“Sir! Flight Bravo reports with a dining priority time of 17:07. We arrived at 17:04.” I inform the mess checker.
“You have arrived on time. Your flight may enter.”
“Will that be all, sir?” I ask.
“Yes” the mess checker responds.
I salute, then return to my position beside the rest of Bravo flight. They are awaiting entrance into the mess hall, lined up in two perfectly straight lines, one on the right and one on the left.
Today it’s my turn to act as the flight commander, which means I give the marching orders. I recite the commands in my mind to ensure I don’t fumble my words when the time comes.
Bravo flight stands at parade rest in the hot summer sun as Charlie flight enters the dining hall. Sweat rolls down the nape of my neck and a fly buzzes near my face, but I stand completely still because the instructors are right behind us. We’re several weeks into training, so they expect no mistakes. At least I don’t have an itch. That’s the hardest thing to ignore.
The last of Charlie flight enters the dining facility, which means it’s time to go.
“Tench HUT!!!” I bellow out. The flight stands at attention.
“Column of files from the right!” I shout, and everyone holds still.
“Forward!” I shout as I look at Easy, the element leader for the right line.
“Forward!” Easy echoes.
“Stand Fast!” the element leader for the left line replies.
“March!” I shout, looking over at Easy again.
“Forward, March!” Easy repeats.
The right line of Bravo flight moves forward with crisp, synchronized footsteps into the dining hall. Then we repeat the entry procedures for the left element and I join at the back of the line.
Whew, I breathe a sigh of relief as I walk into the cool air conditioned building. That went well. I take off my cover and join the food line. It moves forward efficiently, like a conveyor belt of people. I quickly snag a tray, bowl, plate and utensils. The first stop is the salad bar. Today I spoon out some romaine lettuce, carrot slices, mushroom slices, shredded cheese and the golden Italian dressing packet. Then I grab a banana. The line circles around to the sandwich bar. I’m usually not a big fan of deli sandwiches…I’m kind of burnt out from 12 prior years of bringing a deli sandwich to school every day. But that changed when I tasted the wheat bread here. It was so soft, it practically melted in your mouth. It was moist, so you didn’t have to chase each bite down with a swig of water. And it was light brown with flecks of grains mixed in it, so I thought it was probably healthy. I grabbed two slices of my newfound favorite bread and added roasted turkey, American cheese, and some spicy brown mustard. Then I moved on to the grill line. I added a piece of lightly breaded catfish and some mixed vegetables before heading to the drink fountain.
We were required to drink three eight ounce glasses of water or Powerade at each meal, to prevent getting dehydrated while training in the southern sun. Today I also wanted some chocolate milk, so I filled up a fourth glass. I balanced the drinks on my tray and headed toward the seating area.
Navy subtly waved at me. She was standing with Ripper and Joff in the back right corner. Not only were the square tables filled in a precise order, but the four chairs at each table had to be filled in a certain order as well.
Once I reached the table, everyone sat down. The twenty minute meal countdown began. We ensured the dining tray was perfectly flush with the edge of the table and our feet were perpendicular to the ground. Ripper and Joff passed Navy and me napkins, which we placed on our laps. At first the whole process seemed rigid, but it had become second nature now. At least we had graduated to being able to talk, albeit in quiet voices.
Ripper mentioned some fun ideas for places to go downtown this weekend. Navy schemed about plans to sabotage another flight’s statue tomorrow night. Joff told us how he was giving his presentation on properties of minerals, a topic he was familiar with from his prior job as a jeweler. Since we were approaching graduation, we reminisced about the things we would be glad to be rid of…and the things we’d miss.
“Tell you what, you guys…I’m gonna miss this delicious bread,” I joked before I finished the last of my sandwich.
“You don’t have to miss that Fill, it’s Pepperidge Farm. You can find it everywhere.”
“You’re kidding me, right? I can buy this at home?”
Joff nodded. I almost shed a tear, I was so excited.
Sure enough, when I returned home, I found the Pepperidge Farm bread on the grocery shelves. I bought a loaf of the 100% Whole Wheat bread. And I’ve never bought a different brand since then.
Although most people like to think of wheat solely as a carbohydrate, it’s actually a seed. In fact, all grains are seeds. All seeds contain carbohydrates, but they also contain fiber, protein, fat, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. All seeds have three basic edible components: embryo, endosperm, and seed coat. The embryo contains the DNA that defines the seed, and will eventually sprout to become a new plant. The endosperm is similar to the yolk of a chicken egg, providing nutrients for the growing embryo. The seed coat is a fibrous protective outer skin. Together with the inedible husk, the seed coat keeps out insects, bacteria, light, moisture and more. The three parts of the wheat grain, or seed, are named as follows:
Embryo = Wheat germ
Endosperm = Endosperm
Seed coat = Wheat bran
The nutritional value of the wheat grain, or seed, is broken down as follows:
Wheat germ = Rich source of vitamins, minerals and healthy oils
Endosperm = Mainly starch (long chains of carbohydrates) and protein
Wheat bran = Fiber (very long chains of carbohydrates) embedded with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals
The majority of wheat flour is manufactured from the endosperm alone. In fact, many flour producers discard wheat germ and bran as a byproduct, to be used as feed for livestock. This results in flour that is devoid of most of the fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals inherent in the whole grain. What are you left with? Mainly long chains of carbohydrates or starches, sometimes called complex carbohydrates.
“But Fill, aren’t complex carbohydrates good for me?”
