When baking or reading packaged food labels, ingredients such as "enriched wheat flour" or "unbleached enriched flour" can make you pause and wonder if you're making the healthiest choices. Unbleached enriched wheat flour is a refined grain that can have negative effects on your health.
Unbleached enriched wheat flour is a refined grain. Eating too many refined grains is not good for you and may have an adverse effect on your health.
About Enriched Wheat Flour
Unbleached, enriched wheat flour sounds like it might be a healthy choice. After all, the words "unbleached," "enriched" and "wheat" seem like they refer to a nutritious, whole and minimally processed food.
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Don't confuse the word "wheat" with whole wheat. Minimally refined whole wheat offers up lots of fiber and nutrients, but "wheat" simply refers to the grain used to make the flour. Plain wheat flour is usually just another way to describe the refined type used to make white bread, pastries and gravies.
While unbleached means the flour was not chemically treated to make it appear whiter (no chemical treatment is a good thing), the flour was still highly processed during milling.
"Enriched" refers to the process of fortifying the flour with nutrients that were lost in processing. Much of wheat's naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are stripped when the bran and germ is removed; enriching the flour adds some of these nutrients back in — and requires yet another layer of processing.
Unbleached wheat flour nutrition per 100 grams, or approximately 1 cup, is as follows:
- 358 calories
- 13 g protein
- 1.5 g fat
- 73 g carbohydrates
Nutrients added back in during the "enrichment" process include iron, folic acid, thiamine and riboflavin.
It’s Not a Whole Grain
You may wonder if unbleached enriched flour is a whole grain — it most certainly is not. Enriched wheat flour, explains A Healthier Michigan, is flour that has had most of the natural vitamins and minerals extracted.
A wheat kernel contains three parts: the endosperm, bran and germ. Colorado State University explains that, during the milling process, these three parts are separated and recombined to make specific types of flour. During the processing of unbleached, enriched wheat flour, the bran and germ of the wheat kernel are removed, and the resulting flour consists of finely ground endosperm.
Using just the endosperm makes the final product finer and extends its shelf life. The bran and germ house most of the grain's nutrients, however. When refined, your body absorbs the flour differently than it would were you to have consumed true whole wheat flour, which has the germ and bran included.
Your body breaks down enriched flour quickly, leading to a fast spike in your blood sugar. Because fiber has been removed during processing, the flour and products made with it move through your stomach expediently. Refined carbs, such as unbleached, enriched flour, don't keep you feeling satisfied for long and can cause your body to store more calories as fat, explains A Healthier Michigan.
Whole wheat flour, which doesn't need to be enriched because it retains the parts of the kernel that include most of the important nutrients, is a whole grain. Other whole grains include brown rice, barley, quinoa and old-fashioned rolled oats. Whole grains are far preferable compared to refined grains such as unbleached, enriched wheat flour.
Read more: Why Isn't White Bread Good For You?
Why Whole Grains Are Best
Eating lots of refined grains, such as unbleached, enriched wheat flour, is not good for your health. The American Heart Association notes that refined grains are missing the whole package of nutrients and fiber that make a food healthy.
Enriching is meant to restore the nutrients present in a whole-grain flour, but you can't pick and choose nutrients to replace. Refined grains are still missing the perfect combination of nutrients that reduce inflammation and mitigate disease-causing oxidation.
Consumption of whole grains is associated with improved health and reduced risk of many chronic diseases.
The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society published evidence in August 2015 showing that a higher intake of heart-healthy foods, such as whole grains, is associated with a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Research published in Circulation in June 2016 showed that your risk of developing heart disease can be reduced by 23 percent if you consume four servings of whole grains a day.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out that current government dietary guidelines call for three or more servings of whole grains daily, but the average adult eats less than one serving per day. If you're primarily consuming foods made with unbleached, enriched wheat flour, you likely aren't getting enough whole grains.
- A Healthier Michigan: "What’s in Your Food? Enriched Flour Tops List of Unhealthy Ingredients"
- American Heart Association: "Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber"
- USDA: "Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour"
- Colorado State University: Food Source Information: "Flour"
- Circulation: "Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer"
- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: "Whole-Grain Foods and Chronic Disease: Evidence From Epidemiological and Intervention Studies"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Whole Grains"