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A Grain of Truth

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We all should eat more whole grains, right?

We have all been told that we need the fibre found in the bran of whole grains to prevent colon cancer. We've also been told that vitamin E in its natural state in the germ can help prevent heart disease. Whole grains have been shown to reduce cholesterol and they are a source of many vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds. White flour has lost most of its nutrients, so it is comprised of empty calories which are easily converted to body fat. It is often bleached with such poisons as chlorine and acetone peroxide, both chemicals used in industrial cleaners.

How fresh are your rolled oats, cornmeal and wholewheat flour, though? Many people have whole-wheat flour, cornmeal and oats sitting in a pantry at room temperature, and most of these products are not stored in coolers at the supermarket. Whole, unbroken grains can keep their goodness for years with a minimum of storage precautions, but the oils in broken grains go rancid very quickly.

When Oils Go Bad

When oils go rancid they lose any beneficial effect they might have in the body, and are even toxic to our systems. Any antioxidants like vitamin E are used up in neutralizing the free radicals generated. Thus beneficial polyunsaturated fats become disease causes, rather than disease healers. Our immune system has to flush these harmful rancid fats out of our bodies, another task required by our already overloaded systems.

If you are eating whole grains for the health benefits, the lack of bleaching agents and the fibre are better for you than the white bread we grew up on, but you might want to think about the state of the beneficial fats present in the grains, too.

Try tasting some raw commercial whole-wheat flour or oatmeal sometime. Chances are, you'll taste the bitterness caused by the fats in the flour going rancid. Fresh flour is much sweeter than flour that has been stored even for a short while. Fans of cornbread have not tasted good corn-bread until they taste it made from fresh ground corn.

Stored airtight in the refrigerator, whole-wheat flour stays good for about a month, cornmeal for about a week and brown rice flour only a little longer than the cornmeal.

If you buy your bread from a good bakery, the turnover rate of the flour they use is likely fast enough to keep it from going rancid. However, the bakery is probably using commercially-produced whole-wheat flour, along with white flour in the "whole-wheat" bread. In that bag of whole-wheat flour is usually the flour which the mill has separated for white flour, which has then had some of the germ and the bran remixed into it; kind of like the bottled juice from concentrate.

The speed at which the flour is milled generates so much heat, that the oil is chemically changed. It starts the process of going rancid, and vitamins are lost. Light and heat both accelerate the process of rancidity, and flour which is protected from both as much as possible has a much longer shelf life.

Back to the Old Grind

The best way to get the full benefits of whole grains is to buy whole organic grain and grind or flake it yourself in small batches. Make sure to buy quality grain from the most recent harvest, and not grain rated for feed; feed grain is lower quality and is usually not as clean. A good flour mill can be purchased at many kitchen stores for about $100. It only takes half an hour or so to grind several cups of flour, and children frequently enjoy helping. The flour is fresh, more nutritious because so much less heat is generated, and your baking will taste notably better.

Good flaking mills are a little harder to find than flour mills, and are usually a little more expensive. They can be used to flake oats, barley, wheat, kamut and a wide variety of other grains for fresh porridge, main dish extenders and other uses. Since flaked oats go rancid just as fast as wheat flour, fans of oatmeal should consider flaking their own for higher quality breakfasts.

Try your local organic or health food stores to find freshly ground flour. Small local stores might be able to sell you fresh, organic flour ground by mills that take care not to let the flour get too hot. This is another alternative to grinding your own, but it might be difficult to find such a good source of flour. It is likely more expensive than grinding your own.

With packed schedules and hectic lifestyles, it can be very difficult to get the chance to make home baked foods. Bread machines have made fresh baked bread at home more common. Whether the baking is automatic or not, bread is always better tasting and better for you with the freshest flour.

Try taking turns baking large batches with a friend, or find a friend who's willing to exchange baking for some other service you can give them. The taste and health benefits of really fresh flour, oatmeal and cornbread are worth the work.

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