Friday, July 19, 2013

Can wheat flour cause diabetes?

The elastic and sticky properties of wheat and maida (refined white flour) make them a mainstay in making breads, cookies, cakes and countless other products. Wheat and its derivatives have these properties because of a protein called gluten. When wheat is freshly milled, the gluten is weak, and it poorly binds making a slack dough and a dense loaf. Bakers have known for a long time that, if they let the flour age for a few weeks in air, gluten regains its properties and the flour improves. This air-aging of flour has a visible side effect- Yellowish flour becomes paler as the xanthophyll pigments are oxidised and the flour becomes whiter. However, this process takes many months. Hence to make the flour look clean and white, quickly, the flour is bleached!! Yes, hard to believe, just like your white clothes, the flour too is bleached. We are all aware that refining wheat destroys nutrients. With the most nutritious part of the grain removed, white flour essentially becomes a form of sugar (starch). This is then treated with chemicals to make a bad thing worse.
The three most common additives used as bleaching agents are
Potassium bromate
Benzoyl peroxide
Chlorine gas (Also used in chemical warfare during the world war's)
The most commonly used bleaching agent is Chlorine. Chlorine also speeds up the maturing process I mentioned above, hence the flour manufacturers can quickly sell their product after milling. The chlorine gas undergoes an oxidizing chemical reaction with some of the proteins in the flour, producing alloxan as an unintended byproduct.
So what is so bad about alloxan? Alloxan, is a product of the decomposition of uric acid. It is a chemical that is used to produce diabetes in healthy experimental animals (rats and mice), so that researchers can then study diabetes "treatments" in the lab. Alloxan causes diabetes because it causes a large amount of free radicals to form in pancreatic beta cells, thus destroying them. Beta cells are the primary cell type in your pancreas and they produce insulin; so if those are destroyed, you get diabetes.
There is no other commercial application for alloxan, other than to produce diabetes in rats. Another interesting fact to note is that the xanthophyll oxidation I mentioned above, also forms alloxan- although the amount is very small compared to the one produced by chlorine. Scientist's believe that about 5 to 15 grams of protein in 100 gram of wheat may be contaminated by alloxan, although no large scale studies have been done to know its effect on humans. Many people change their diet to wheat and its products once they are diagnosed with diabetes. It may just happen, that this diet may actually make things worse than good. People having gluten intolerance, live on a diet free from wheat. Likewise, unless your wheat flour clearly states that it has not been bleached, it is best to avoid refined flour and maida; better safe than sorry.


  1. Aarina11:05 am

    Was really an eye opener! Never even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that maida was bleached, I thought, it got that colour as a consequence of refining! Did I consider what kind of refining does it ever undergo?!?!? Anyway, since I am gluten intolerant, I am safely away from wheat and its products! Before I learn something worse about rice than what I already know, love, let's begin growing our own paddy!

  2. Thanks for this info--very important.