White flour is made by extracting all the bran from the outside of the grains of wheat, as well as the germ. Flour that retains the bran and the germ is called wholemeal (or wholewheat in the US).
So what’s in the bran and the germ that makes it better for our health? Well, as well as the added fibre, most of the vitamins and minerals found in wheat are in the bran and the germ, including Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin, Pyridoxine (B6), Pantothenic acid, Viatmin E, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium Potassium, Sodium, Chromium, Manganese, Iron, Cobalt, Zinc, Copper, Selenium and Molybdenum.
Most of these are familiar enough to us all to have some resonance when it comes to their health benefits, so it’s already clear why it’s a good idea to eat more wholemeal than white flour but there’s more (isn’t there always)…
You’ll often see ‘stoneground’ on the packet. Stoneground flour retains more of the nutrients than flour milled using the more modern method of roller milling so it’s worth looking out for it when you’re buying your flour.
And then there’s the organic argument. I personally think there’s a great argument for eating organic, and interestingly (and I quote from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley here) “In a French study in 2005, stoneground organic flour was shown to have 50 per cent more magnesium and 46 per cent more zinc than roller milled non-organic flour.”
It’s a shame that the comparison wasn’t made with just one variable ie roller milled vs stoneground or organic vs non-organic but my view on it all is pretty simple: If you’re going to go to the trouble of making your own bread, you may as well make it as good for you as possible. That doesn’t mean making uber-worthy, knit-your-own-porridge style 100% wholemeal (which I find hard to stomach, can you tell?) but making sure the flour that goes into it is organic, stoneground and that preferably at least some portion of it is wholemeal.