Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wheat Cheats

The news is out on papers today- the bread we eat contains cancer containing additives says a study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Not just that, they include one additive that can cause thyroid disorders too. So why will any one add such chemicals in our bread? How do they benefit? I had highlighted this issue in one of my blog post three years ago- it went unnoticed. Now that the issue is in news- I felt it's time to reiterate this fact.

Wheat is not the healthiest of the grains available. Despite all the millions spent touting wheat to be a wholesome grain, nutritionally it is just a mediocre grain. Finger millet (Ragi), Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl millet (Bajra ) etc are much more nutrient dense than wheat.

Wheat however has a protein that makes it a delight for bakers and makers of food to use it- that protein is called 'gluten'. Gluten, is a protein that can link up with neighboring gluten making a long chain of gluten proteins . Because of this property, wheat has a stringy texture and one can make lovely shapes out of it. You can make stringy noodles, crispy thin crackers, spongy breads, soft cakes, the list is endless. Hence when you visit a supermarket- more than 85% of the food products have wheat in some or the other form. All thanks to gluten.

Like I mentioned earlier, the gluten proteins need to link with each other. To make a link like this gluten requires oxygen. Traditionally, after wheat was milled, it was aged in air for a few weeks. As the flour aged in contact with the air, its gluten and baking properties improved. Then came the time of fast paced production and cut throat competition. Bakers and manufactures where looking for methods to fasten production of their products and soon they got their answers.

Ageing wheat required space and time- both a premium in today's world. So to save time and money, millers began artificially oxidizing (adding oxygen) their flour. Oxidisers like Chlorine gas, pottasium bromate and others. It not only improved that binding of wheat but also saved a lot of time and ultimately money for the bakers.

These additives are given very neutral sounding names in the list of ingredients. They may be called dough improves, dough conditioners and so on. But the harm they do to your organs are conveniently brushed off.

Not just to improve binding, but also to make wheat look white- wheat is bleached with chlorine. This process has a side-effect of producing a chemical called Alloxan (No one checks for it- but you can be assured your flour has it). Alloxan selectively destroys the insulin producing cells (beta-cells) in the pancreas- which causes diabetes. Studies so far have observed this in rodents and many other animal species. Although I could not find any study done on humans- there is a very good possibility that one day news may break out that wheat can actually cause diabetes.

Meanwhile , India allows wheat makers to use potassium bromate and pottasium iodate in the making of wheat. There is absolutely no need for it, other than for the profitability of bakers.

Not just breads- rest assured these residues will be present in noodles, biscuits, cakes and all other wheat products. Finally the choice of consumption is in our hands- in a country like India where we boast of a plethora of grains, do we continue remaining blind to the hazards of today's wheat production or do we choose to care for ourselves, our children, our loved ones and switch to the alternate grains available to us. Our choice will determine the future of not only our health, but of our children too. A choice that is in our hands. 

1 comment:

  1. I am really glad i got to read this post. Need to find out more on Alloxan. i have been having repeated debates with my physician that wheat (chapatti) is not advisable for diabetics.....
    thank you!