DEAR DR. BLONZ: On National Public Radio, a University of Minnesota nutritionist claimed that whole-wheat flour today is so highly processed that it is absorbed by the digestive system just as quickly as white flour, and impacts blood sugar levels in the same way. The nutritionist recommended whole-wheat bread made from stone-ground wheat berries instead. How valid is the claim about processing? Does whole-wheat bread still have other nutrients that white bread lacks? Would whole-wheat bread made from sprouted wheat be a good alternative? -- D.W.M., via email
DEAR D.W.M.: Your mention of a University of Minnesota nutritionist speaking about whole grains suggests Dr. Joanne Slavin. She is definitely an expert in the field of whole grains, but I couldn't imagine her making such statements, so I had to check it out. I found the NPR program transcript online at tinyurl.com/cj6vstq. It seems you are misattributing statements by the other guest, Dr. David Ludwig, an esteemed pediatrician who studies obesity.
While there are different types of wheat being grown nowadays, in general, the whole-wheat flour of today is not much different than the whole-wheat flour of earlier times. The healthfulness of whole grains has led to a greater presence of whole-wheat flour in some processed foods, but that should not serve to denigrate the value of this important class of nutrient substances. A whole-grain bread will have nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals not found in white bread. This being said, however, some vitamins and minerals are often added to enriched white bread. I recommend that at least half our grains should be whole grains.
It is never a good idea to eat a bunch of carbohydrates on an empty stomach, whether it is sugar-sweetened soda, white bread, or even whole-wheat bread. It's best to eat in such a way that the glucose in carbohydrates has the smallest impact on blood sugar levels; eating sweets and carbohydrates on an empty stomach does the opposite. (About the only exception might be a piece of fruit, because fructose, or fruit sugar, is absorbed more slowly.) Having carbohydrates as part of a mixed meal that includes protein and fat will slow the release of the food from the stomach and accomplish the goal of minimizing the impact on blood sugar. All the better if you eat slowly.
I encourage you to re-read that NPR piece on whole grains. I support what Slavin said; it is definitely a more positive and practical approach. You also asked about sprouted whole wheat. This does represent an alternative, but choose it only if you enjoy the flavor and texture, not because it is significantly superior. Always check the Nutrition Facts labels on products you buy, as well as the list of ingredients. Having a whole grain in the first position is a definite asset, and if the package displays a whole grain stamp (wholegrainscouncil.org), as mentioned on the radio show, all the better. All of this provides good guidance.
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