjoy! xo
Healthier Banana Bread (featuring maple syrup, flax & whole wheat flour)
Inspired by Chatelaine’s Good Health Magazine June 2007
Makes 1 loaf, approximately 16 slices
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 cup flaxseed, ground or toasted and crushed
- 1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
- 2 farm-fresh eggs
- 3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup organic maple syrup
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or 1/4 cup apple sauce
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly butter a 9×5-inch (1.5-L) loaf pan or coat with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flours with baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and ginger until blended. Stir in ground flax seed or if using whole flax seeds, toast in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking often, from 3 to 4 minutes. Crush, then stir into flour mixture with nuts. Make a well in the centre.
In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs, then stir in mashed bananas, maple syrup, oil and vanilla until blended. Pour into well in flour mixture. Stir just until evenly mixed. Immediately pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in centre of 350F (180C) oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre right to the bottom comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes in pan on a rack. Then turn out on rack to cool. Loaf will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days or can be frozen.
Next week’s goal: experimenting with white whole wheat flours.Add to favorites