Yes and no. In our last post, we demonstrated how the barley was healthier in its natural state than in its processed state. By turning the barley from a longer chain of carbohydrate into a smaller one (using a mill and enzymes), we made it easier to digest, which can be bad. Think of your stomach as a fire. The best carbohydrates burn slowly, like putting a log on a fire, slowly releasing energy into the blood. The unhealthiest carbohydrates flare up like paper – producing a quick flash of energy and a spike of blood sugar, while leaving you hungry again in no time. Whenever we process carbohydrates into a simpler form, we make them more like paper and less like logs. However, the length of the carbohydrate isn’t the only thing that determines whether a carbohydrate burns like a log or paper. There are some long chains of carbohydrates out there that still burn like paper.
When it comes to flour, the endosperm of the wheat is somewhat like the log. But once it is milled into flour, it becomes more like paper.
“Fill, if most of the nutrients were removed with the wheat bran and germ…and the remaining carbohydrates aren’t good for you, is there anything healthy in this type of flour?”
Not really. So what do flour manufacturers do? They add a few of the missing nutrients back, though nowhere near what they took out. The flour manufacturers are well aware that by discarding the wheat germ and wheat bran, they have taken away most of the inherent nutrition of the wheat grain. So they literally dump some nutrients into the flour right before they package it. Hence the name of the final product…
Take a minute to grab some crackers, pizza, pasta, wheat cereal, bread, pancake mix or cake mix from your kitchen. Look at the ingredient label. Unless it’s made all or mostly from 100% whole wheat/grain flour, it will likely list “enriched flour” as the first ingredient. Look in the parentheses immediately following flour and you will likely see the following vitamins and minerals added to the flour… niacin, (reduced) iron, thiamin(e), riboflavin and folic acid. This only makes up for a small portion of the nutrients lost in production.
There are thousands of items with “enriched flour” as the first ingredient in the grocery store. This is why wheat grain is the ultimate transformer. It started as a simple seed that has now become the cornerstone of a thousand different foods.
“Okay Fill, I get it. Don’t buy enriched flour products. But I love all those foods. What can I buy?”
When and if you do eat foods made from wheat flour, at least eat foods made from 100% whole wheat flour. 100% whole wheat flour is made from all 3 natural components of the wheat grain: the bran, germ and endosperm… instead of the endosperm alone. It has more fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than enriched flour.
Although 100% whole wheat flour is also milled, the fiber from the bran makes the flour burn more like wood chips than paper. Fiber is a very important ingredient that makes all food burn more like logs.
If enriched flour spikes your blood sugar like paper flaring on a fire, and whole wheat flour is perhaps like wood chips, actual intact grains are the logs that will give you steady fuel for hours.
Ultimately, nothing comes close to eating the whole grains themselves. Whole grains contain all of the grain’s original fiber, untouched and in a form most healthful to us. The intact bran (shell) of the whole grain helps protect more of the natural oils and phytonutrients in the wheat bran and wheat germ from spoiling, and because the endosperm hasn’t been ground into a powder, it provides a more steady source of energy. The portions of the whole grain that aren’t fully digested by our stomach and small intestines make it down to our colon where they serve as food for healthy gut bacteria.
Overall, I recommend replacing your enriched flour products with 100% whole grain flour products (as much as possible). And I recommend incorporating as many actual whole grains into your diet as possible.
There are lots of whole grains available at local grocery stores. Some of the more common ones you may find include:
Rice (brown, black or red rice, and wild rice)
If you feel motivated to start buying products made from 100% whole wheat and other whole grains rather than enriched flour, you will need to be cautious at the grocery store. Food labels may try to trick you into buying foods that aren’t truly made from the whole grain. They may say “grain” or “multigrain” or even “whole grain” on the food labels, but they may in fact contain mostly enriched wheat flour (and only have a small percentage of whole grain flour in the product).
The FDA publicly recognized this deception when they published “Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff” on “Whole Grain Label Statements” in 2006. They provided the following definition for whole grain foods:
Cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components – the starchy endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis should be considered a whole grain food [2006, pg. 4]
In laymen’s terms, if a wheat grain picked from the plant was 14% bran/83% endosperm/3% germ, then food manufacturers should only call something a “whole wheat food” if it contains 14% bran/83% endosperm/3% germ.
More importantly, the FDA provided this more specific guidance for labeling whole grain products in the same document:
“We recommend that products labeled with ‘100 percent whole grain’ not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains.” [2006, pg. 5]
This means that if a product has “100% Whole Wheat” on the label, it should not contain products like enriched flour, or any grain products that don’t contain the same proportion of germ, endosperm and bran as the grain that it came from.
I’ve included a link to this pdf from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture that reinforces the specific phrasing you should look for on whole grain foods.
If federal guidelines make your head spin, simply look for the Whole Grain Stamp, a widely-accepted packaging symbol used on more than 11,000 products in 58 countries. It comes in three levels: the 100% Stamp (all of the grain is whole grain); the 50% Stamp (at least half of the grain is whole); and the Basic Stamp (may contain more refined grain than whole, but contains at least 8g of whole grain). Each Stamp also shows you how many grams of whole grain are in one serving of that product. Remember you’re aiming for at least 48 grams a day, as the Basic Stamp reminds us.
I’ve also included a link to the website for the Whole Grains Council, a consumer advocacy group, and what I consider to be the most reliable source of information on the internet about whole grains. They’re the folks who created the Whole Grain Stamp, and authorize companies to use it on their qualifying products. I found their “Whole Grains 101” and “Recipes” tabs especially helpful.
As usual, visualizing is central to understanding. This post will make more sense if you understand the process of flour production…
How It’s Made: Enriched Flour https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gITBy-N6X0
I’d like to give a special thanks to the Whole Grains Council for providing their images.
-Featured Image by Wesual Click on Unsplash.