I mentioned yesterday that until a reader pointed her virtual finger at the word “BLEACHED” on the big bag of flour I was buying from Costco, I had no clue we were eating bleached flour. Yes, sometimes I am THAT oblivious…
I also had no clue it was dangerous. Or if it really was? With so many other things going in life, both in AND out of the kitchen, looking up the dangers of bleached flour wasn’t high on my priority list.
I blindly trusted this dear reader, because I know you guys won’t steer me wrong. I made it a goal to finish the flour we had in the house and from then on, buy unbleached flour. This also bought me some time to give serious thought to the bleached vs. unbleached flour issue, beyond those few moments of quiet thinking time in the shower.
Eight months later and I finally know what the difference is. And I’m glad we switched. Because I also know the answer to this question…
Is Eating Bleached Flour Dangerous?
The short answer, I think so. Yesterday’s post contained a whole schlew of chemicals that could be used in the bleaching process (although color is only part of the issue). Here’s the damage that they can do.
Potassium Bromate – Classified as a complete carcinogen, causing tumors to form and grow in the kidneys, thyroid and mesothelium of all mice when tested at various level of drinking water. Lesions were found when the potassium bromate levels were as low as 1.5mg per day. (source) Potassium bromate is nephrotoxic in humans, meaning it has a poisonous effect on the kidneys when it’s taken orally. (source) It’s banned from being used in food in the European Union, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, Peru, Sri Lanka and China. In the U.S., bromate was approved to be used before 1958, when law was created to ban potentially carcinogenic substances, so the FDA now urges bakers to voluntarily stop using it. (source)
Benzoyl Peroxide – During processing, benzoyl peroxide is almost always converted to benzoic acid, which in most cases isn’t harmful. However, it could be unpleasant for those who have a digestive system that isn’t in good working order. When the stomach is more base than acidic (leaning towards black coffee instead of lemon juice), absorption of benzoic acid decreased the natural breakdown and fermentation of glucose (the sugars that our bodies need to function properly) is decreased by 95%. (source) Researchers have also speculated that benzoyl peroxide may interfere with how the body converts linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) acids. How the addition of this chemical effects other essential nutrients found in flour, i.e. vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin,etc. is still not known. (source)
Azodicarbonamide – Scientists in the U.K. believe that azodicarbonamide is a possible cause of asthma and have banned its use. It’s also banned in the European Union and Australia, and Singapore has penalties of 15 years in prison and a $450,000 fine for using it. The U.S. hasn’t banned its use because the FDA doesn’t believe anyone is currently using it… although many fast food chains use it in their breads. (source)
Calcium Peroxide – I wasn’t able to find much on calcium peroxide, but it is listed on an Australian food additives guide with the following next to it: synthetic, bread enhancer, bleaching agent for flour, asthmatics and people with a history of allergies BEWARE. Yes, “beware” is in all capitals on the list. Maybe that’s why it’s banned in the European Union, Australia and New Zealand? It’s on Whole Foods’s “unacceptable ingredient” list (bromated flour is listed too), and it’s listed as an ingredient in the world’s oldest hamburger. Even without additional research, that seals the deal for me!
Chlorine Dioxide – This chemical completely destroys any vitamin E that remained after the milling process and slowed growth rates over multiple generations. (source) The FDA lists chlorine dioxide as a toxic substance, although it must be proven that it is harmful before it can officially be banned.
Related side note: white flour used to be treated with nitrogen trichloride, also known as agene, until the late 1940s when scientists proved that the chemical caused fits similar to epilepsy in dogs. That’s when the FDA finally banned it from its use in flour. (source, and a really entertaining read when you have a few moments)
What causes the most alarm with chlorine dioxide is how it reacts with flour. When the chemical responds to the proteins in flour, the contaminant alloxan is created as a by-product. Alloxan damages the cells of the pancreas, causing the body to stop producing insulin. When the body doesn’t produce insulin as it requires, type 2 diabetes is the result. (source)
The harm that these chemicals have the potential of causing is pretty scary in my opinion. Considering it’s really easy to make your own flour, and make your own bread, makes all of these chemicals seem pointless… other than to make the flour business more profitable.
Do Something: Review the past few “do somethings” and do another one, still heading in the direction of “better, more nourishing” food. Buy unenriched, unbleached, unbromated flour instead of the standard bleached white. Buy wheat flour over white flour. Even better, start making your own whole wheat bread.