Whole wheat comes in white, too


 

It doesnt have to be an either/or decision. You can continue to enjoy white flour in all the foods it makes so well: pancakes, fluffy breads, biscuits.

But there is no getting around it. When it comes to health benefits, whole-grain breads and baked goods are better for you. Wheat berries (which become wheat flour) have three parts (you've probably heard this already): the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Eighty percent of the nutrients (and there are a lot of them) are found in the germ and the bran - which are removed when the wheat berries are turned into refined white flour.

Whole-grain wheat doesn't just have fiber, which is good for digestion and helps your body fight diabetes. It also has vitamins, minerals and oils that help fight cancer and heart disease. You can certainly eat white flour and supplement it with wheat germ or bran, but research has shown that your body gets the most out of wheat when you eat the entire grain, intact.

Happily, you can find plenty of whole-wheat products at most grocery stores these days. But all that abundance can be confusing. What's the difference, for example, between whole-wheat bread and whole- grain wheat bread? And what are some of those other exotic breads popping up on shelves these days, such as spelt and buckwheat?

Check the ingredients list. Companies are required to specify on their packaging whether they've used whole grains. Or, to make it simpler, look for the word "grain, not just the word "wheat."

Whole-wheat bread is not necessarily made from whole-grain wheat flour. If you're going to try and add more punch to your diet, skip the whole-wheat bread and look for whole-grain bread; otherwise, you might as well go ahead and enjoy some white bread (preferably something artisanal, not a spongy loaf such as Holsum or Wonder).

What about all those other types of breads? Some are made from wheat; others are not. Spelt is not wheat, for example, although whole-grain spelt has plenty of health benefits of its own. Buckwheat is not wheat; it's a cousin of rhubarb, though it, too, has health benefits.

But we're going to concentrate here on wheat.

Whole-grain wheat flour is more rugged than its refined white cousin, and it doesn't have as much loft, so whole-grain wheat bread is denser than white bread. Most baked goods on the shelves these days are made from coarse red wheat. If you're not sure if your wheat flour has the germ and bran, look on the packaging. Brands such as King Arthur Flour include all three parts of the wheat berry.

There is a relatively new whole-grain wheat flour on the market now that is made from white wheat. It is more tender than its red wheat cousin and is an excellent substitute for white flour - with all the health benefits of whole grain red flour. Locally, it is sold at McEnroe's organic farm market on Route 22 in Millerton.

Another wheat flour you might see is whole-wheat pastry flour, which is ground from soft wheat berries (as opposed to regular hard berries). This flour has more starch and lower levels of gluten than regular wheat flour. It should be used in non-yeast baked goods, not in breads.

Whole durum wheat is made from high-protein wheat and has less starch than regular wheat flour. It is mainly used in pasta because it makes dough that is tough and stretches and expands a lot.

Graham flour is a particularly coarse wheat flour. It includes coarse bran bits and finely ground parts of the germ. It's mostly used for graham crackers.

One warning, if you switch to these unrefined flours: Most white flour products are enriched with folic acid, which has been found to be essential to the health of pregnant women and developing fetuses. If you use whole-grain flours instead of white flours, look for information on other sources of folic acid such as orange juice.

The bran-muffin recipe below is incredibly quick and easy. You can use white flour, white-wheat flour or, best of all, whole-grain wheat flour. If you're avoiding sugar, substitute Splenda for the molasses. White sugar or raw sugar is fine, too.

 


Foolproof whole-wheat bran muffins


Makes 6 muffins

 

1 cup whole-wheat (red or white) flour (I use King Arthur Flour, which promises that 100 percent of the wheat germ and bran are used)

1/2 cup wheat bran (I use Bob's Red Mill, which is sold at LaBonne's in Salisbury and at other groceries and health-food stores)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup Splenda, molasses or sugar

1 cup milk

1/4 cup corn oil

1 egg

Raisins, nuts, dates, pecans or applesauce are optional

 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I butter a muffin tin, because I freeze the muffins and then reheat them in the toaster oven. If you're not worried about setting fire to your muffin papers while reheating, feel free to use the paper cups instead of greasing the pan.

Combine all the dry ingredients. Mix the egg, oil and milk and then quickly add to the dry ingredients. Don't overbeat, just make sure all the dry ingredients are wet. There shouldn't be a lot of lumps. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are brown.

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