Refined flour or all-purpose flour or maida (in India) is a commonly used ingredient in a wide variety of cuisines all over the world. Having lived in Malaysia all these years, I am simply stunned to know the amount of refined flour that the average Malaysian consumes on a day-to-day basis. Be it pisang goreng (banana fritters) or apam balik (a sort of pancake) or dim sum (dumplings), these are all made with refined flour as the main ingredient.
Well, we all know how much nutrients are present in refined flour – almost nil. Flour is usually made to undergo a zillion processes including what is known as bleaching - this is what gives the flour its ‘clean’ white appearance. Thus, by the end of all these processes, it leaves refined flour with almost zero percent nutrients and fibre.
Spend a minute to understand the percentage of nutrients that is lost during the bleaching process:
- 50% of important unsaturated fats
- Almost entire vitamin E content
- 50% Calcium
- 70% Phosphorus
- 80% Iron
- 98% Magnesium
- 50-80% B vitamins
As mentioned, refined flour is subjected to bleaching in order to give it the characteristic white colour – a clean colour. Now, you must know the fact that a lot of chemicals are involved in this process. Chlorine gas is used as a flour-bleaching agent. This is an irritant and can be lethal when inhaled. Some other chemical agents used in this process include nitrogen oxide, benzoyl peroxide, nitrosyl oxide mixed with different chemical salts. The presence of chemicals in food seems to have become part of our lives nowadays especially with the advent of processed food, so what’s the big deal about this? Well, the chlorine gas that is used in the bleaching process undergoes oxidation when it comes into contact with the proteins in the flour. This results in the production of a compound called Alloxan.
So why is Alloxan dangerous?
It has been used by scientists in diabetes research and they found that alloxan can destroy pancreatic cells that produce insulin, thus resulting in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in the rats and mice that were used in the research. Alloxan is produced by the breakdown of uric acid. It produces a huge amount of free radicals which end up destroying the pancreas cells.
Scientists claim that the amount of alloxan produced in the bleaching process is too little to have any effect on humans, but can we be complacent when we know the fact that a toxic substance is part of your, well, daily bread?
So what can you do about it?
Replace refined flour with unbleached flour, preferably organic.
Try to limit the consumption of food containing refined flour, especially when eating out.
Try using gram flour (chickpea flour), buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, home-made rice flour.
Choose wisely; eat healthily, after all, you are important!