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What type of flour should I be buying?

Rachel Dreskin is a Brooklyn gal with a passion for seasonal eating, local wine and vintage fashions. She makes regular visits to her local green markets and is constantly in the kitchen experimenting. You can find her favorite tips and ...

Which flours to buy -- and which to avoid

It's easy for us to not put a lot of thought and consideration into certain commodity purchases like sugar, salt and flour. There are just a handful of brands and they only contain one ingredient -- the ingredient being exactly what the product is. You want flour, so you get flour. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Here we examine three different types of flour and determine which is the best choice, and which we should strictly avoid.

Woman baking with flour

The three most widely available types of flour are bleached white, unbleached white and whole wheat. All three are derived from wheat grains which in their natural state consist of the following three layers:

  1. Bran: This is the hard outer layer of the grain where the majority of the fiber lives.
  2. Germ: This part is the tiny bit in the middle of the grain, also known as the embryo. This part contains the greatest concentration of nutrients.
  3. Endosperm: This is what surrounds the germ. This is the largest part of the grain. It mostly consists of starch and contains almost no fiber or other nutrients.

Wheat grains are extremely nutritious in their unaltered state, but a lot needs to be done to convert the grains into the snowy white powder we make our chocolate chip cookies with. What's really the difference between bleached and unbleached anyway? And is whole wheat flour really that good for you? Let's take a look:

Bleached white flour: Avoid

Bleached flour is made using only one part of the grain: the endosperm. We already know that the endosperm doesn't have much nutritional value, but it turns out it can actually be harmful to our health. To bleach flour, it is chemically treated with a chlorine gas. Yes, the same chemical used to clean swimming pools. The flour is treated with chlorine because it makes it that perfect white color that we're accustomed to seeing and because it artificially "ages" the flour (which betters the taste).

Unbleached white flour: Use in moderation

Unbleached flour, just like the bleached variety, is only made from the endosperm so it contains very few nutrients. It is, however, allowed to age naturally and isn't bleached with chlorine, so it is a much better alternative to bleached flour.

Whole wheat flour: Best choice

Whole wheat flour uses all three layers of the wheat grain: bran, germ and endosperm. It contains high amounts of nutrients including iron, magnesium and calcium. A one cup serving also contains an astonishing 15 grams of fiber. Eating fiber-rich foods helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels and also slows down digestion, which makes us feel full faster and for a longer period of time so we are less prone to overeating.

The take-away

Try removing bleached flour from your diet altogether. Whole wheat flour is obviously the best choice, but if you're not used to the taste of whole wheat flour, start gradually incorporating it into your cooking. For example, if a recipe calls for one cup of flour, use 3/4 cup unbleached flour and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour. Once you get accustomed to the taste, gradually increase the ratio of whole wheat flour to white flour.

More healthy lifestyle tips

Food and drinks that help cleanse the body
5 Easy and healthy substitutions for packaged foods
Fiber-rich foods and recipes

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