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‘Refined’ not a desirable trait in foods

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Refined can mean polished, polite, courteous, and civilized when used to define a person – all good qualities. Refined foods may not be as desirable. When applied to food, especially in the sense of refined carbohydrates like white flour, white rice, white sugar, etc., usually means that the food has been highly processed and could have lost a good portion of its beneficial nutrients. 

Refined grains have been altered by mechanically removing the bran and the germ. The milled grain or flour might then be further refined by mixing, bleaching, and bromating. Bromated flour has been enriched with potassium bromate, which has been classified as a potential carcinogen. It is supposed to bake out of bread dough as it cooks, but if residue remains in the bread, it could be harmful in the long term.

Manufacturers process flour this way because it makes the flour and products made with it last longer on the shelves, and because they can sell the bran and the germ that has been removed. The problem is that the bran and the germ contain important nutrients for your health. And even though some nutrients can be added back, hence the term “enriched”, the added nutrients are only a fraction of what was removed. 

One of the most highly refined food substances is high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS.  HFCS is made by milling corn to produce cornstarch, and then mixing the starch with water and enzymes which eventually break it down into corn syrup. The corn syrup is then treated with another enzyme that converts the glucose into mixtures that are as sweet as, or sweeter, than natural sugars. The largest source of refined grains in the American diet is HFCS consumed in the form of soda pop and other sweetened beverages.

Although the debate rages about whether high-fructose corn syrup is any worse for you than regular sugar, the fact is that Americans, and now people all over the world, have increased their consumption of HFCS and other refined grain products by tremendous amounts in the last 30 years, while consumption of fiber in the form of whole, unprocessed grains has decreased. This may have contributed to the growing problems of obesity and type II diabetes.  

You can limit consumption of refined grain products by reducing your use of soda pop, ice cream, and commercial baked goods. You can further improve your diet by replacing foods made with refined white flours (breads, cereals, pastas, etc.) with foods that are made with 100 percent whole grains.  

With people, sometimes a rough exterior hides the good qualities underneath. Think of whole, unprocessed grains as a diamond in the roughage. 

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