Though we often hear that white flour (maida) or the products made from it are bad for our health, the reason for them being bad are unknown to most of us. Processed foods like white flour, refined sugar and soft drinks are widely available and mostly unavoidable. Wheat in its refined form is
harmful to the body as it is not only fattening, but also the root cause of several diseases.
Food manufacturers skilfully remove the endosperm of the wheat (white flour) from the germ (wheat germ) and the bran (wheat bran). Therefore, foods made from refined flour, sugar and oil, borrow nutrients from the body in order to aid their own absorption, thereby depleting the body’s reserves of vitamins and minerals. Even if the packet of the white flour that you buy reads ‘enriched flour’ — it only means that four to five vitamins have been added, while 10 have been taken away, which means they have been lost during processing. Wheat flour has a high glycemic index (GI) of 71, thus containing twice the number of calories as compared to unprocessed and low GI foods.
Harmful effects of wheat flour as refined flour has a high GI, it releases sugar into the bloodstream quickly. This causes a sharp insulin response, which over a period of time, with prolonged consumption of processed and refined food, causes inflammation, insulin resistance and eventually type II diabetes.
Fried wheat flour products are more harmful. When foods containing wheat flour are fried — food items like samosas, chaklis, noodles, kachori and pastas, among others — the body gets an overdose of fat and refined carbohydrates. This disrupts the metabolism rate of your body and causes inflammation, hyperinsulinism and insulin resistance, which
eventually leads to heart diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer.
The other harmful effects of consuming wheat flour are that it raises the cholesterol level, clogs the arteries, disrupts the blood sugar level, causes mood swings and irritability and increases your cravings for more food. It also causes a fatty liver, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Though foods made from wheat flour are bad for health, they are addictive and cannot be given up easily. Therefore, they should be eaten once in a while and in moderation. Also, make sure that your diet is balanced and includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and provides you with all the nutrients. One can also switch to whole wheat flour instead of the refined one for a better lifestyle. Some form of exercise, like walking, is also necessary, and should be done for at least 30-40 minutes daily.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.