Sunday, August 26, 2007

On reinventing the wheel:

The USDA now recommends that people eat whole grains. The same government mandates that refined white flour (and white rice, corn grits, cereal and pasta) be enriched with synthetic B vitamins, folic acid and iron. But why reinvent the wheel? Mother Nature, or God or whoever you credit for this sort of thing, has provided an abundance of foods that meet our needs perfectly. We humans feel it necessary to improve upon perfection. We’ve improved the nutrition right out of flour. And as if that weren’t enough we've improved it even more by adding a “healthy” dose of poison (and some poison for our environment too).

If we did eat whole grains we wouldn’t need “enrichment.” Whole wheat flour, other grains (particularly sprouted ones), legumes and brown rice are loaded with the same B vitamins processors put back in. Well not quite the same. Actually, twenty or more nutrients, including the Bs (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin), "pyridoxine, folate, pantothenate, biotin, vitamin E, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, chromium, fluorine, molybdenum, and selenium, are lost to the extent of 50 to 90% in the milling process."* Those are the lost nutrients we know about.

One hundred years ago we didn’t know that there were vitamins. It’s widely known that our bodies need to have some nutrients in combination in order to use one or both—vitamin D and calcium, for example. It’s entirely possible that we still don’t know about many of the compounds in our foods and how they act and interact. What we do know—what even the government will admit—is that the real thing is better for us than anything that can be synthesized in a lab.

Furthermore, the process of making synthetic vitamins wastes resources and creates so much pollution that they are no longer produced in the US but in developing countries like China, which have looser environmental laws. (And looser quality controls—witness the recent spate of recalls on Chinese goods.) Not to mention that just refining and whitening flour in the first place involves dangerous and toxic chlorine gas.

The compounds used in fortification themselves are also questionable. The form of iron widely used in flour enrichment is also a very effective weed killer.

In contrast, organic farming and simple home or small mill grinding are sustainable activities. Whole grains require no fortification to prevent beriberi, Korsakoff's disease, pellagra, and anemia. When you eat them, you won’t be eating weed killer, and you’ll be getting, among other things, your daily dose of selenium-- which will help protect you from heart disease, radiation and toxic minerals.

There’s just no improving on perfection.

*A fiftieth anniversary - cereal enrichment -
Nutrition Yesterday: Reminiscences and Reflections,
part III Nutrition Today, Feb, 1992
by W. Henry Sebrell

Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger

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