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Bleached Flour: How is Your Flour Being Treated?

Written by Anika DeCoster, RD, CPT, CISSN - Life Time WeightLoss

Bleach.  It keeps our house clean, it disinfects, it whitens, and it’s in our flour?  Bleached flour, also known as chemical flour, has been around just over 100 years.   Considered an industry standard in America, this food additive has been controversial since it entered the industry.  Although more food companies are starting to avoid its use, there are many others that still use bleached flour in many of their food products.  What’s even scarier is most consumers have never even heard about it!  Find out why bleached flour should be on your radar and how to eliminate it from entering your shopping cart!

To Bleach or Not to Bleach

Ironically, most people believe that freshly milled flour is naturally white in color.  But in actuality, flour, fresh and natural, is a light yellow color it takes from the wheat in the grain.  If flour is exposed to air and allowed to age naturally over a 4 to 8 week time period, it eventually will turn that universal, white color we all know and love, as well as improve its quality and utilization.  But, allowing fresh flour to naturally age takes time and storage space.  And our popular, highly-processed, American diet puts up high demand for flour (140 billion pounds per day) yet little wait time for anything natural to occur.

Now, introducing bleached flour.  There are two common bleaching agents used in America, benzoly peroxide and chlorine oxide.  Rather than waiting for the flour to naturally age, flour producers can these bleaching agents and other chemicals to speed up the aging and whitening process.  Think of bleached flour as a cheap short-cut for American flour.  Instead of waiting almost 2 months for flour to age, it can shorten it to 2 days!  Yet several nations, including Europe and China, have banned these food additives due to potential health risks.

Health Risk

America always seems to be a little behind the rest of the world when it comes to allowing synthetic additives to our food supply before proven safe.  And unfortunately, the long term effects of bleaching flour have not been studied, nor have we ever identified if there is a safe amount that can be used.  But when looking at bleaching agents, we know they can be lethal and dangerous to inhale, as well as powerful irritants to our bodies.     One question to ask yourself is if you’re encouraged to wear a mask while using the product to clean, do I really want to be consuming it in the food I eat? 

Another health risk to be aware about is a certain byproduct that is created from the bleaching process called alloxan.   Alloxan is an actual toxin that is used primarily in the medical research industry.  If given in a certain dose, it can cause diabetes amongst laboratory animals by killing off their pancreas function, so researches do this so they can study treatments for diabetes.  With the diabetes epidemic that exists in our country, you can assume alloxan is utilized often in labs to study this disease, yet no research has been done of the effects for the human body. 

How do I Eliminate?

Most often, bleached flour is found in your starchier, flour-based foods.  Think of anything that is considered a processed starch (bread, cereals, pastas, cookies, crackers, pizza crusts, etc).  If these foods are everyday foods for your family, we’ll need to spend some time reading ingredient lists.  Look for bleached flour, benzoyl peroxide and/or chlorine in the ingredient list, and if the food has it, put it back on the shelf!

When buying bulk flour, look for packages marked unbleached and unbromated.  This ensures not only there we no bleaching agents added, but no other chemical, maturing agents (accelerate the aging process) were added either.    

As always, it’s best to limit the amount of processed foods in our diet, it’s really the easiest way to avoid most food additives!  

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Reader Comments (3)

If this is true, why couldn't we buy flour that has not be bleached and allow it to age naturally for 2 months before we use it in our foods?

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Edwards

Hey Larry!

I completely agree! If you are making your own foods using flour, search out for the unbromated and unbleached versions of flour. This is flour that was allowed to age naturally. If our population was making more of their own food at home, more food companies might actually provide that as an option or there would be more supply if the demand was higher. But in reality, our high consumption of bleached flour doesn't come from buying flour and making our own foods at home---most of it is coming from buying convenience foods (crackers, cereals, breads, etc) provided by food manufacturers. Using bleached flour is cheaper and more efficient for these companies, which keeps the cost down and the supply high to feed our high-demand, high-processed American diet. Hope that helps!

Anika DeCoster

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnika DeCoster, RD

Ok - I have to be honest. Love the improvement you can make with non-bleached flour, but am currently on an almost grain free diet similar to the Paleo diet - the science behind what our bodies do with grain products is a bit scary [insulin levels, glycemic index, etc.].

I started on the Diet solution diet book about 2 months ago but have been augmenting it a bit with some paleo diet principles


February 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrussell tuckerton

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