Why it might be better for you than whole grain.

What’s soft and fluffy on the inside, golden and crunchy on the outside, effortless to chew, made better with butter and divine with jam? The answer: white bread.

It’s heaven on Earth. So why did we stop eating it?

Sales of white bread have dropped by 75% since the 1970’s. Many believe that ancient grains and a lack of artificial processing equal greater health. But a team from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has another view. “Generalizations about which type of bread is better don’t actually apply,” they believe.

That’s because healthfulness is determined by chemical composition, rather than fad diets or a government food guide.

Plants are natural chemists. They can’t run away. Wheat stalks, strawberries and peanuts can’t throw punches if you come picking. They need an alternative line of defense. That defense is called lectin.

Lectins were discovered in 1888. They are low-level toxins programmed to attack sugar molecules. The human digestive system is lined with sugar-containing cells that help break down food. Lectins are drawn to that lining, where they stick and ferment, producing unpleasant side effects including flatulence, nausea, vomiting, heartburn and inflammation.

The idea is that when a predator eats a plant and experiences these side effects, it will walk away from the plant responsible for its discomfort and the plant will survive.

Lectins also help plants procreate. For example, when plants need help spreading their seeds, they produce bright colours, intoxicating smells and sweet tastes that animals want to eat. But because lectins are indigestible, the seeds from that irresistible plant come out in the animal’s stool, already fertilized and ready to germinate in new territory.

The lectin ensures the plant survives because even if it does get eaten, its seed remains whole and ready to bear more fruit.

To demonstrate the power of lectins, consider that that the 2009 “swine flu” is called H1NI. The H refers to hemagglutinin—a lectin. It is the lectins that make you achy, feverish, nauseated and swollen when you have the flu.

Lectins are found in all foods, but wheat and other whole grains have the highest concentrations. The current belief is that whole grain bread is good because it contains fibre, minerals and B vitamins, but when you eat grains and seeds intact, you are eating the outer shell of the grain that holds all the lectins!

New science shows that most people are unable to cope with the power of lectins. Moreover, the nutritional values we associate with whole grains are based on minimal scientific evidence. Healthfulness is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to experiment on yourself.

When it comes to grains like wheat, barley, oats and rye, try switching to baked goods and cereals made with refined, organic flours rather than the whole grain, bran or germ.

Remember, a predator avoids what causes it discomfort and a repeat customer goes back for what feels good. White bread from organic sources comes from a nourishing tradition.

It might work for you.

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Jennie Graham is a freelance writer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She enjoys exploring the relationship between people and food ways. Her favourite things include hand-writing letters, swimming in the ocean and singing in the kitchen with a wooden spoon.

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